Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Driving Through Four Countries - An Exercise in Self-Preservation

I recently travelled back to the UK for a visit. We went by car using the Eurotunnel and hence travelled in a number of countries in one day: the Netherlands, Belgium, France and England. And the different driving 'styles' struck me.....

A12 in the Netherlands
Photo:L van Mulligen
It's not the first time I've mentioned it, but the Dutch do tend to like to stick close together on the motorway in the fast lane. It's called tailgating and it's actually illegal. Luckily most Dutch drivers who tailgate don't know this or simply don't care - and there aren't many police around to remind them on the motorways so it happens. It happens a lot. In fact it was actually pinpointed as the biggest annoyance for Dutch road users in 2010. Presumably it annoys the majority of Dutch drivers who think some distance between them and the car in front or behind is sensible and not those who glue themselves to the bumper in front. So that was my most notable observation on the Dutch motorways.

Then we passed into Belgium. You can usually tell that you have crossed the border as the quality of the road surface deteriorates dramatically. And as you jiggle your way down the motorway, something becomes very apparent. Belgian drivers are mad. They make Dutch drivers look tame. They tear down the fast lane with disregard to any speed limits (I learnt that foreigners caught speeding are treated severely by the police whereas the locals are not really bothered by law enforcement officers until they travel at the speed of space shuttles...) and they criss cross lanes as if they are the only vehicle on the road. Something worth watching out for in Belgium are cars with only five figures in the licence plate - these are drivers who obtained their driving licence with a pack of milk many decades ago (or at least they didn't have to take a driving test) ..... and the cars usually show much evidence of this.

Then we hit France. What redeems French drivers is that any driver probably looks good once you've escaped the Belgian roads unscathed. However, the French do something that none of their neighbours do - they keep their indicator on in the fast lane to let you know that they need to get past and they are not just using the fast lane to overtake - they are using the outer lane as their very own personal road to get to their destination as quickly as possible. Therefore, you really need to move over because they have priority. And there is no point just putting your ticker on - you're a foreigner and you still don't have 'fast lane priority'.

And then you drive onto the Eurotunnel train and marvel at how you've made it so far. It's time to sit and relax for the short trip under the Channel to Folkestone before your journey takes you on to the British motorways.

And then you notice the middle of the road attitude of English drivers. They sit in the middle lane of the motorway for no apparent reason. To legally pass them from the 'slow' lane you have to cross over to the 'fast lane' and then cut back to the furthest left lane. And they remain oblivious to the fact that they are causing mayhem around them as drivers criss cross to pass them. Some pass on the left, others on the right, but to no avail. I eventually worked out that some English drivers believe you have to pick a lane when you join the motorway and stick to it - no matter what. Horns. Lights. Cutting them up. None of it works.

So there you have it - Van Mulligen's observations of some of Europe's main highways. You have been warned.

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