Driving in Europe - true bliss

Last updated 09:27 30/07/2012

After spending three weeks driving around eastern Europe recently, it was a shock to reacquaint myself with kamikaze Kiwi driving. Guess the calm and courtesy overseas stems from the fact that there are so many other vehicles on the road. Many Kiwis seemingly drive as if there's no one else around. Indicating seems to be a forgotten art. Staying close to the centre line when waiting to turn right? I don't think so; everyone else can wait as well. Undertaking on the inside lane and then carving a hole back into the traffic where there isn't one? Sure, why not if it gets you there a few seconds sooner? Where does this race-'em-beat-'em attitude come from?

Driving in Europe seems a bit less stressful, despite the traffic volumes. They're so courteous. Perhaps it's also because they're forever dealing with confused tourists. Much of the anxiety of driving for foreigners is relieved nowadays thanks to the advent of sat nav, which not only tells you exactly when to turn off, virtually to the metre, but also directs you away from traffic snarlups to quieter roads when appropriate. How good is that? And the system is invariably right. It's hard to imagine how much of a nightmare it must have been before sat nav was invented. Even if you make a mistake the system quickly recalculates and redirects you back on track.  

sat nav

Most of the main thoroughfares in Europe are dual carriageway, i.e. at least two lanes for each direction, separated physically by either barriers or green belts. That means the slow lane is inhabited by trucks which may only travel at 80kmh, while the outside lane is reserved essentially for passing. Most adhere to this rule because average speeds are considerably higher than here. Vast tracts of Europe are flat as a salt pan, so main arterial routes don't need that many corners. That's why the speed limit on these roads is generally 130kmh. Everything travels at that pace, even superminis. Most cars are doing 140kmh and we often encountered cars cruising at 160kmh-plus. Many of these highways in Eastern Europe are pay roads, but when it's possible to do upwards of 1000km per day without undue hardship, you willingly pay for the privilege of using them.

dual road 2

Especially because such road surfaces have NO. COARSE. CHIP. What a joy, travelling long distance by car with almost zero road noise. Law enforcement? Once we saw two Policia cars dealing to a minor traffic collision. Patrol cars out trying to catch speeding motorists? I don't think so. They have speed cameras for that, and they seem to be a rarity where we went. At least I hope they were.

Another sensible thing we could emulate. In European cities, the amber light illuminates for a second or two before the green light, giving motorists a heads up to be ready to rumble. It's another small but meaningful way to keep traffic flowing optimally. Pedestrians are also warned how long before their green crosslight turns red, with a timer counting down the seconds. Jaywalking is rare.

Another fantastic aspect of driving in Europe is that cyclists are, for the most part, isolated from motorists. They have their own cycleways, not only in rural areas but in the major cities as well. And if not, they share widened footpaths with pedestrians. Strolling around, you soon learn not to wander into their section of the footpath.


However, if it seems Europe is some sort of motoring Utopia, it's not. Even the more interesting driving roads are generally snarled with traffic. We encountered one such thoroughfare, not unlike many here, and were held up for about 20 minutes by a truck that refused to pull over. Sound familiar? Everyone following was being patient enough. At least I thought so until some muppet in a ute figured he'd have a crack, overtaking on an unsighted uphill section of road. We hung right back figuring there'd be a calamity, but by some miracle he and his family got away with it.

Back in Auckland, the lousy weather is the most obvious difference from a sweltering Europe, but the selfish driving attitude is in marked contrast to how most Europeans conduct themselves. I will miss the fast flowing pace and quiet surfaces of their main highways. And even more their general adherence to the rules, and their patience and courtesy that are so often absent here.

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clivenz33b   #1   09:46 am Jul 30 2012

Drove 9000km round Europe 6 years ago (wheere oes the time go) really enjoyed the courtesy and consideration - want to change lanes - indicate and go - there'll be a gap - keep up with the traffic on the auto route/bahn/strada and get out of the way of the fast traffic (even though I was doing 145 on a 110 road)

I was really scared to drive in Wellington traffic when I go back Over there if you make a mistake they shake their head and drive round you or wait for you to sort yourself out - here you'll get shunted

Give me Europe every time - including Paris at rush hour

Mark   #2   10:34 am Jul 30 2012

On a couple of holidays, 2 1/2 weeks in Europe (10 days in Paris) and than 4 weeks in England and Scotland, I found driving in those countries really easy, including being on the left-hand side. Honestly I would rather drive in Paris, did so, than in NZ most of the time. After these holidays I found kiwi drivers are really poor, if not some of the worst drivers and driving habits. Signalling is just appalling, as is yellow lights and at times giving way.

chris   #3   01:25 pm Jul 30 2012

ah, great, no-ones ever blogged about this before... my main memory of European driving was stepping out of the car in Italy at a rest area right into a pile of human poo. It's seared into my memory....

