During my year abroad, I made a few posts about the differences in the U.K. vs. the U.S., including stereotypes, university and student housing with a more recent related post was about spending Christmas in the U.K. Now, this segment back with a bang with comparing roads and driving now that I got a car! When my dad visited, he helped me buy a used 2006 Ford Fiesta to use mainly for work as I’ve been spending my entire life on the bus.
Now, the differences and similarities with driving and roads:
Obviously, the whole driving on the wrong side of the road thing is a big game-changer. When I first started driving in the States, I struggled with not staying in the lane going too far onto the curb as I was weary about oncoming cars in the other lane. I’m doing the same here: I get nervous that there isn’t enough space for cars to pass on smaller streets and end up hitting the curb to overcompensate or, in the case of my test drive, nicking a mirror from cars park on the side of the road. That’s probably my biggest problem driving on the wrong side. Other than that, I’ve adapted quickly and at the moment, I’m proudly over a week of hitting no curbs!
In the U.S., virtually everyone gets their license sooner rather than later at sixteen. Everyone I know back home has a license and a car to use, whether it’s a family car own their own. In the U.K., about 30% of people my age have a driving license and only a handful have a car to use. With the widespread public transit, there’s hardly a need for a car for a typical university student.
Another big difference is that most cars here are manual transmission rather than automatic. Luckily, my dad taught me how to drive one and even at home, I use a manual just as often as an automatic so I was always in practice. However, something funny is that the gears are in the exact same position despite the steering wheel be on the opposite side of the car. Meaning, rather than the first gears being closest to you like they are when the steering wheel is on the left side of the car, they are furthest from you when the wheel is on on the right side of the car.
In the U.K., there are a lot more give way (a.k.a “yield”) signs rather than stop signs. On my daily commute, there are zero stop signs: all give way or traffic lights. However, I have to stop about 50% of the time anyway. There’s also the unsaid give way where if you’re on a narrow residential street, the car on the same side as the parked cars pulls to the side to let the oncoming vehicle pass.
Parking is also a bit different. Not all houses have driveways and even fewer have garages, so most people park in the street. Luckily, I live in a residential area so parking is free and limited to residents, except on match days where we non-permit holders have to move their car as I live about a 15 minute walk from the football stadium. However, football season is done for a few months so I’ll cross that bridge when the time comes… Elsewhere, I often have to parallel park, especially at one of my client’s houses who live off high street. I’ve probably parallel parked more in the last two weeks than most suburban-dwelling Americans have in the last year. Parking lots are also rare. Even the mall has a parking garage instead of a spread out lot. All in all, parking in Brighton is probably comparable to parking in a midtown area of the U.S.: some free parking if you can be bothered to find it, otherwise it’s a small fee.
The U.K. is roundabouts galore. There are maybe two in Tucson, where I use probably about five a day on my short commutes. I’m still trying to decide how I feel about them…
In the U.K., I find few people own cars bigger than an SUV for recreational purposes. I see maybe one truck a day that’s not marked for business use. The roads here are quite small and might be hard to drive through with such a big car. I find it quite preposterous that my brother has a pick-up truck even though he’s in it alone more often than not and uses the bed to it’s full extent once in a blue moon.
Finally, the actual amount of driving greatly differs at least for me personally. Brighton is a lot smaller than Phoenix or Tucson. I find things in the U.S. are a lot more spread out. My average driving time for any given trip in Arizona is about 15-20 where that is my absolute maximum driving time around Brighton to my further clients.
I’ve become quite comfortable with driving and am so happy that I have a car to make life a bit easier.
Photo by Austin Neill.