Learning to drive safely in the United Kingdom

Janine Fagan

Janine Fagan

As I walk across Medary, I find myself to be very cautious of the traffic, just like home. The amazing thing is, is that just two blocks parallel with Medary you don’t need to walk with such caution; drivers stop willingly to allow you to cross the road.

How can there be such a difference in the attitudes of drivers within only a couple of blocks?

Last spring, I was asked by a friendly face in one of my classes to tell her about England. It suddenly dawned on me that I had better warn her about crossing the roads.

I sat picturing how different our opinions of driving and stop. My advice was simply this: “Don’t just walk out on to a road like we do here, we have very different rules for crossing the road, and if you find yourself in the middle, find the quickest way to the other side because the people will not stop.”

In England there are no laws about stopping for pedestrians to cross the road. Drivers are suppose to stop when pedestrians are waiting at zebra crossings, however, it’s mainly the traffic light crossings that drivers take notice of. There are many that go through the lights and many that are trying to drive away before the pedestrians have reached the other side of the road. It really makes no difference to drivers in the UK.

We have two types of crossings: zebra crossings and pedestrian “traffic light” crossings. Zebra crossings are the white strips painted on the road much like some of the crossing around campus, but we have black and white painted poles with flashing yellow balls on top to help drivers make the distinction.

The speed limit on our motorways is 70 miles per hour, you can do 80 without being stopped, many drivers push it to 90, and there are many who drive at 100 miles an hour.

It is against the law to not wear your seat belt in England and there are many laws about passengers in your car also. You can be stopped for not having your seat belt on and it is an automatic fine on the spot. If your passenger is under the age of 18 then it is you, the driver, is responsible for them not wearing a seat belt.

I think this has only contributed to our way of driving faster. It like we have a false sense of safety because of the seat belts, but in reality seat belts only help reduce the impact of an accident; they do not prevent it.

The introduction of speed cameras on the roads has definitely made drivers more cautious. However, you can find ways to cheat the system. I was one of those who had figured out how to get from point a to point the fastest way possible, skipping through all the cameras without getting caught.

When the cameras were first introduced to the roads, drivers were alarmed by them. However, over the years the maintenance on them has fallen.

I remember one time I got lost and was flashed by the same camera twice in the space of about 15 minutes and I never received a ticket about it.

If you ever go to the United Kingdom, be warned about the drivers and be cautious at all times.

Oh, and look the opposite way when crossing the street because we drive on the opposite side of the road.

Janine Fagan is from the United Kingdom. Write to her at [email protected].