I’ve talked a lot, and I do mean a lot, about my driving in England. Today I had my second to last lesson before my second attempt at the driving test. This was the day when I finally just got fed up and my driving instructor warned me to get rid of my attitude. It’s not the instructor, or the gear shifting, or the fact that it was 23F with snow and ice on the ground – it’s the stupid road system.
The main problem I have with trying to learn how to drive here is that a native Brit does not understand that situations such as the picture above, ever, ever, ever happen in Florida. Before I started taking my lessons last spring, I didn’t even understand how you read the roundabout sign. Tonight I had to drive through one of my favourite double roundabouts that also require the driver to get into the middle lane at their exit because the left lane is for left turns only. Fair enough but where is the sign to indicate that?
Right next to where the same information is given on the road, right before the next turn. So if you don’t see it 100 feet down the road, you get muscled out of your lane.
Now, my instructor’s argument for this is that I need to constantly be looking and assessing and this is entirely my fault because I’m not aware of my surroundings. Well, no, the problem is there’s way too much going on in my surroundings. Aside from having to watch traffic, I have to memorize what the roundabout sign looks like because after you pass it, that’s it. You have to get in the correct lane and hope you take the correct exit because most of the time there is no sign that says anything like, “NEWCASTLE” with an arrow saying “TAKE THIS ROAD HERE!”
He also didn’t understand how I got confused when the roundabout ended up having road works (construction) on it we had to drive on it in the opposite direction. Well, no, that’s not anything I had every anticipated. How can I be blamed for that? It’s not “quite straightforward,” as he keeps telling me. After I drove through it five times and figured out that each exit had a separate stop light, then I realized that I could drive the opposite direction without crashing into an on-coming bus.
The other problem I have is that in England everyone (well 99% of them) is a polite driver. I can’t do anything like slow down too much, move over to the left or right too much, turn on a signal too early, etc. because it will “confuse other drivers.” In Florida we were taught to drive defensively. We do our thing and stay the heck away from everyone else. Here, I was told, “You should move off the moment the other car is an inch away from you.” Seriously. This is being a confident, immediate and with-it driver. I can’t put a signal on for a left hand turn if a parked car is on the left because that means, to other drivers, that I’m parking and not turning. That means they’ll pull right out in front of me if they’re turning right. Also, when I’m on a highway (motorway), I can’t signal that I want to pass (over-take) and go in the right lane until the right lane is clear because that will “confuse” the drivers. Screw them, I’m doing my thing! No. Must be courteous to everyone else on the road. Just a totally different way of thinking about driving.
My other big concern is the proximity of the other cars. I cannot stand being an inch or two from on-coming traffic. My driving instructor doesn’t understand that at all. When I have to parallel park a car, there is nothing in my driving brains that says, “Oh, this car is really tiny so I’ll miss these other cars by a mile.” No. I’ve been in parking lots where I’ve had other drivers argue with me for being too close to their car.
I also tried to explain to my instructor that I can’t just expect anyone to let me into a left lane if I’m stopped in a right hand turn lane. He didn’t understand why my logic was, “Dang, can’t get in that lane, have to go around the block.” When he finally said, “Well, stop the car and wait for them to let you in,” I was astonished. “Why?” he wanted to know. I said, “Because if you hold up a lane of traffic in Florida they will blow the horn and shout at you.” You stay away from other cars. Heck, they won’t even let you have a parking space at Wal-Mart or even cross the parking lot on foot. I am not use to nice drivers at all. Drive on 1-4 where it’s every man for himself and you’ll know what I’m talking about.
When I failed my driver’s test on the first attempt it was because I went 35mph in a 30 zone. Why did I do that? Because you’re lucky to find a speed limit sign on some streets. Apparently this is because the default speed limit is 3o mph and I “already knew that.” How did I know that? Because the Highway Code handbook says that the speed limit is 30 mph in any built up area and built up areas are identified by having street lights.
Um…and how does this translate to “the default speed limit on any road is 30 mph unless there’s a speed limit sign?” Because, apparently, everyone in England knows that a road with streetlights means, well, a normal road. Why could they not just spell that out exactly or, better yet, have some speed limit signs? The thing that gets me is the National Speed Limit signs that are a circle with a fat, black slash mark in them. Why do they not say 60 mph or 70 mph? Because the National Speed Limit is different on different roads for different types of vehicles and as a driver we’d know that. Yeah…
Incidentally, they’re taking down signs in England now because, “there are too many of them and they cause confusion.” My driving instructor said this will, “make people think for themselves.” As if having to play the memory game every time you turn a corner isn’t enough.
So, again, I’m irritated. Each time I take a lesson I swear to myself that I’ll never drive in this country again. I don’t know if it’s because I have the instructor in the car with me, or because I’ve not had a chance to drive on my own, but I am not confident driving on these roads at all. I mean I could get around but it is no way near as simple as thinking, “Oh, okay, I’ll just drive from Orlando to Cocoa Beach,” because the roads will tell me where my exits are. No. It’s so much more complicated than that and I cannot even explain as much in detail about how I can’t make this get any easier.
Of course my driving instructor thinks that I’m just making b.s. excuses all the time. Sigh…
I will keep on trying to get my license since I’m almost there (technically) but I just don’t know. I thought learning to drive was going to be fun and take about 10 hours to figure it out. No. At least now I could drive a stick shift in America if I needed too, I guess.