Driving on the Left

Last month, we decided to take a weekend trip to Wales, so I took a driving lesson before departing on my own with Julie and Basil in the car. Better safe than sorry. Here are a few interesting things.

1. They drive on the left. If you did not know that already, you need to get out more. I did not find it that challenging, but I did consciously think about which lane to turn into at each intersection.

2. Shifting. It makes it easy to get used to driving on the opposite side when you drive from the opposite side as well. It would also be convenient if the gears on the stick shift were opposite, but they are not. So, 5th gear is closest to you and 1st gear is furthest away. That proves to be very annoying around our borough, as Islington is a 20mph borough, so you are really only in 1st and 2nd gear. Very challenging if you are short.

3. Stop signs. They do not exist. I have yet to see one. Any four way intersection has a round-about, or rotary if you are from New England (go Red Sox!). If a road dead ends at an intersection, there will be no sign telling you to stop. Occasionally you will see a “Give Way” sign, which is the British yield sign. I guess that makes sense, that if a road is ending and your options are turning left, right, or drive directly into the stonewall in front of you, you should probably turn. The American in me thinks that it is a lawsuit waiting to happen. Unfortunately, the British seem to take responsibility for their actions and do not blame their stupidity on others. Shame.

4. Saving the Planet. The UK, and London specifically, really care about emissions. So much so, that all new cars have a shut down system when you idle. While I was taking my driving lesson, I put the car in neutral while at a red light. Within 5 seconds, the car turned off. I thought I had stalled, but the car was still in neutral. Apparently this is an environmental feature, to reduce emissions while idling. When you shift into first gear, the car restarts itself. With our rental car, the car shut off even quicker while stopped. In just getting out of London to go to Wales, our engine cut off over 30 times before getting on the motorway. I hope I helped a glacier.

5. Speed Cameras. The UK love speed cameras. They are set up all over the country, so police essentially never pull over cars for speeding, so they are free to do other important things, like having afternoon tea. There are signs warning you when the cameras are coming and dash marks on the road that shows where the camera can operate. If you are speeding, they snap a picture of your license plate and mail you a ticket. The allowance is 10%, which is frustrating in this 20mph borough. Speeding along at 23mph will get you a ticket. Strangely, they do not move cameras very often, so once you know their location, the whole of the UK is one big autobahn.

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