Driving on the Wrong Side
As I’ve been driving here in the UK for quite some time now (actually over a year and a half of daily commuting to work plus some weekend trips totalling at over 18000 km), I wanted to share my experiences with you :-)
However strange and unusual may driving on the left side of the road seem, getting used to it was actually quite easy. The fact that you are sitting on the right side of the car (ie. really right :) helps a lot and makes driving on the left quite natural. Apart from a couple of times when I headed to the opposite direction when turning right (ie. not along the corner) in the beginning I haven’t had any major problems.
What was actually harder was to get used to handling the steering wheel with my right hand and the gear stick with the left one. Although I hadn’t been driving as much back home before we moved to the UK, it still felt quite awkward steering with right hand (supposedly the more clever one for a right handed person) and at the same time change the gears with left hand. Also, the indicator switch lever is actually on the same side of the steering wheel (ie. on the left), so you can’t simply switch the indicators while changing the gear at the same time. Anyway, no big deal, after a couple hundred miles it all becomes natural.
Another unusual aspect of driving here are the ubiquitous roundabouts. They seem to be considered superior to classic crossroads which are being replaced by them wherever possible. (The truth is they are now being built on many places in Czech Republic too, aren’t they?) I can imagine they can probably help to make the traffic more fluent – which is I’m afraid not working very well here with the driving style of English drivers (more on this later… grrr). Anyway, I can’t really understand why are they turning even a very small town crossroads into roundabouts – simply by painting a white circle in the middle (and adding the signs, of course) – when it’s then equivalent to a crossroads with no signs; you simply give way to the right.
One more thing to mention are the speed cameras (or safety cameras) – that’s what we call “radars” in Czech. Unlike Czech Republic, police are not trying to hide them in any way to catch more speeding drivers and make more money on fines. Quite on the contrary, a typical speed camera is a bright yellow box mounted on a post close to the road and preceded by a number of “speed camera” signs. I think this approach is a lot fairer – the goal is to make drivers slow down, not to catch them and fine them. Unfortunately, I’ve got quite an experience with speed cameras myself – I got caught three times already… First time about a year ago near Warwick (59 mph at 40 mph limit) and then twice in seven days in Stourport not long after the two new speed cameras had been installed (35 mph at 30 mph limit – both times!). If you don’t exceed the speed too much, you can deal with the matter by accepting so called Conditional Offer – which means paying £60 fine and having your driving license endorsed with 3 penalty points. The only other possibility is pleading not guilty and going to court. The fine can then be even higher and so can be the number of penalty points. The maximum number of penalty points is 12 – it means I’m now driving as a driving school instructor, ’cause I really don’t want to go to work by bus :-)
The last thing I wanted to write about are English drivers. They really do drive with that famous English ease – which is ever so annoying for us hot-blooded Europeans! They drive way too carefully and slowly, accelerate sooo slowly – as if they were dying there at the steering wheel… I’m not saying there is anything wrong with careful driving – unless it’s being overdone. When you combine it with British narrow roads with an average of two good overtaking spots per 50 miles, you get quite a frustrating experience!