Sunday, September 26, 2010

Eight Tips Series: Driving

There are tricks for getting safely from A to B on the roadways of the Netherlands. It may seem like the rules of the road are self explanatory and easy to follow but often they are not quite as they seem. Here are eight tips to help you drive around this little Dutch nation.

1. Changing Your Driving Licence
There comes a time when your home nation driving licence just isn't valid anymore to drive in the Netherlands. For some nationalities, this means taking a Dutch driving test.  If this applies to you, don't worry. Judging by the driving habits of the rest of the nation, it really can't be that hard.

For others, it is simply a case of swapping once licence for another as is the case with the Brits. Interestingly, swapping a British licence to a Dutch one gives you the right to drive many more (heavy) vehicles than your average Dutchman. Don't ask me why but I can pretty much drive a juggernaut here but my husband can't - he would have to take a separate test for that. So you do need to be careful as you could be the one called upon to drive the school bus / sports mini bus/ freight lorry if you are out and about with your Dutch friends.

2. They're Traffic Lights but not as We Know Them
The colours are the same: red, yellow (or amber if you want to be pedantic) and green but they mean different things.

  • A traffic light that is turning to red means put the gas pedal to the floor and GO GO GO because you can easily make it before it turns really red. If you stop at a traffic light as it turns from amber to red, expect to get beeped at by the car(s) behind.
  • If a traffic light is amber it means speed up, you can easily make it before it turns red.
  • A green traffic light means go, if you have bothered to stop in the first place.

3. Speed Limits Don't Apply to Everyone
If you choose to drive at 120km on the motorway in the fast lane, don't be suprised to see that you pick up an assortment of "trailers" on your journey. Whilst bumperkleven (tailgating) is illegal in the Netherlands it proves no deterrent for Dutch drivers and the fight for space in this little land is no more apparant than on the third lane of the nation's highways. In fact, the Dutch are trying to get bumperkleven classified as an Olympic sport to improve their gold medal tally.

When roadworks are being carried out on the motorway, and a temporary speed limit is in place do not make a mental note to take your car in to the garage to have your speedometer checked. It's fine. Really. It's just that the lower speed limit only applies to you and not to other drivers on the road.

4. Make Someone's Day at a Zebra Crossing
When you stop at a zebra crossing to allow a pedestrian to cross, expect a look of surprise on the faces of those waiting; they never expected you to stop so you have just made their day.

5. There are More than Cars on the Road
At a junction, the absence of cars or pedestrians nearby does not mean it is safe to pull out or turn; watch out for buses, trams and cycles as they can easily come out of nowhere and usually have priority.

If you have to make an emergency manoever to avoid that something hits you, and you hit your horn as a warning or in frustration or anger, expect the middle finger. It does not matter that they have almost hit your car, or that you have had to use all your driving know-how to avoid a collision - you have no right to beep at the offender.

6. Right has Priority
If there are no clear markings on the road, then any road turning onto the road you are on from the right has priority. This means that cars may pull out in front of you from the right and they DO actually have right of way, though it might seem like anti-social driving to you. Do not shout, blaspheme or stick your middle finger up. It's not nice.

7. Roundabout Etiquette
Do not wait for Dutch drivers to signal on the roundabouts. You must guess when they will turn off - it is a sort of national game. You must also pull out on to the roundabout even when it looks like you don't have enough time to do so safely. Someone will eventually stop for you. Or in the back of you.

8. Cars do not Float
Even if you have not been in the Netherlands very long you have probably noticed there is a fair bit of water around in the form of canals, rivers and lakes. Oh, and the sea. Be careful when you are parking in the narrow spaces near the water - like is typical in Amsterdam and Leiden. There are rarely barriers and it is a harrowing drop down to the water if you don't brake in time. It is not just shopping trolleys and bikes that are fished out of Holland's waterways.

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