Rules Of The Road: Driving In The UK

Do you own a Porsche,Alfa Romeo or 4 x 4? If so,you won’t be very happy with the Mayor of London’s latest Congestion Charge proposals. From October 2008 (unless he loses the elections in May),it will cost you £25 per day to drive into the area. Even if you’re a resident in the zone,you’ll still be liable. You could,of course,
buy a bike or a much smaller car. The new regulations,though,will effectively lower the sale price of your current vehicle. There is another solution: Get a job at one of the Embassies in the capital. Their staff (&  families) are supposed to pay,but generally don’t.

According to the latest Transport for London (TFL) statistics,20 foreign embassies owe a total of over £10 million for congestion and parking fines. The worst are the Americans (£2 million), the Japanese (£1 million), Nigerians (£982,350),Russians (£912,360) and Germans (£828,170). It seems there’s not much the British Government or the Mayor can do about this or the £9 million in speeding and parking debts accumulated by foreign drivers who have since left the country. This includes the ones who hired British-registered cars. The 6000 speed cameras in the UK can easily identify and catch British motorists. Tracing offenders from abroad who have returned home is more problematic.

A recent Association of British Insurers (ABI ) report has attributed 18,000 collisions in the UK (2006-7) to drivers from Europe – an increase of 47% in two years.  1.7 million (left-hand drive) lorries arrive at UK ports annually. The person at the wheel often can’t understand the road signs,is unfamiliar with UK traffic laws and knows nothing of the maximum period they are allowed on the road without taking a break. Their lorry may be overloaded,in faulty condition and (due to limited vision) likely to swerve into the path of other vehicles.The Government has started to distribute stick-on mirrors to reduce such accidents.

Germany’s requirements for granting a driving licence are considered the strictest in Europe ,followed by Britain – where only 50% pass the (written & practical) test the first time. Non-European UK residents have to take this test within 12 months or stop driving. Adapting to completely different traditions,however,is the real challenge. In Britain,motorists flash their headlights to give another car priority. In Continental Europe,it tends to mean “get out of my way”. Here,drivers  usually stop at pedestrian crossings. Do that in France,Spain or Italy and the car behind will probably crash into you. The British public disapproves of ‘tailgating’ (leaving just two inches between yourself and the vehicle in front). Over there,its all part of the.sport. In the UK,cars are supposed to slow down when joining the motorway. In France (irrespective of the rules),they don’t.

Traffic drives on the right in 164 countries and on the left in 75 (mainly former  British colonies but also several – including Indonesia,Japan and Thailand – who weren’t). Argentina,Paraguay and Uruguay changed to the right in 1945; Panama (1943); Spain (1924): Portugal (1928); Austria (1938); Sweden (1967).. In Italy,until the mid 1920’s,traffic was on the right in the countryside and on the left in the major cities – which may explain why even now they seem to drive in the middle.

Filed under: Society | Posted on March 1st, 2008 by Colin D Gordon

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