I am posting up some videos of the kind of driving we see around Europe. We have been in 5 countries in total now, and the driving style is pretty variable but at the same time, quite consistent within countries.
[check out the overtaking]
If, like me, you learned to drive in Australia, and have been driving overseas, it is clear that Australians are the best drivers in the world, and that within Australia, NSW drivers are better than QLD, Territorians are nuts, and everyone else is better than Victorians (sorry, Tassie, WA, SA: you don’t get your own mention). Australians have a quiet respect for other drivers’ “personal” space, don’t tail gate, don’t cut each other off,and definitely are always on the look out for bicycles. We always indicate. We use our lanes properly, we’re courteous, and respect each others’ right to be on the road. Alive. Or so it feels when you first drive in another country. But it turns out, it is just a matter of adjustment. So let’s adjust to the locals, in order of appearance.
The French (and mostly here I mean Ariegois) are interesting: they seem impatient, always tailgating, hovering left to right to see past you to overtake (and they will, corner or straight, clear vision or no). But you can stop in a French village, put the hazards on -blocking the road-, get out, buy a baguette, have a chat, roll a cigarette, and everyone behind you will wait. I think the unspoken rule is you have 3 or 4 minutes and everyone behind you will simply wait patiently. Start going again, and the tailgating and overtaking begins again in earnest. The other part to this is that they expect people to make crazy manoeuvres in front of them, and although the cars are all bashed up, I never once saw anyone hit another vehicle, and they are super courteous to cyclists and give them lots of space (take note, Australia). It takes some getting used to, and it can be frustrating when you’re in a hurry and every man and his dog is stopping for chats and baguettes all along the street. Indicators are used if you like.
The Germans on the other hand understand that indicators and a precise driving style is what keeps everybody alive and going. The Germans are neat drivers and prefer you to follow the rules - you overtake in the overtaking zone, when it is safe, and you do it fast. It is no surprise to many people in theory, but when you first see for yourself just how fast Germans can safely pilot their sport-suspended, well-maintained, super-cars down the autobahn (300km/h happens often enough, but 220-250 is common), you’ll be impressed. It is no wonder the F1 drivers come from Europe: an F1 is simply another car you’d causally drive, except it doesn’t have surround sound music and taught black leather interior, so why would you? Taking on the autobahn on our first day on the bikes in Germany was entirely taxing to me; it rained, and our overburdened bikes were wheat to the scythe on the A1. The Yamaha complains over 130km/h, though the BMW had no such trouble. After that first day, I never wanted to drive the autobahn on the Yamaha again. We did though, on the second and third days, and it got better. I got better. You learn to see one eye on the mirrors (take note, Australia). If you think you’ll overtake a truck (limited to 80km/h), you check the mirror, indicate and smoothly pull out. Well, really, you only do that once because in the time it took you to indicate and being sailing over to the left, Michael Schumacher has come caning down the lane from 10km behind at 300, and scares the bejesus out of you. Keep your eye on the mirror, indicate for long than you think you should, and his well-balanced car with brakes capable of stopping a freight train, and a computer system that maintains traction and straight driving have plenty of time to slow down for your lumbering 600cc.
Then one day you find yourself in Poland. Crazy. People demand that you move over to let them overtake! There might be an entire lane they could use, but they sure aren’t going to. You’ll move or it will end poorly. The flip side is that thumping along, waiting to overtake someone only requires you to indicate your intention, and the car in front of you has conveniently moved aside and you can plough on by without driving down the oncoming lane. It’s convenient, and some of the roads are even built especially for it. As you move along the baltic countries (Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia), this become more and more pronounced, and people become more and more keen to overtake, and to get you overtaking. Two lane roads don’t exist here - all roads are four lanes, two in each direction. They’re no painted that way, but when two oncoming cars move to their respective sides, two other cars (or trucks) can “comfortably” overtake at the same time, barely brushing wing mirror as the scream past (and I screamed overtime for the first day, let me tell you) at a relative speed of 260km/h, straight on. But they won’t take no for an answer. On the bike you’re expected, even obliged to overtake people as they ditch they cars into the emergency lane to get out of your way. Conversely, you must absolutely stay to the edge yourself or the driver in the (by the time you’re in the Baltic states) fairly old BMW/Audi will simply not understand why you would be so rude as to deliberately foil his attempts to get somewhere.
So I think now I am a much better driver than I was, at least as far as expecting the unexpected goes. I’m almost bomb-proof, and very nearly always know who is behind me, and when they want to overtake (always). All this happens at highway speeds of about 130 (take note, Australia), and so far, and I hope for my entire trip, I haven’t seen a single incident. Mostly everyone understands that everyone else wants to get somewhere, and has something to do. It’s wonderful to watch, and great fun and occasionally shit-scary to be part of it. And I’m hooked.