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Driving Abroad

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On: Mon, Aug 29, 2011 at 5:27PM | By: Peter C Sessler

Driving Abroad

Think American drivers are bad and undisciplined? You don’t know how good you have it until you’ve driven abroad. Since I’ve had the opportunity to drive in several foreign countries, I’ll save you the trouble of finding out yourself.

First, let’s take a look at the cars themselves. Generally, you’ll find that use of automatic transmissions is still lagging abroad. The reason for this is fairly simple. Automatic equipped cars cost more, and also use more gas. With gas costing more than it does here, the typical foreign driver prefers to use a manual transmission. Don’t worry, for those of you who don’t know how to shift, rental cars are typically equipped with automatic transmissions.

Driving habits obviously differ from country to country – it is to be expected. English and German drivers are more disciplined than those here, especially the Germans. Because they drive much faster in Germany, you’ll find that slower drivers do stay in the slower lanes. You won’t find self-appointed speed-limit wardens holding up traffic, because it’s downright dangerous to do so – cars will be cruising at speeds way over 100 mph, and you don’t want to get in their way.

As you get to the Mediterranean countries, particularly Italy and Greece (but much less so Spain), courtesy and discipline deteriorate. It seems that every stoplight is the beginning of a Grand Prix race. As you’re sitting at an outdoor café sipping a cool drink, you’ll hear gunning engines and squealing tires as the traffic moves and flows. There’s lots of horn-blowing too. And because many of the towns and cities are very old, there is a dearth of parking spaces. Can’t find a parking space on the curb? Well, then, why not park on the sidewalk? Such an action would not be out of place in Italy or Greece.

The use of small shrines indicating a fatal accident is very extensive in the Mediterranean countries, as well. There are sections of highway where such memorials are lined up one after another. It can be quite disconcerting to see wrecks and hulks of cars and buses down the slope of the narrow mountain road you are traversing.

One of the most challenging places I’ve driven in is Yugoslavia (Croatia). A "big" highway there is a two-lane road that’s a little wider than other two-lane roads. Because the country is so mountainous (with the usual shrines that line the roads), it’s very difficult to pass. The roads are very curvy with few long straightaways, but everyone continues to pass others … on the curves. As much as I complain though, after a few days I found myself passing on curves as well!

You also have to be careful where you park in Yugoslavia. In one city, I was told that I shouldn’t park in the parking lot, but should instead park against the side of the building a few feet from the main entrance to discourage theft of things like wiper blades, headlights, tires, etc.

In Egypt, I didn’t see one car without numerous dents and scrapes – from big, expensive Mercedes to cheaper compact cars. Also somewhat unsettling is the Egyptian habit of driving at night without any headlights on – just the parking lights – the rationale is to have the bulbs last longer. And it was in Egypt that I saw so many drivers slow down for red lights, quickly check to see if anyone is coming, and then zoom off.

On the other hand, after you’ve driven abroad, you’ll find that American drivers are very disciplined, and compared to drivers abroad, very courteous, too.



DipStick | 10:49AM (Thu, Sep 1, 2011)

Natives who beat drums to drive off evil spirits are objects of scorn to smart Americans who blow horns to break up traffic jams. Mary Ellen Kelly

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