Amit Paranjape’s Blog

Driving In Europe – How It’s Different From U.S.

Posted in Cars, Travel by Amit Paranjape on September 26, 2009
Autobahn

Autobahn

 There are many more differences than just seeing cars cruise-by at 250 km/hr!

On continental Europe, they drive on the same side of the road as the United States. But the similarities really taper off from there! Recently, I had my first opportunity to drive in Europe, and it was a great experience. In this blog, I will highlight the contrasts between the two systems that are separated by much more than the Atlantic Ocean.

Readers who have extensive driving experience on both sides of the pond are welcome to add their own insights. For readers who haven’t driven in Europe, this article will be (hopefully!) an interesting guide, and an invitation to checkout this experience on your next trip. Note – my experiences are based on driving in the Netherlands, Germany and Belgium.

Unless you are lucky enough to get a ‘company car’ in Europe – renting a car might be your best (and only) option. Car renting in Europe is quite expensive. But you can always look for bargains. Like in the U.S., renting a car in a suburb or a small town is significantly cheaper than renting at an Airport or in city center (‘zentrum’ or ‘centrum’ – as they call ‘downtown’). A manual transmission car is much cheaper than an automatic. A US driving license and a credit-card is typically all you need to rent, but many rental companies will also ask for your Passport as an ID Proof.

1. Where are the Pickup Trucks and SUVs?

The first thing you might notice is the near complete absence of pickup trucks! The SUVs are also significantly fewer in number. You will find a lot of station wagons. Clearly, the ‘drive’ towards reducing demand for oil, starts with vehicle ‘size’!

2. Better Driving Discipline – Fewer crazy drivers!

At first impression, the driving discipline definitely feels like it’s a notch higher than that in the U.S. Drivers seem to be more considerate when allowing lane changes, merge-ins, etc. Similarly, the fast lane is strictly used only for passing.

 3. Smaller cars

You feel like the entire class of automobiles got shrunk down by 1 or 2 sizes. The American compact car is a standard in Europe, an American medium sized car is a large car, and so on. Some of the cars are outright tiny – and smaller in size than the recently launched ‘Tata Nano’. On a related note (and quite interestingly, I may add..) – Toyota Prius was more common on European Roads than other iconic Toyota cars.

4. Better maintained cars

In general the cars seemed better maintained than in the US. Not sure if this is driven by necessity (wintery weather conditions, etc.) or by stricter enforcement (regular certification requirements).

5. Manual Transmission & Diesel Engines

These are again novelties to most American drivers. Both are quite popular given that they deliver better efficiencies (ultimately expressed as a lower cost per km) than the automatic transmission and gasoline counterparts.

6. Sheer variety of cars

My belief of U.S. being the global leader in variety of cars got corrected. The sheer variety of cars in Europe is huge! And the number of configurations available for a given model is also extensive. E.g. – Manual/Automatic, Gasoline (Benzin) / Diesel, etc. In addition to all the major global brands you commonly see in the U.S., there are quite a few other brands as well.

7. Speed limits

Contrary to prevailing belief amongst many – they do have strict speed limits on European highways. Even in Germany – 120 kmph (roughly equal-to 75 mph) is common on most highways, but they change to 100 kmph, 80 kmph, etc. based on road/traffic conditions. Many speed limits are ‘dynamic’ – they are indicated by electronic signs and change depending on the external conditions and time of the day. The adherence to the speed limits is fairly decent. There are only certain sections of Autobahns (away from urban centers) in Germany that have no speed limits.

8. Where are the cops?

In my 4 days of extensive driving, I swear I just saw one police car on the highway! That too was at a site of an accident. And yet, the speed limits enforcement and compliance is quite high. I guess they use cameras and technology a lot more in Europe, for traffic rules enforcement. If you are caught speeding, the ticket is mailed to you – complete with your picture driving the car, as proof.

9. 18 Wheelers

The 18 Wheelers are similar to what you would see in the US. Though, you see significantly fewer on the road. I guess there could be two primary reasons: 1. Europeans consume less stuff. Less stuff = Less Volume & Weight to ship! 2. They use a lot of rail transportation.

10. ‘Seamless Borders’

Crossing from one country to the other in the Schengen Region  is as seamless as crossing state boundaries in the U.S. or in India. Typically, there are just 1 or 2 signs welcoming you to that country and some changes in speed limits. That’s pretty much it – Plus the roads signs change from one language you cannot understand to a different one that you cannot understand either :) But the graphical signs are self-explanatory.

11. Round-Abouts/Yield

When driving on city roads - a ’round-about’ circle is something that might confuse an American driver! It’s a different system of yielding – instead of a 4 way stop-sign.

