Friday, July 25, 2008

Driving in England

Lord Hughes of Fleetwood warned me, but it was not as I expected. I noted in London that motorists were very polite to each other. I did not quite realise how heavily this would translate in a regional area, such as Newcastle.

Cars drive really slowly around town in England. Speed limit is 30mph, which is about 50kph in our money. There are roundabouts everywhere and there is no consistency in what they will be like. They could be monstrous on a major road with lanes going off in any direction and I never really picked up on which lane your ought to be in. You seem to need to swap lanes while going around the roundabout. I was reassured when I was told it did not really matter much. By my observations and experiences, it really did not. Then there were roundabouts that were a mere one metre circle painted on the road. Drivers were quite hesitant at roundabouts, and would wait for a car approaching when there was more than adequate time to get onto the roundabout.

Lane discipline was very poor, but then sometimes marked lanes were not even wide enough to fit a small car. The positioning of traffic lights were quite well designed, but traffic lights turning red in one direction and staying green in the opposite direction and then a right turning arrow coming is a recipe for disaster. I found this quite astonishing and I saw a quite narrow miss one day.

Although this is a developing problem here, it is very common for a driver to slow or stop from 30mph to let a vehicle in or a pedestrian cross the road. A whole line of traffic comes to a stop. It is good to be polite, but this behaviour is too polite and very disruptive to traffic flow. Politeness seemed to overcome common sense and road rules.

Indicators were used much less than here and quite erratically. If they did not self cancel, then many motorists saw no need to manually switch them off.

I am not sure why the English love their manual gears, as driving around town is just constant gear changing. Gear changing was also poor and there was plenty of riding of the clutch.

But then there are the motorways, such as the M6. It is just brilliantly designed and here is where English drivers really stand out, terribly so in comparison to here. Three lanes; the trucks, buses and caravans sit in the left lane and use the middle lane to overtake. The left lane travels at a strict 60mph (100kph). The middle lane is for cars travelling at 70mph and it is rare for anyone to travel slower. The outside lane is just for overtaking or drivers breaking the speed limit, and break it they do. I travelled at 70mph and it was nothing for a car to shoot past at 80mph or even 90. If you overtake someone using the outside lane, it is straight out and straight back in. There is no lingering whatsoever. Unlike here, you just do not see trucks spread across three lanes in front of you. Nor will you feel like meat in a sandwich with a large truck either side of you.

I was pleased to see aircon in newer cars, not that the cars generally are very old. You can buy a decent new car for less than $18,000, borrow all the money and pay 0% interest. I learnt to use the air con very sparingly as our little Fiesta seemed to just chew through the juice with the air con on. At $2.25 per litre for petrol, motoring is not cheap.

Sadly, even with excellent public transport in Newcastle, so many people feel the need to own a car. Your average family seem to have at least one car.

No one seems to worry too much about parking when out of paid area. Park up on the footpath, park facing the wrong way, park half way around a corner. No bother.

But to wrap this part, driving in England is very easy and not at all stressful. Apart from motorways, it all happens very slowly. Just go with the flow.

Now, below. I heard mention of this roundabout when in England and meant to follow up when I returned home, but forgot about it. But then I was skim reading an OB in the newspaper, and happened to learn that the designer had just died. When it first opened, he attended the roundabout and shouted directions to motorists with a megaphone. This Magic, or Tragic roundabout as some locals call it, would strike terror into the heart of anyone who came across it for the time.

Think the drawing could make it look worse than it is? Try the next picture down, and at the bottom should be a Google satellite image. I would rather drive around the Arc de Triumph I think.

View Larger Map


  1. That should be $2.50 per litre for petrol. For some reason, I can't edit the page. I expect the google sat image has upset it.

  2. Anonymous6:06 pm

    What a weird roundabout. It makes the Eddington tunnel look sane.

  3. OMG
    If you hadn't run the illustrations I would not have believed it.
    That is insane.

  4. " many people feel the need to own a car."

    Not me, Andrew. I gave up driving years ago. Nowadays I just bum lifts off other people. It's damned sight cheaper and a lot less stressful.

  5. Given how bad my driving is, I am very grateful there is not one of these in my city.

  6. Guess you mean the road tunnel Reuben and not the most excellent proposed rail tunnel.

    I am thinking Springvale Intersection Ann, controlled by traffic lights. It has got to be better.

    Kind of like an ex smoker then Brian. Only OP's.

    Must say Daisy, I would be a bit interested to see the way Americans drive. I think it is quite similar to how we do here, except you are on the wrong side of the road.

  7. Holy sheepshit, Andrew!
    That is a nightmare!

  8. Or in Geordie speak Jayne, That is crazy man.

  9. Anonymous9:57 am

    It's about as excellent as John Howard is socialist!

  10. Anonymous10:02 am

    What a dogs breakfast. It looks like the man had a strange sense of humour. Note to Melbourne road planners: Do not repeat.

  11. Never mind Reuben, I doubt it will happen.

    There has got to be a better way LiD.

  12. Anonymous11:12 am

    I do mind, Andrew. I relish any opportunity to correct a transport contention. And I do think it will happen - at the cost of everything rational and evidence-based.