US vs. UK driving

It is about two months since we bought a car here, so I’m starting to feel slightly more comfortable with the US kind of driving. Whenever I mention learning to drive here to someone, they tend to reply with a comment about driving on the other side of the road. While being on the other side does take some getting used to, my experience is that there are other differences in the way roads are laid out and people drive which are more significant.

Automatic
The first thing I had to deal with was driving an automatic – I always drove manual cars in the UK, where they are the norm. Driving an automatic is much easier, once you get rid of the urge to step on the clutch and put the handbrake on whenever you stop. It also saves me from banging my hand on the door when I would want to change gear (which is what happened the one time I did drive a US manual).

Stop signs and four-way stops
There are very few stop signs in the UK, and nothing like the four-way stop. The idea of coming to a full stop at every junction is frustrating to me – it seems quite inefficient – though I’ve noticed that some drivers here don’t actually stop if they don’t have to.

A ‘four-way stop’ is a junction where there is a stop sign in every direction, i.e. no road has priority. Drivers are expected to stop and let other vehicles go through the junction in the order that they got there. The closest thing I can think of to these in the UK are mini-roundabouts, but they don’t have the same connotation of ‘taking turns’.

Concurrent Numbering
In the US when two routes share the same road, it gets numbered with both route numbers. For example, ‘I-95’ and ‘route 128’ are the same road around the western side of Greater Boston, so it has signs for both.

In the UK this kind of happens, but the road only ever gets signposted with the more major route. An example from where I come from is the A414, which you could follow west from Harlow until it disappears into the A10 near Ware, then reappears near Hertford, then disappears into the A1(M) for a short stretch through Hatfield, then reappears to head towards St. Albans and so on.

This is one case where I think the American way is definitely better, even if it occasionally ends up with a road that apparently goes ‘north’ and ‘south’ at the same time!

Highways
‘Highway’ is a bit of a loose term – there isn’t quite the same distinction as in the UK where ‘motorway’ defines a specific set of road conditions. US ‘interstates’ are generally equivalent to what we’d call ‘motorways’ in the UK, but so are some other major routes.

I am finding the highways scary for a few reasons.

  • The entrance and exit ramps (‘slip roads’ in British) are shorter and more curved than I am used to, so you can have to accelerate or brake hard, or slow down more before you actually reach the exit.
  • In quite a few of the classic ‘cloverleaf’ junctions, the lanes are arranged so that an entry turns into the exit for the other direction in a fairly short space, so you get cars trying to exit crossing over with cars that just entered.
  • There are sometimes exits off the left side of the road instead of the right, and lanes get added and removed on either side. This is particularly noticeable in the downtown Boston stretch of the I-93, which I’m convinced you should never drive through unless you’ve done it before.

One Comment

  1. steveo
    Posted April 8, 2008 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

    The tight on-ramps and merge lane crossovers are a purely Boston thing. I had to get used to those having come from other parts of the US.

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