Tuesday, October 16, 2012

On UK Driving

Watch out, I can drive in the UK!

I first got behind the wheel on the drive up to Scotland.

From a legal perspective, we're actually able to drive on our US licenses for a full year, and then after that we have to take a driving test.  Does that seem a little backward to anyone else?  However, we'll take it... we have a year to practice!

So when you're driving in the UK we're talking about driving on other side of the road and the other side of the car.  Not to mention road signs that are unfamiliar, and a few other oddities besides that.  Josh had the advantage of learning from a coworker, so he a had a bit of a head start on me.  It was actually pretty helpful for him to learn first, because he could explain things to me from the perspective of a US driver.


Our current car is a VW that Josh's company rented for us.  Oh yeah, we're rocking out the station wagon (known as "estate" around here).  It runs on diesel, which means that a tank of "petrol" lasts FOREVER.  But then when it needs more, hello 3x as expensive as US gas.  And this car actually turns itself off with every stop.  And then when you lift off of the brake it turns itself back on.  Very strange, but whatever.

Car Seats.
Since UK and US cars are made slightly differently, their regulations on car seats are different.  Thus it isn't legal to US car seats in a UK car.  So we had to buy Caroline a new one once we got here.  Some of the brands at the store were familiar to us, but we basically chose one that was recommended by baby store employees and random Amazon reviewers alike.  And, when you push the button to release the straps to take the child out, the straps actually spring up, all ready for the next time you need to put her in!  Josh hated our last car seat and is in love with this one.  We'll also have to get a new baby car seat before New Girl shows up.
So we found out about our move to England and then 5 days later found out about New Girl.  My first instinct was to freak out, and I chose car seats as that point at which I did so.

Josh: This is great news!
Jessica: But, but, you have to buy new car seats when you're over there.
And we'll have to buy TTTWWWWOOOOOOOO.
Josh: Um, I think we can handle that.

The other side of the road.
This was the easiest part to get used to for me, both as a driver and a pedestrian.  I didn't think about it before coming here, but when you're walking you automatically look one way or another when you cross streets.  I took me a little while, before I even got behind the wheel, to remember which way to look.  However, after walking around for a couple of weeks prior to driving, it didn't seem all that weird. 

The other side of the car.
Definitely more difficult.  That's because my sense of space is all thrown off.  I mean, in an American car you know that you don't have much room to your left, but you have quite a bit to your right.  And you can quickly judge how/when to turn into a parking spot, and where you should be within the lane.  It's pretty much second nature.  Driving from the other side of the car means re-learning how much space you have on either side of you.  As a result, it's SUPER easy to drift within your lane.  I'm fairly confident that I just might side swipe a parked car one of these days. 

The streets/traffic.
One of the main reasons I might run into a side-swipe problem is that the streets are SO NARROW.  Not so great when you pair that with my spacial awareness problems above.  The street we live on is technically okay both ways, but actually only fits 1 car in 1 direction at a time.  So there's a bunch of gesturing via flashing lights about who gets to go first.  And then getting on the main road is only slightly better.  These are old streets in an old city, so I totally get it.  However, it almost makes me pee my trousers every time I'm on a road and see a big red double decker bus coming opposite me.

Oh, and the traffic sucks. Big city meets those same old narrow roads.  Or, in this case, a simple matter of dumping 3 lanes of highway traffic onto surface roads.0922_6699

The road signs.
Kudos to England. These are remarkably clear and easy to read. There are signs on the sides of roads as well as a lot of signs painted right in the lanes.

Getting on the M25? 
You want to be right here in this lane.

Thank you, England.

And the road side signs are just as helpful, especially with those pesky roundabouts (see below).
Roundabout Sign.jpg Image courtesy of random flickr search.

Another random tidbit.  Most road signs heading out into the countryside have sweeping titles like "THE WEST" and then they include the specific road name almost as an afterthought.

is what I see on the way to the airport from our house.  As opposed to M4 West, which is how most American highways are labeled.

The roundabouts.
These are hard to get used to. There are very very few "normal" intersections around here, but rather roundabouts everywhere. There are specific rules about which lane to be in when you approach the roundabout, and then once you're in it you kind of drift to the outside in a very specific way depending on where you're getting off. Some involve traffic lights, and others don't.  And woe to you if you get off at the wrong point, or don't use your blinkers appropriately, or don't drift over in quite the right way!  You'll get honked at every time. 
another roundabout
Image courtesy of random flickr search.

All in all, we're still living.  The car is intact.  I've made several trips to the airport by myself, and one trip out into the country as well.  That's in addition to a fair amount of weekend driving with Josh sitting next to me encouraging me along.

Tomorrow we're going on a trip to Germany.  It's our last opportunity to travel before A) Caroline turns two and we have to buy her an airline ticket and B) I shouldn't fly anywhere any more.  We're renting a car and are curious whether or not going back to "normal" driving will feel strange.  And then we'll also have the Autobahn to deal with!  Should be interesting...


Tom, Beth, and Ainsley said...

Autobahns are fine, no biggie. They look identical to us freeways and there are only specific spots that are technically no speed limit, just remember stay on the right side, left lane is for passing. Where are you headed? Can't wait to hear all about it!

Ali said...

This post gave me anxiety. My heart is beating out of my chest. God bless you.

Natalie said...

I'm so jealous you get to go to Germany! Have fun! :)

Ashleigh Perkins said...

Jessica, I'm loving all your posts from London! What a fun adventure. I'll admit I'm a little jealous.
Steve and I have been throwing around the idea of a big trip for my 30th bday/our 5 yr anniversary next year. I'm pushing for the UK! I'll have to show him all your adventures to convince him of my idea :)
P.S. Is that skirt in your driving photo from Boden? :)