‘Middle of the Road’ Used to be a Group!

I reported on my road trip from Spain to Holland, and thought the item really begs a follow-on, because driving through four countries, was an ideal opportunity to compare driving standards across Europe, or part of it anyway.Driving in Spain is sometimes a lottery because the Spanish are VERY macho when it comes to their ‘Cocha’ and driving. In a newspaper article I read recently, they were decribed as “frustrated bull-fighters” that had taken to the road. I guess this just about sums them up really. Ole!!

In Spanish towns, you will often hear a cacophony of two-tone horns, single tone horns, and often cheeky beeps if you don’t pull away fast enough from the lights, or if you are accidentally blocking their route. It is not unusual to see someone driving at breakneck speed through the town and even worse on the motorway. For some, even traffic lights are to be ignored. Amazing!

As in most big towns world-wide, the scooters zipping in and out between cars is something that would give any old lady a heart attack.

I drive fairly regularly on one or two motorways where I live, and the most frustrating thing is people who drive down the middle lane of a three lane highway. They even sit in the third lane of a four lane motorway. This is extremely frustrating if you have to cross two or three lanes in order to pass them, and you waste your time flashing them or hooting at them because they will not move over – at least, not until their exit comes up. Overtaking on the inside is a regular occurrence, even if illegal.

In the seventies and eighties this was a constant problem in Britain and still is. There were even TV debates on the subject, and those guilty of this breach in highway etiquette, and the Highway Code, often said “But the inside lane is for trucks” Duh! Nincompoops! Idiots! It is quite obvious that none of them had ever heard of the Highway Code, let alone read it!

For my American readers, let me just say that in Europe you must overtake on the left (right in Britain) unlike the USA where you may, I believe, overtake on both sides.

Now to get back to the point, this is a constant occurrence both in Spain and Belgium, and the strange thing is, in both countries, the majority of offenders are women drivers. Sorry girls, but it is a fact. That is not to say men don’t do it because they too are guilty. It is sad to note that none of this has any impression on the Police in any country. They are completely disinterested in the entire affair and take no action at all.

Another annoying thing about driving in Spain is people who drive on full headlights all the time, totally ignoring the fact that they could cause an accident by blinding preceding or on-coming drivers.

I have often stated to friends that I would love to be a traffic policeman with a hammer. If I were, I would stop these inconsiderate individuals and smash their headlights on the spot. Perhaps they would be more considerate after they were forced to stay where they were until daylight, and then had the cost of repairs. Unfortunately, Justice is not that straightforward.

Anyway, on to France! In general I find the French are much more considerate than the majority of European countries. They will move over if you wish to overtake, however they still have their ‘middle laners’. They do have one throw-back to the sixties that they just don’t seem able to forget.

It was taught many years ago, that if you wished to overtake you put on your indicator and left it on until the maneuver was completed. If they were overtaking a string of cars or trucks this meant a long time. Today however, we have three and four lane motorways for which this system is not suited. If someone pulls out into the second lane to overtake, you do not know if they are also going to cross into the third or fourth lane also. A bit dodgy if you ask me.

Paris is of course a rule unto itself. They are plain crazy in Paris and if you look around you, nearly all the cars have dents and scratches like nobodies business. It’s scary!!! If you come out alive and unharmed you can thank your lucky stars once again.

As previously stated, Belgium is a pleasure to drive at night, if you don’t mind the noisy, bumpy ride, but here we have the same ‘Middle of the Road’ mentality as in Spain. As previously stated, most are women, and I wonder if they feel safer in the middle lane, or is it a statement thing. You know! Here I am and this lane is mine, do you hear, MINE!

Belgian men can be aggressive if you flash them because they are hogging the overtaking lane too much. Though in Spain the men are much much worse if you criticise their driving in any way.

Overall, the Dutch have improved from some ten years ago. Once they got into the outside lane on a motorway you could not shift them for love or money! Now, thankfully they have learned, somewhat, that the outside lane is intended for overtaking only. Most, but not all will move over when you approach from behind with the intention of overtaking.

In general, I think I can say with the utmost authority, that driving standards across Europe have fallen significantly over that past 40 years or so. Cars have become faster and more efficient at speed, but with that must surely come an increased awareness of the responsibility of the driver to control that machine in such a way as to be safe on the road, and considerate to other road users. Unfortunately both are sadly lacking.

Driving schools all over Europe have but one aim; To get you through the driving test as quickly as possible with the minimum of investment. Gone are the days when people were taught how to drive, and were taught all the rules for safe and courteous driving. No amount of investment will change today’s mentality.

So what do we do? I really can’t answer that question. All I can say is try your best to be safe and courteous and hope you don’t get mown down by some idiot.

May your wheels continue turning.

Roy

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