British vs. American Driving – Part 2

Part two of a little series about driving in the UK and preparing for The Test (the British driving test). For the first post, click here.

I am currently studying for the theory part of The Test, since my driving lessons were put on hold in the summer due to my pending visa application. Since I didn’t want to give the government any more money, I have succeeded in finding many of the relevant theory prep documents free online or borrowed from friends. The Highway Code is ‘essential reading for everyone’ apparently so I started with that. It quickly proved to be a barrel of laughs and confusion because of the heavy use of jargon and (unintentional, we presume) deadpan humour. Hence the idea to compare it with American driving customs for a blog post. The British rules will be italicised and American customs in plain font.

The Highway Code is laudable for many things, such as its consideration of the environment (don’t leave your engine running, how to save fuel etc) but it does exemplify a nanny state type document to me. For example:

  • We are advised (Rule 94) not to wear tinted glasses at night or in poor visibility. Because you won’t be able to see, unless you’re a gangster.
  • Rule 206 – Drive carefully and slowly when passing parked vehicles, especially ice cream vans; children are more interested in ice cream than traffic.
  • Seriously I’m not making this up.
'The Highway Code (UK) - first edition, 1931' by Mikey. Flickr CC-A.

‘The Highway Code (UK) – first edition, 1931’ by Mikey. Flickr CC-A.

The DVSA (Driver & Vehicles Standards Agency) Theory Test prep book also occasionally slips into a vaguely Southern twang:

  • Slow your vehicle right down. You better slow down, Bubba.
  • Kick down (apparently a feature of automatics enabling quick acceleration). Similar to a beat down. Also possibly the name of a football play as in “reverse eagle kick down” or something.

Rule 114 – You MUST NOT use any lights in a way which would dazzle or cause discomfort to other road users.

Americans always use their brights at night on country roads, otherwise you might miss the deer / racoon / possum / other wildlife trying to become roadkill. I really enjoyed the rather saucy use of dazzle throughout the Code and DVSA Theory Test book. Another good one, anti-dazzle, as in setting your rearview mirror to anti-dazzle if the car behind is dazzling, er, blinding you. Side note, wasn’t anti-dazzle that thing that you used to get out the plastic jewels you put in your hair with your BeDazzler when you were twelve?

Rule 123 – National speed limits. There is an entire flow chart/graph for speed limits depending on a) type of vehicle, and b) type of road.

Americans either a) look at the speed limit sign on the road or, b) ignore the speed limit sign on the road.

Rule 225 – Vehicles with flashing amber beacons. These warn of a slow moving or stationary vehicle or abnormal loads.

A beacon is something they have up north on lighthouses and such. Though Mississippi did have a lighthouse on its license plates for awhile. We are still trying to figure that out.

Rule 237 – Keep your vehicle well ventilated to avoid drowsiness.

Put the A/C on full blast, particularly in summer months, otherwise you might burn your butt on the seats which have been superheated by the sun.

Rule 18-30 – Pedestrian crossings. There are several types of pedestrian crossing: zebra, pelican, puffin and toucan. Most people will recognize a zebra crossing from the Beatles’ Abbey Road album cover photo.

Zebras can be viewed at Baton Rouge Zoo. We love pelicans because they are the Louisiana state bird. What’s a puffin? Toucans can also be found at the zoo. We don’t have pedestrians.

'Zebra Crossing?' by K.J. Payne. Flickr CC-A.

‘Zebra Crossing?’ by K.J. Payne. Flickr CC-A.

A few final comments. The catchphrase “mirrors – signal – manoeuvre” was really helpful, but I kept on hearing it in a French accent “ma-NUV-ruh”… I still need to ask somebody what a “milk float” is, all I know is it’s some kind of electric vehicle, presumably used to deliver milk. Road markings and surfaces are elevated to an art form in the UK. There are different colour reflective studs for the different lanes on motorways, different length white lane lines when approaching a roundabout or hazard, all manner of markings for pedestrian crossings, ‘rumble’ features to make you slow down, ‘box junctions’ to tell you not to stop in the middle of an intersection, tactile paving to let disabled pedestrians know there’s a crossing…and that’s not even getting started on the signage.

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2 thoughts on “British vs. American Driving – Part 2

  1. Amusing to read and welcome to the right way of driving 🙂 Also, DVLA (licencing agency rather famously out of Swansea in Wales). Our licencing documents (OK and tax discs) have been changed fairly recently too. I was always taught mirror signal mirror (final safety) manoevre, although frankly few people seem to use it. However reason for writing is to ask for good free resources on the American way of driving, signage and so on. I am vaguely aware of different state requirements. Can you offer anything to look at? Oh, and good luck with the test hope you pass!

    • Thanks for reading. Regarding American driving standards, your best bet is to look up the DMV (Department for Motor Vehicles) office in your state, because like you say rules differ slightly from state to state. The main difference from British driving according to family here is that you can overtake on the left and it’s ok to turn right at red lights if it’s clear.

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