NigelB   #4   09:55 am Jul 31 2012

Agreed, the (younger) kiwi drivers are almost kamikaze in their driving attitude. Many older drivers are more considerate and more patient than their younger counterparts. I am horrified at the stupidity of some young mothers who will race past a Kindy dropoff zone - don't they realise the repercussions of hitting a young child, maybe their own child? The world belongs to everyone and no guesses for who comes off second best between a vehicle and a cyclist/pedestrian/child. That is the European concept and Kiwi drivers will come a long way when they realise it is not their God-given right to be on ANY road at ANY time. Share the world. Consideration goes a long way.

Andrew   #5   11:17 am Jul 31 2012

A couple of things I really hate about Kiwi drivers: the slip-streaming to overtake (you are not racing drivers on a racetrack) and the need to be in front. Kiwi drivers are aomngst the worst I've seen in the world. Peversely, they seem themselves as some of the best.

One other thing - has anyone else seen that daft leaning thing some people do when they turn around corners? Is that daft or what? You aren't on a motorbike - you don't need to lean your car round corners. You look daft!

viffer   #6   01:07 pm Aug 01 2012

While I agree with you that driving in Yurp is great, and generally better then NZ, there were some times on our recent drive through Brussels, the Netherlands, France and Italy that weren't so great. Firstly, the GPS fitted to our Eurolease Peugeot wasn't infallible, once directing us onto a tram only road, once the wrong way down a one-way street, and multiple times it made us take the wrong roads, especially when there were two or more parallel roads. Secondly, I got VERY stressed out in France by drivers that didn't keep to their side of the road. I decided it was because they didn't see me as a threat, as I was keeping far right. After bouncing off curbs three times in an effort to avoid a collision, I decided to test the 'threat' theory, and when the next road hog came along, I swerved into the middle of the road, and stayed there. Nope. Had to swerve back at the last minute. They're just idiots, like anywhere else. Another problem was road signage. Brussels was absolutely crap to navigate, as the signs weren't consistently placed, and offered minimal info. Worse still, the locals didn't seem to know either: a carload of policemen couldn't help us! We ended up having a minor crash in Epernay, France, because the turn signals at lights aren't well placed, and the one showing a red turn arrow was obscured by my passenger and the front pillar. Only ONCE did I encounter a signal on the driver's side and placed where I could see it! However, apart from the French provincial road hogs the road manners are generally better, and driving was mostly a pleasure.

Sean   #7   01:53 pm Aug 01 2012

I'm originally British and moved here at the age of 38. Been here 10 years and now a citizen and STILL not used to the poor roads and worse driving!

Why do councils here think road repair means throwing gravel onto wet bitumen and leaving drivers to sweep it off with their paintwork?! Have they never heard of Hot Rolled Tarmac?

Driving standards here are woeful: raise the age to 18, drop the alcohol limit for all drivers to zero at all times and introduce a minimum fine of $1,000 for any offence dealt with in court.

Scrap ACC cover and replace it with compulsory insurance until you have held a clean licence for 5 years.

That should see some improvements in stats pretty quickly.

Hayley   #8   02:09 pm Aug 01 2012

I agree with staying out of the way of cyclists - lol. On a recent trip to Europe I'd hate to count how many times we almost were run over by cyclists in the Netherlands!

JJ   #9   06:20 pm Aug 02 2012

Maybe the reason why most people suck so much at using a motor vehicle is because we insist on giving people a license when they are 15 or 16 years old - the time of life when a person is at their most ignorant, arrogant, stubborn, demanding, know-it-all and obnoxious. Couple this with our pathetically easy tests and, well, is anyone surprised at the outcome? Anyone ever looked up the procedure for obtaining a license in, say, Germany or Finland? No wonder those kids treat their licenses as a *privilege*.

Peter   #10   06:52 pm Aug 02 2012

I've driven many years in Europe, and many more years here in NZ. The one thing that is glaringly obvious: Kiwi kids do not learn properly how to drive. How many people go to driving school, learn not to accelerate while being overtaken, to keep a proper safety distance to the vehicle in front, to indicate when turning etc etc etc ... people pull into a highway and then sit on 40km/h for the next 400m before accelerating. You don't learn about those things properly if you're just driving around the block with Uncle Harry 10 times before doing your 21 question driving test. I bet most of those kids who wrap themselves around a lamppost some place have never been set the task to work out how many metres it would take to break at 130km/h like you have to in a German driving school for instance. My thought is that we need compulsive driving schools with a comprehensive curriculum in this country. Overseas it costs some people thousands of dollars to get a driving license. It makes sure they learn how to do it right. Kiwis aren't bad drivers as such, but many are completely uneducated and ignorant of what safe driving should look like.

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