12. Various kinds of ‘entities’ on the city roads

I can understand why Americans sometime dread driving in European cities!  In addition to the tiny roads – you have bicycles, pedestrians and trams to deal with! Amsterdam also has a few human powered bicycle taxis (And I thought Kolkatta was the only big city in the world to have them!).

For me personally (and others who regularly drive on Indian roads) I guess this ‘diverse traffic’ is not that bad :)

13. Bicycles lanes

Bicycles are omnipresent in Holland. They are also quite popular in other countries as well. On most city roads, bicycles have separate dedicated lanes. It’s quite interesting to see a few folks ‘bike’ from their home to a rail station – ‘fold’ their bikes (yes, some bikes literally fold in half – and can be stowed away easily..) board the train to the city, disembark and again ride to their office building!

Motorcycles are also more common, and they ‘optimize’ lane usage at traffic lights or in traffic jams by moving forward by the side of stuck 4 wheelers (the way they always do in India :)  ) . Initially I thought they were breaking the rules – but then it seemed like it was a ‘standard’ procedure.  

14. Gas Stations

The first time you pull into a Gas Station – be prepared for a sticker shock! Gasoline is currently priced around 1.40 Euros/liter. At the present exchange rate, that roughly translates to USD 7.60/Gallon. Diesel is a little cheaper at around 1.05 Euros/liter (USD 5.80/Gallon).  Add to this the price of a comparable car is approximately twice as much in the U.S. – and you will understand why driving is so expensive in Europe!

At Gas Stations in Europe you can literally fill ‘Gas’ ..LPG (Liquified Petroleum Gas), that is :) . Note in Germany and the Netherlands, they refer to Gasoline as ‘Benzin’. Instead of 3 varieties of gasoline and 1 variety of diesel – at European filling stations, you will typically find 2 varieties of gasoline, 2 varieties of diesel and LPG. Initially, I was confused to note the significantly higher octane rating numbers in Europe. However, that is apparently because of slightly different standards. (For more information, checkout: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Octane_rating )

Reliance on Diesel and LPG is part of the drive towards reducing cost / km. LPG is significantly cheaper than Gasoline. Diesel typically yields a much better fuel efficieny in terms of km / liter.

15. Use of GPS and other electronic gadgets

The use of GPS based navigation has increased significantly over the past few years (as it has, in the U.S.) and old fashioned ‘paper’ map based navigation is a dying art. I however had to use this ‘old’ and tried and tested art form – since my cheap rental didn’t have a GPS.

Similarly, I understand that hands-free mobiles are mandatory – hence most cars have an integrated Bluetooth mobile integration with the car’s sound system.

In general, I also observed that for a similar model – an European car would typically have many other smaller gizmos – tire pressure monitoring, range calculators, etc.

Helpful links

Description of Autobahns from Wikipedia  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Autobahns

A good site with lot of information (speed-limits, restrictions, etc.) about various Autobahns http://www.autobahnatlas-online.de/index_e.html

(Image credits: Wikipedia)

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58 Responses

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  1. mesmorgan said, on September 26, 2009 at 2:09 am

    My wife is from Wisconsin and now lives in the UK, we have discussed all of your points many times before, it’s interesting to hear another’s perspective. Of course here in the UK we also drive on the left to add a little more confusion!

  2. carb said, on September 26, 2009 at 3:29 am

    What be the comparison for age restrictions — In Europe — vs (esp California) the USA?
    All the time, USA been too liberally for the old/elder.
    Nowadays, with the economy, USA will be even more defensive for the elder.
    In USA — as more int’l people are immigrating here:
    drivers of of all ages are becoming shorter.
    And cars are mot manufactured for this changing market.
    >>>Any driver whose
    (a) nose is not aller than their steering wheel
    (b) head be not higher than their headrest —-
    is a red flag.
    Pure danger to smaller ones like pedestrians, bicycles, children, etc. —- that are out on the road.
    On the side of that driver.

  3. Parag said, on September 26, 2009 at 5:16 am

    Insightful article. I live in the US and rented a car for a day while visiting Paris a few years ago. It was quite the experience without knowing the language, having a GPS and driving stick!

    I think we’ll see the demise of SUVs (like the Hummers already) in the US as well.

  4. Richard said, on September 26, 2009 at 8:16 am

    It’s been quite a few years since I lived and drove a car in France and Spain but there are a couple of things I remember well. In France it was a rare car, indeed, that didn’t have a few dents. Believe me, they can’t drive worth a damn there.

    One afternoon my French girlfriend and I came out of a tea parlor to find our car blocked in by someone who had double parked next to us. Double parking is normal there, too. Fortunately there was a woman sitting in the passenger seat and my girlfriend asked her, kindly at first, to please move the car so we could leave. The woman said she couldn’t because the car, an American make, had an automatic transmission and she didn’t know how to work it. My girlfriend explained things to the woman who refused to do anything to help us. Finally my girlfriend jumped into the drivers seat, started the car and drove off. Took the woman around the corner and about three blocks away before running back to where we had parked.

