Harder motoring breeds manners

By David Thomson on Sat, 19 May 2018

It's good to be back. That was my thought on landing at Dunedin last Saturday following a sojourn in England that included covering roughly 1600km over nine days behind the wheel of a Renault Clio rental car.

In some respects, little has changed in UK motoring since I last drove there almost two decades ago: the same mix of motorways, A roads, B roads and narrow lanes; congestion in and around towns and cities; roundabouts as a primary means of keeping traffic flowing; drivers showing far more focus, skill, patience and courtesy than your typical Kiwi motorist.

A major change in the UK over recent years has been the spread of fixed speed cameras, which now festoon portions of the motorway, city arterial and A-road network. The presence of those cameras is clearly marked by signs and _ for satellite navigation-equipped cars _ an audible warning sound as a camera site is approached. Speed limits tend to be the same or higher than those for New Zealand roads, but with the growing use of variable speed limits on busy stretches of motorway.

A 70mph (roughly 110kmh) limit applies on dual carriageway highways and motorways, including dual passing lanes on otherwise single carriageway highways. Many of the roads I whizzed along at that speed were of a lesser standard than Dunedin's Southern Motorway.

The 60mph limit for most A and B roads is much the same as our 100kmh limit, but many such roads are far more heavily trafficked than their New Zealand equivalents. They are often far narrower too, being hemmed in by trees and banks with absolutely no hard shoulder or run-off space. On minor roads and lanes, the speed limit is really an irrelevance. One has to drive to conditions and _ on narrower lanes _ be prepared to stop and maybe reverse if a vehicle appears coming the other way. In town, limits of 40, 30 or 20mph may apply depending on the road, but in reality traffic volumes often dictate a slower pace.

Because of the roads and levels of traffic, it is necessary to drive with a lot more concentration and situational awareness in England than is the case here.

Hardly surprising then, that in all those days and miles of driving on the other side of the world, I didn't see a single motorist using a mobile phone while on the move.

After two days back in Dunedin I'd already seen half a dozen, along with several other examples of the disengaged, inattentive and often discourteous driving that is a hallmark of the Kiwi (and especially the Dunedin) motorist. In that respect, maybe it's not so great being back home after all.

David Thomson