Sunday, September 18, 2011

Driving us Bonkers

Mike's been on a mini-break, which inevitably involves driving, which inevitably brings on a mini rant: 


Generally, when I drive around Britain—unless I am in a location I know intimately—I am accompanied by the vague, yet persistent feeling, that I am lost.  This, generally, is because I am.  And the reason is the road marking.

Driving in Britain is always more difficult than in the US, because they don’t automatically assume you’re a moron here.  In the US, signs are everywhere: US 9 North, turn lane only, US 9 North next junction, Right Lane for County Route 25 Only, US 9 North use Left Lane only, US 9 North Turn here, This is County Route 25 East, You Missed the US 9 North turn you idiot, Denny’s 3 miles.  However, I think the Ministry of Traffic Signs is giving the public in general, and me in particular, a lot more credit than we deserve; when I am driving on unfamiliar roads in an unexplored part of the country, I appreciate being treated like a moron.

The absence of this forest of signs makes the scenery in Britain undeniably more fetching, but it also means I am continually lost.  Never mind that I often get one chance to notice and react to a sign in order to get on the road I want, often, those signs are painted on the road surface, which makes reading them in bumper-to-bumper traffic difficult.

I wish I had a tuppence for every time I have been driving happily down a road only to find I am suddenly in a turn-only lane and diverted off into an industrial estate.  Even when I do manage to get into the correct lane on a round-about, I frequently find it swapped out from beneath me: I may have entered the round-about in the A449 lane but I then find myself on the M3 heading for London and I have no idea how.

Now I am the last person to suggest we should clutter up England’s green and pleasant land with road signs, but a hint of where I am and where I am heading now and again would really be appreciated.  Or at least stop diverting me into industrial estates. 


I have to disagree with Mike about the simplicity of signage in the States. Yes, there are tons and tons of road signs, but they don't exactly make navigation any easier. Take Chicago for instance; if I want to drive to a northern suburb, I need to know the names of the roads in that suburb. The signs on the freeway never actually tell you that you're approaching Winnetka, ( a northern suburb) just that the next exit is Willow (Road) or Lake. So unlike driving around London, with its helpful signs for Balham, Clapham or Stoke Newington, all we get are street names. Oh yes, and the freeways themselves tend to have two nomenclatures - a number and a name. I-90 (Interstate 90) in Chicago for example, is also known as the Kennedy. I-94 is the Edens. We also have the Ike and the Dan Ryan but I can never remember what their numbers are. It's as if everyone's in on a secret as far as roads are concerned.

Even more confusing is the fact that you’re setting off to drive 20 miles south of Chicago, but the road you follow is actually saying “Memphis”, which is a tad further than you need by about 7 hours. Again, no mention of the suburb of your choice. You will however, be totally confused by the amount of signs hanging from every bridge across the freeways. By the time you’ve found the one you want, you’ve missed it and the next exit is 25 miles away.

And I’m not the only one who thinks this – read this hilarious article about America's worst road signs.


  1. Ha, I liked those worst road signs. I have to agree with Toni about American signs - or at least, that was true of the bits of Florida I've driven around. The rest might be perfect of course. Hopefully we'll visit next year so I'll find out then. Names of roads don't help at all, until you're down to a residential area, and when there are so many signs it's hard to read them while actually driving. No wonder so many Americans have automatic cars - one less thing to think about.

    Not saying that British signs are perfect - rural ones especially leave something to be desired very often. I guess it's what you're used to, but I can find my way around Britain.

    And while we're on the subject of navigation, maps are far more useful than satnavs in my opinion. I've gone wrong several times with satnav, when it's said things like "Keep left" when it meant "Don't turn off to the right", and I've stayed in the left lane and ended up on the wrong road. Stupid things.

  2. Americans definitely have more signs than in the UK, but they are not always helpful. If you don't know an area, you don't necessarily know if you want 25 west, east or south, but it would be nice to know you are headed towards New York City. It's fine if there are 2 of you in the car and one can map read, but on your own, it can be confusing. I don't trust sat navs either - friends of mine came to visit here using one, and it took them three hours when it should have taken one.

  3. I agree about the navigation systems - I've even heard some say they sometimes tell you to do things like turn onto a railroad or the wrong way on a one-way street!

  4. I admit that speed reading is often necessary when approaching an intersection in the US, but i always appreciated knowing which road I was turning onto.

  5. Its bound to be more difficult if you don't know the road you want.... only the district and there are only directions for given roads.
    Surely too many signs can be dangerous.

    Sat navs over here can be quite dangerous as they try to get you to drive across a river or turn into one way systems the wrong way.
    Have you use your head!
    Maggie X

    Nuts in May

  6. I like the way they get really annoyed when you dare to deviate! Always sound like they're going to explode with annoyance - in a very quiet way!

  7. My boss has a satnav - that she and her husband have named Sylvia - that sounds like a pornstar. My boss warned me about this before we drove to a meeting but I didn't believe her because, you know, how can a satnav sound sexy? And then I heard her. Sylvia. "Keep straight," she instructed us. "Don't stop now."


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