  5. Amit Paranjape said, on September 26, 2009 at 9:16 am

    Richard, I haven’t driven there in France or Spain – but the conditions seem to be a lot closer to the ones here in India!

  6. atul said, on September 26, 2009 at 9:55 am

    I’d received a “company” car in nothern Italy once and it was one of the more scary experiences in my life. It was like having Indian sized roads with American speeds. Plus it was stick shift that I was barely getting used to (when I tried it in the driveway of the hotel.) I did get a lot of people honking at me, but I wasn’t sure that I deserved it each time!

  7. Steven Harris said, on September 26, 2009 at 1:15 pm

    The term ‘continental Europe’ is a tautology. Europe is Europe is Europe. I think you mean mainland Euripe, the European Island known as the United Kingdom is the only part of this continent in which people do not drive on the same side of the road as Americans.
    http://doctorbeatnik.wordpress.com/

  8. martin said, on September 26, 2009 at 1:45 pm

    Right-side riority rule is one very important difference between driving in the EU and driving in North America.
    In the US, the driver has priority on its road until told by a stop sign at the intersection. There are always either lights or stop signs – for at least one of the roads crossing the other at each intersection.
    In the EU, there are very few stop signs. Most low traffic intersections have no stop sign at all. When arriving at an intersection the driver must slowdown and yield to cars coming on the right. North american drivers not observing this rule while expecting a stop sign are risking accidents. Contrary to belief, french drivers cutting your way by the right are not reckless, but simply observing the most elemental rule of european driving

  9. [...] Driving In Europe – How It’s Different From U.S. [...]

  10. Amit Paranjape said, on September 26, 2009 at 3:06 pm

    Martin – Good point regarding the right-side priority.

  11. sarah812 said, on September 26, 2009 at 4:47 pm

    I’m not an American, I’m from the UK. My family regularly take trips to France and Spain by car and even though its much like our road system (apart from the toll roads of which discounting bridges and tunnels between cities, the UK only have one and then a normal non-paying road along side it that takes you to the same destination) I find I’m always surprised by it.
    Drivers are insane on Spain’s mountainous roads which I swear can invoke the same feeling as those people on Final Destination experience. The Spanish have to be incredible drivers to be able to stay on their roads which are 50ft high and climbing as they build newer autopistas, to shortcut the mountains.
    Paris especially has no lanes. Everyone is entitled to starting their own lane which causes havoc at intersections.
    An interesting point you brought up about the speed limits, everything is done by computer. Here, its the detested speed camera which now is easy to avoid with add ons for GPS systems which will tell you where a camera is so you can slow down in time and avoid the £60 penalty and points. You won’t really know you’ve been caught speeding until you get the letter in the post. In France its pretty much the same and there are no police on the roads unless there’s an accident or they’re chasing someone.

  12. shabeeb said, on September 26, 2009 at 4:50 pm

    amazing article.. i lived in India and was really an expert in the right handside driving. i recently moved to the Middle-east. the driving here is completely different ( i mean the driving sides). im still trying to get a hang of things here.

  13. Bhooshan said, on September 26, 2009 at 6:35 pm

    I lived in UK for a while and driving there was great. I know most British would laugh at this but believe you me, there is nothing more heartwarming than being allowed to pass by another driver with a smile. Though,London is another nation altogether can be considered away from rest of UK.
    Most important difference for me was – other person flashing lights at you means – please pass !! in India it means ” I AM GOING FIRST..YOU ******”.
    It took a long while to get used to not stopping at redlights once back in India.

  14. Steven Harris said, on September 26, 2009 at 7:11 pm

    French motorways are frightening. No onje seems to care about which lane they are in, and there is very little indication when people change lanes either. Mind you, that’s increasingly prominent on English motorways too.
    http://doctorbeatnik.wordpress.com/

  15. Flambeed Ice said, on September 26, 2009 at 7:19 pm

    Some notes about driving in Germany:

    1. Cars once were taxed by their engine displacement (per 100 ccm), and are now taxed by their CO2-emission. Pickup’s and SUV’s, as well as all other vehicles driven by engines with huge cubic capacity are consequently very expensive to maintain.

    3. See #1. Furthermore, smaller cars usually meet the same safety requirements as huge cars, though they might not have the same comfort. Regarding the high gas prices and taxes, they are a reasonably option.

    4. Vehicles have to undergo a general technical inspection every two years, which also includes emission tests. Cars, which fail to meet the requirements of these inspections are not allowed to drive (if they are not being repaired).

    7. There are only few sections of the autobahn without any speed limits. Even there, a speed limit of 130 kmph is advised but not mandatory.

