Top 10 List: Observations on driving in Europe

I have been driving in the US since I was 17. I’ve gotten used to driving in the US. To borrow from David Letterman, here is my top 10 list of “Things an American Driver Has to Get Used to While Driving in Europe”: (Not including the price of gas, which I covered in a previous post.)

10 – Many of the cars and other vehicles that you encounter on the road in Europe are a whole ‘nuther breed than what we’re used to seeing in the U.S.

Some kind of pedal taxi cab or something...

Some kind of pedal taxi cab or something…

9 – Roadside distractions abound. In addition to the beautiful scenery, there are other, more peculiar distractions.

Apparently, the folks in Grand Saconnex are very proud of their basketball tradition

Apparently, the folks in Grand Saconnex are very proud of their basketball tradition

8- Speed “bumps” in Europe are speed “plateaus” (the French call them “passages surélevé” which translates to “raised passage.) You get the bump on the way up and on the way down. Interestingly, many of the locals don’t slow down much for these traffic calming devices.

A "raised passage" speed control bump

A “raised passage” speed control bump

7 – Roundabouts are the rule, not the exception, when it comes to intersections. Some of them are very pretty, like this one.

A beautiful roundabout in Ferney Voltaire, France

A beautiful roundabout in Ferney Voltaire, France

6- In those cases where there is an actual signal controlled intersection, the yellow light warns you both when to get ready to stop, and also when to get ready to go. In other words, the yellow light comes on just before the green, as if to say, “get ready to go if you don’t want to annoy all the drivers waiting behind you!”

The yellow light means "Get ready to go!"

The yellow light means “Get ready to go!”

5 – Tailgating is socially acceptable. It’s just how everyone drives. Even in parking lots. Get used to it.

These cars are moving too fast to be this close together

These cars are moving too fast to be this close together

4 – Some two way streets are only one-and-a-half lanes wide. If you meet a car, the two of you just need to creatively figure out a way to get around each other which generally involves use of the sidewalk.

In Europe, sidewalks sometimes double as shoulders

In Europe, sidewalks sometimes double as shoulders

3 – Out on the highway, there are different speed limits for the different lanes. For example, the left hand fast lane might have a speed limit of 90 kilometers per hour, and the right hand lane might have a speed limit of 70 kilometers per hour. Everyone routinely goes about 20 kilometers per hour over their respective speed limit. (It wouldn’t have been safe to take a picture going 90 kilometers per hour, so you’re going to have to trust me on this one.)

2- Scooters and motorcycles don’t have to obey any lane designations. They can go wherever they want, whenever they want. This can be especially dicey while waiting for a red light, where the scooters will simply speed ahead between cars to the front of the line.

Scooter drivers rule the road

Scooter drivers rule the road

… And the #1 Thing an American Driver Had to Get Used to Driving in Europe”: Everyone — and by that I mean literally

    everyone

— is in a bigger hurry than you are.

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