It’s good to be back in the UK. I ruminated on this very thought as I drove through the night to get home on Saturday. After two weeks of generally good European motorway lane discipline, it was business as usual on the M20/M25/M11, where, more often than not the outer two lanes were busy with drivers intent on proving the size of their engine/manhood/ego (delete where appropiate) by not wishing to move over into that empty inner lane. Ahh well.
Forgive me whilst I indulge myself here, but us Brits do seem to drive in a certain way. Well, it appears that way when you see us driving abroad. There’s motorway lane discipline, for one thing: we like to make sure that we’re in the overtaking lane nice and early to get past the slower moving vehicle ahead, and if there’s another one a quarter of a mile ahead, then we remain out there to overtake that – regardless of the flow of the traffic behind. Invariably, this brings down the speed of everyone else, bunching up the surrounding traffic, making us even less inclined to move out of that overtaking lane.
It’s a classic case of passive aggression really. Well, passive until those in the inner lane are moving faster than those in the outer lane. Then it becomes an aggressive lane-changing free-for-all. Still, at least we’re a consistent bunch.
Now, take the French (please take the French… just kidding). They have the luxury of living in a country with five-times the land mass of the UK, and an evenly spread of town and cities. This means their roads are lightly trafficked and more often than not, lightly policed. On the Autoroute, though, they seem to understand the demands of traffic flow, and even though they need it less than us, they work hard to keep the overtaking lane free for that – overtaking. This leads to some disconcerting driving (from the British perspective), and it’ll scare you witless the first time you see a faster drivier whizz up to the back of you only to swerve out at the last possible moment. Whatever, it does seem to work effectively indeed.
The Italians are different
again. God knows what they
feed their cars on down
there, but it isn’t petrol.
The Italians are different again. God knows what they feed their cars on down there, but it certainly isn’t petrol. Seicentos are driven the same way that Golf GT TDIs are here in the UK (only faster), and everyone seems to want to race you. Well, they wanted to race me, anyway… Unlike in France, where your cards are marked as a “rosbif” (from “roast beef”… it is a term of endearment, in the way that “frog” is here in the UK) the moment you trundle out of Calais, Italians don’t seem to want to run us off the road. In fact, from what I saw, all they wanted to see was how fast my car could go. Forza Italia!
And the Swiss… ooh well, they are a rich bunch. Look around Geneva, and the Audi RS4 and RS6 seem to be as common as the Mondeo/3-Series is here in the UK. Porsches and Ferraris are pretty common as well. The average Swiss seems to drive an E-Class/Audi A6, and one can see why, given, the country’s fantastic roads. Except. Except that they don’t seem to speed at all (unless they’re somewhere else). All these powerful cars, and no will to use them. Well, it looks that way, but the real reason for this lack of verve behind the wheel seems to be down to the GATSO factor. Switzerland is littered with the things, and as a result, everyone drives well within the limits.
And in a way, these national traits of our European kinsmen make one realise that things are not all that bad in the UK. The motorways may be crowded and slow here, but if you’re not in a rush, at least they can be relatively stress-free. And unlike France and Italy, we do not have tolls. Maybe that’s the reason their motorways are so clear… maybe not. And we can moan all we want about Speed cameras in the UK, but at least the authorities warn us of their presence… for goodness sake, they paint them luminous yellow – if you get caught by one in the UK, you’re obviously not concentrating on your driving. In France, Germany and Switzerland, on the other hand, they are hidden in the most devious places imaginable…
Nope, I said it before and I’ll say it again… it’s good to be back in Blighty.
Is the Editor of the Parkers website and price guide, formerly editor of Classic Car Weekly, and launch editor/creator of Modern Classics magazine. Has contributed to various motoring titles including Octane, Practical Classics, Evo, Honest John, CAR magazine, Autocar, Pistonheads, Diesel Car, Practical Performance Car, Performance French Car, Car Mechanics, Jaguar World Monthly, MG Enthusiast, Modern MINI, Practical Classics, Fifth Gear Website, Radio 4, and the the Motoring Independent...
Likes 'conditionally challenged' motors and taking them on unfeasible adventures all across Europe.