The Rules of the Road, UK Style

Guess who got so irritated at not being able to drive herself to the gym yesterday that she just up and did it? Yep.

And no one died. In fact no one even honked, and husband’s car was returned intact. Very, very exciting.

After calling C. for help in getting the car started (the wheel tends to lock and then the door locks all click over and over instead of the ignition starting, which is kind of freaky), I inched out of our jam-packed street and prayed to whomever felt like listening that I make it to my destination without mishap.

I’ve pretty much got the pedestrian crossings down now–the pelican, zebra and toucan. One thing that I really appreciate about England is the walking culture. People take their walks seriously (country walks, historical walks, etc.), and pedestrians are considered valid life forms with an inherent right to be on the road and the pavement (sidewalk).

One must stop at all zebra crossings and wait until the pedestrian has arrived safely at the other side of the street. Even if someone looks like they’re waiting to cross, cars must stop. This still gets me when I’m walking. I’m always standing there waiting to be waved on and shocked when I realize that they’ve stopped and are giving me right of way.

Zebra crossing. Short "e," which caused all sorts of confusion the first time I heard it.

There’s a puffin crossing too, which, I have to admit, made me chuckle. The Brits love their birds, which, as an amateur enthusiast, gives me hope that I’ll find other twitchers like myself.

Toucan crossing. Fruit Loops not provided.

Perhaps my favorite crossing-related word in the UK, though, is lollipop woman and lollipop man.

Crossing Guard in the US, lollipop woman in the UK. Very Willy Wonka.

But back to roundabouts—Monday’s dragon. At rush hour, they’re especially terrifying. I was so relieved to chat with a retired woman last night who agreed that one just sort of hopes for the best and rushes out into a Cyclops-like whirligig of cars flying around a circle at about thirty miles an hour. So it’s not just me.

Just one of the many circles of hell.

It’s hard to tell if one can go or not, and everything about the roundabout feels arbitrary. I think it’s sort of like building a nest–one’s just born in England with the knowledge of how to navigate each local roundabout as each seems to have its own rule. Maybe the right lane is a certain death, or one lane filters into another. Maybe there’s another roundabout right *after* that roundabout, so you need to know which lane to get in immediately upon exiting. The goal for most on the roundabout seems to be to scare others out of their way. And frightened I am. I like to hang out on the edge and wait for a nice, huge gap while the people on the right zoom in. It’s almost like they’re eager to get in there, like there’s a prize on the other side.

At least I’ve got my nice magnetic “P” to slap on the front and back of the car to warn folks that I’m only a permit driver. So far the others seem pretty sympathetic, letting me in and generally tolerating my creeping along.

In one, the notorious “Tesco Roundabout,” (similar to pic above) the right lane is bad news unless you have to go all the way around. Then it’s good. Otherwise, given that there are three lanes INSIDE the roundabout, you don’t want to be there because then you’ll have to scoot over two lanes to get off. Or, instead of scoot, just “drift,” as my instructor says.

But the notion of drifting seems all wrong on the roundabout. Drifting is for manatees or tree branches in rivers. Instead, think verbs for fighter jets. Roaring, zooming, edging maybe, but no drifting.

It’s going to be a while before I’m on the highway–probably a long while–but for now my next dragon is that Tesco roundabout. And soon…the theory test!

6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. David Halliday
    Mar 03, 2011 @ 11:34:48

    For fun you can try Chiswick roundabout, a couple months after passing my test I encountered this joy. Going from between 3 and 5 lanes as you go round it.

    But I have yet to enjoy this beauty. Behold the “magic roundabout”:


    • taramoyle
      Mar 03, 2011 @ 16:08:30

      I almost included the “magic” roundabout image on my driving post David! Is it magic because one needs a magic wand and quite a bit of fairy dust to make it through unscathed? 😉 I’m getting vertigo just looking at it.

      The Chiswick roundabout does not sound like fun. I’ve been on a few like that closer to London, and can’t believe how fast people fly around them.

      Thanks for reading and for your comment!

      Safe travels,


  2. Eastendmom
    Mar 05, 2011 @ 22:48:39

    I give you lots and lots of points for even trying! We were on holiday with UK friends several years ago and in the process put 1300 miles on our rental car! Had we not been able to follow our friends driving in their car through the many roundabouts and other navigational mysteries it would have been a nightmare! Took dh two weeks just to get comfortable driving on the other side of the road/car, much less trying to figure out how to get from points A to B.


    • taramoyle
      Mar 06, 2011 @ 01:17:32

      Yeah, it’s weird. Some people, like my husband, can get off a red-eye flight and just drive on the highway. No big deal. I really want more rules–like on a roundabout, how do you know when you have space to merge in? It’s all a matter of time and learning how to gauge which direction they’re flying off as you can’t rely on the indicators. Right now there’s so much construction around here, too, or road works, as the locals say. The other night my husband drove on the sidewalk to get around another car and some ripped-up road. Not sure if I’ll be trying that one any time soon. 😉


  3. Erika
    Mar 06, 2011 @ 09:45:22

    I am majorly impressed! Go you! That is truly amazing. I flat out refuse to drive here, I just don’t think my brain would be able to handle it – it’s hard enough when I’m a passenger in a friend’s car (and is it just me or does most everyone just FLY down the motorways at warp speed? Maybe it just feels scary because I’m in a tiny car, but man oh man it freaks me out!) Oh, and I do the exact same thing at zebra crossings. 🙂


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