Wednesday, January 07, 2015

A few more random observations on driving in the UK

I ended up driving quite a lot during our Christmas trip to England and, in addition to the tribulations of driving in snow (see below for more on that), a few thoughts struck me after so long living away from the UK:
  • Smaller cars - There are of course exceptions, and it is not that unusual to see fancy Mercedes and SUVs, particularly in the wealthier south, but on average cars in the UK tend to be substantially smaller than those in Canada (and much smaller than US cars), with smaller, more efficient engines, often diesel-powered. This is a GOOD THING.
  • Gas prices - I was gob-smacked by the price of petrol, which, even after the substantial reductions of late 2014, was over twice the price of Canada's. Typical prices were in the range of £1.13 - £1.15 per litre (just over Can S2.00 at current exchange rates, which are admittedly much higher than in recent years). On arriving back in Toronto, I filled up at 89c! Now, maybe they are kept artificially high, or taxed for environmental and energy use purposes, but that is a huge discrepancy. On balance, though, from the point of view of the environment, I have to conclude that this is also a GOOD THING.
  • Fast driving - I am always a bit disconcerted by the speed at which people, drive in England. I guess I used to do it myself, but I am now more used to the relatively stately speeds of Canadian traffic. My father-in-law is a case in point, and he thinks nothing of driving at a steady 90-90 mph (140-150 kph) on the motorway. Not necessarily a GOOD THING or a BAD THING, but in mitigation, I do actually think that the average English driver is probably better - at least in terms of more aware, better able to react to situations, etc - than the average North American (with the signal exception of winter driving, see below again).
  • Speed control - Long sections of the motorways are limited to 50 mph, for what looks like very long-term construction work. Regardless of their normal fast driving habits, people actually do drive at 50 mph in these sections, mainly because of the automated average speed logging systems, whereby registration plates are logged down by overhead cameras at various intervals, and average speeds are calculated (and speeding tickets automatically generated for infractions). It works! A GOOD THING.
  • Manual gearboxes - I understand that automatic cars are becoming more popular, but the default in England is still the manual shift, which I must admit I approve of. Probably neither a GOOD THING nor a BAD THING, it was just nice to go back to the control and the hands-on nature of manual driving after several years of Canadian automatic cars.

No comments: