Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Don't THINK and drive: you will end up insane!

It seems that every time I travel the roads round here, I end up being witness to some unfortunate car related incident or another. Hearing that awful screech of tyres ('tires' for you Americans) on the tarmac and then the noise of one giant chunk of metal colliding into another is almost a daily occurrence.
Why?? Because people here don't seem to know how to drive properly and the 'rules of the road' do not get enforced.
I learned to drive in England. I did my 5 day 'crash course' with an instructor, driving for 4 hours each day. Took my theory test. Then jumped in the car with an assessor (the scariest man I have ever met in my entire life) and prayed that I would perform the reverse park, 3 point turn, reverse around a corner, emergency stop and parallel park, all without hitting another vehicle, driving into the curb, or killing myself, or (god forbid) the scary assessor guy. I passed. But this did not mean I could actually drive.
No. I crashed my car twice in the next six months. On one of these occasions I actually managed to crash into a cow........yes that's right - a big black and white thing that goes "moooo". In all fairness, it was a very foggy night and said cow should have been in a nice big field with a fence around him. Instead, he was stood in the middle of a dual carriageway somewhere near Swaffham, UK, in very thick fog. ( ha, ha.....try explaining that one to your insurance company. lol)
Anyway, it was then that I truly learned to drive according to the weather conditions, concentrate 100%, keep my distance and stick to the rules.
My British driving licence is valid until I reach the grand old age of 70. However, it is no good in the state of Mississippi. They insist that I take a new driving test and get me a Mississippi driving licence. Great!
So, off I trot to the test centre to do the Mississippi version of the 'theory test'. WHAT A JOKE!! I was expecting questions about stopping distances at various speeds, traffic light sequences, different types of pedestrian crossings etc. What I got was a bunch of multiple choice questions designed for a three year old!
'What does a red light mean?'. Answers: 'stop', 'go', or 'slow down'
'which one of the following signs tells you how fast you may travel??? Computer shows me three different road signs.

Needless to say, I passed. Next was the trip out with the assessor. Don't know why, but I was a bag of nerves before hand.
There was no need. She jumped into my car, saw that it was equipped with a gear stick (everybody in America drives an automatic) and says "well if ya own a stick shift, I already know you can drive!"
So, she had me reverse out of the parking spot, drive round the block and pull back up again. No parallel park, no 3 point turn, no mention of how many times I looked (or didn't look) in my mirrors......nothing! I passed without trying.
I did learn from the assessor though, that people in Mississippi do not have driving lessons, as such. Mummy and Daddy let the kids start driving, usually at age 16, with very little verbal instruction. No wonder the roads are so dangerous!!!
But it doesn't end there! There are several fundamental differences driving here to driving in England:
Speed Limits:
  • In England, the clue is in the title....speed "limit". Otherwise known as the maximum speed you may drive on any given road. You cannot ignore it, because the stationery speed camera's are very good at taking photo's of your reg. plate (licence plate) and some crazy automated service will kindly send you a fine in the mail. Assholes!
  • In Mississippi, 'speed limit' is taken to mean "just a suggestion". There are no camera's and even if you do chance upon Highway Patrol on your travels, you do not get taken to court unless you are doing more than 15mph above the suggested speed. There is also no points system on your licence, so they aren't going to take it away. The result, of course, is that everyone drives way in excess of the limit posted on the side of the road.
Tail gating:
  • In England it is illegal (and dangerous) to drive too close to the car in front
  • In Mississippi no such law exists. Feel free to position your vehicle 2 inches behind the rear bumper of the car in front in a bid to make it go faster, or change lanes and get out of your way.
Indicators (turn signals)
  • In England it is standard practice to use your indicators so that those around you (other drivers and pedestrians) are aware of any change in direction you may choose to make.
  • In Mississippi, indicators were apparently put on vehicles just to make it look pretty. Its a bit like having lights on a Christmas tree, except there is a whole holiday centered around Christmas and you know those lights will get used for at least two weeks each year. Indicators, on the other hand, are never going to be switched on.
  • In England, roundabouts (traffic circles) are used to allow free flow of traffic where multiple roads join up. The idea is that you approach the roundabout slowly, look to your right, and if there is a gap, join said roundabout and be on your merry way. It's a simple concept, and most Brits are very good at it.
  • In Mississippi, roundabouts do not exist. Instead we have '4-way stops', which are basically cross roads. Everybody approaching one of these junctions is supposed to come to a complete stop and whoever gets there first, is supposed to go first. Sounds easy, right? reality, when you approach one of these you look around to see who else may be approaching from a different direction. Then you put your foot down and race any other vehicles to the stop sign, slamming on your brakes at the very last second. Without quite stopping completely, you then take off at a fast pace, in whichever direction you chose (without indicating) and pray that the other drivers have some mystical 'sixth sense' that tells them exactly what you are about to do.
Use of Horn:
  • In England horns are to be used in emergency situation only. Usually, you only toot, when a small child runs into the road; you are about to slam into the car in front; or somebody has forgot where there rear view mirrors are located and they are about to reverse straight into you.
  • In Mississippi, I have never yet heard the blare of a horn immediately before any of the accidents I have witnessed. I have discovered, however, that horns can be used alongside 'tailgating' to alert the driver in front that you are not only 2 inches from their back bumper, but you are also flipping them the finger because the speed limit is 55mph, they are only doing 79mph and you wish to travel at a minimum of 90mph. GET OUT OF MY WAY!!!!!
Traffic Lights:
  • When the lights go from green to yellow in England, most people slow down, coming to a complete stop immediately before said light.
  • When the lights go from green to yellow in Mississippi, it is common practice to push the accelerator pedal right down to the floor and make your way through said lights at a speed that you never knew your vehicle to be capable of, whilst praying that you make it through before the light turns red. In all fairness, you were already travelling way above the speed limit, and you have absolutely no clue what your stopping distances are, so you may not have stopped on time anyway, right?
Using phones at the wheel:
  • In England, it is a big "no, no" to use, or attempt to use you mobile phone when driving. We all know how dangerous it is, so if we must call someone, we have our 'hands free' kits at the ready.
  • In Mississippi, although there are advertisements on the radio highlighting the dangers of phone use when driving, there are no laws to go with it. It is perfectly permissible to drive whilst holding the phone to your ear with one hand and eating a burger with the other. Apparently people spend many months hoping to perfect the art of steering a car with your knees. You will even see police officers speeding down the road, chatting away on the phone as they do so.
The M.O.T (yearly inspection):
  • In England we all dread that time of year when the M.O.T is due on the car. Partly because its a pain in the ass to be without your car for half a day, but mostly because, if you happen to drive an older car, you already know that it's going to cost you an arm and a leg. British Mechanics will check everything from your lights, horn and tyre tread; to your suspension components, exhaust system and even the amount of rust you have on your vehicle. Then they will insist that you fix even the most minor problem, before issuing you with that piece of paper that allows you to buy insurance and a tax disc.
  • In Mississippi a yearly inspection costs $5. (3 quid for you Brits). They check that your lights work, your wipers work and your horn works. That is it! To drive a roadworthy vehicle in this state, you virtually have to be a qualified mechanic yourself, and you must have the ability to predict when something is about to go wrong. The problem is that not many people are very good at it. Do not ever expect that the vehicle in front of you is going to remain in one piece the next time it hits a pothole (and there's plenty of them) or a rut in the road. It is normal for vehicles to lose wing mirrors, bumpers and exhaust systems whilst hurtling up the road at break neck speeds. Tires explode regularly (especially in the summer months) and we have even seen an entire wheel, complete with the axle detach itself from a vehicle and go bounding off to the side of the road. Always position yourself behind a vehicle that looks no older than 2 years of age!

So, for those of you who are planning a visit and want a hire car to travel around in. Don't think before you drive. If you do, you will be too scared to even leave the airport. Instead, just get on the road and copy everybody else's lunatic will seriously confuse them if you don't!


jo said...

OMG! i was giggling while i was reading this, really shouldn't though. i'm surprised there are any americans left with the way they drive in their death traps, has reminded me though that my MOT is due next week.

Donald Allen said...

Sarah, you have to be fair! What about England's 10% speed rule? Everyone travels at 10% faster than the posted speed limit, until you get to a speed camera. Then they slam on the brakes before they hit the cameras coverage area! Then there are thee boy racers who nearly kill everyone who dares cross at the crossing. And my favorite, drivers beating up traffic cops for getting a parking ticket. Love you, Donald

Anonymous said...

england is to hard on us. i always wondered if america had mots coz i watched pimp my ride and was shocked with the state of the cars lol. And i cant beleive u hit a cow lmfao. love and hugs kelly. xxx

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