    8. The cops are everywhere you do not expect them. Highway patrol often use unmarked cars, equipped with video recorders to tape prospecitve violators. Be aware of the BMW behind you, keeping up your speed – it could be the cops.
    The picture is send to you in doubt only. Otherwise, you get the ticket only, which can last up to three months.

    11. Roundabouts are often used to keep the flow of traffic rolling. Though they need much more space than a usual junction.

    14. Gas prices go up and down, but usually up. 10 years ago, benzin cost EUR 0.76/ liter, a sky-high price at that time! Nowadays, it’s EUR 1.30 up to 1.50/ litre, and we are still mobile.
    Hybrid vehicles are on the increase, as well as other future-related technologies. Electric motors will probably not be available before 2015.

  16. kierowca_PL said, on September 26, 2009 at 7:58 pm

    In Europe, we don’t have 18 Wheelers, because of other long vehicle regulations. Greetings from Poland ;)

  17. Keith said, on September 26, 2009 at 8:37 pm

    Regarding the part of less traffic police, I think the reason for this is because many Europeans purely just don’t want to be in a accident and will do anything (like, drive at/below the speed limit, maintain the cars, etc) to prevent it, so there isn’t as much of a need for traffic police as in the US.

    Also, in Ireland, we have the NCT (National Car Test) in which your vehicle must pass rigorous tests to keep it road-worthy. It’s against the law not to have it done every 2 years (on cars over 4 years).

    Regarding gas stations (we call them petrol stations), in Ireland, LPG is rarely available and Unleaded fuel and Diesel fuel is widely used. And currently, it’s about €1.17/litre for Unleaded/Diesel.

    Regarding roundabouts, does it not make more sense to just look one way (looking at from where the traffic is coming from) instead of looking at 4 ways at a 4-way junction like in US?

  18. Mike said, on September 26, 2009 at 9:09 pm

    it is annoying most US cars don’t come in manual transmission so I drive a VW

  19. hajla said, on September 26, 2009 at 9:47 pm

    if you had come to poland you would have heart attack. u can’t say that you can drive if you haven’t been in poland. trust me, and sorry for my english :D

  20. Milo said, on September 26, 2009 at 10:10 pm

    “In my 4 days of extensive driving, I swear I just saw one police car on the highway!”
    Police cars are quite rare on the highways in Germany, but not in Belgium. You havent seen them just because ( i believe ) you werent driving so fast :) Most of them are just ‘ undercover ‘. You can drive 180km/h in Belgium and in a few minutes you can see a car with blue light behind its glass :P But most terryfying are cops on motorbikes.. they need 5 seconds to accelerate and drive in a front of you..

  21. MrBigB said, on September 26, 2009 at 10:39 pm

    heh you never drove in Poland, it’s one big hell :D

  22. Kaczo said, on September 26, 2009 at 10:56 pm

    About last comment…

    In Poland technical inspection is obligatory every one year.

    Roundabouts are not only for keeping flow. They are also not causing as much accidents as typical crossings :)

  23. jagr said, on September 26, 2009 at 11:26 pm

    Have any of you, folks, driven in Poland yet? Traffic jams everywhere (increase of number of the cars being used is about 10x in last 10 years, and, actually, we haven`t got much more roads since then, and practically no `highways`), holes in roads everywhere, and, generally, rude drivers. Haven`t got an extreme trip of your life yet? You are welcomed on polish roads… ;)

  24. uosiu said, on September 26, 2009 at 11:50 pm

    In central europe very common are station wagons with Diesel engines and gasoline engines powered by LPG- engine consumes up to 30% more fuel, but ~50% cheaper (in poland it is 4.42PLN vs 1.85PLN).

    Typical 2 litre engine consumes (in tour, not in the city) ~5-6 litres of diesel, 8-9 litres of gasoline and 10 litres of LPG.

    Power from litre is also higher. Volkswagen 1.4 litre TSI is 122/140BHP and 2.0 TSI is 200BHP. 100BHP from each litre is common in gasoline engines.

    Additionally add insurance costs. 18-year-old driver with 2.8 VR6 engine in 1994 Volkswagen Passat pays about $1000 per year! His 40-year-old father with 22 year experience as a driver pays $250/year

    Speed limits sometimes are non-formal, especially in central and eastern europe. If you have money, you can get ~75% off if you pay penalty ticket directly to a policeman hand ;) And no penalty point then, of course.

  25. baranowb said, on September 27, 2009 at 12:40 am

    Good post. About germany – minimal speed(usually) is around 100, maybe 110, general is 130, but there are quite a lot of places where there is no speedlimit( thing is that most parts of autobahn is situated on hills, thus, max speed limit 130 km/h).
    Car sizes differ, however consider one thing – most cities in europe are old, not designed to have high traffic – not like in US, where highway is usually part of infrastructure.

    Cops are there, but usually in unmarked cars, be aware if You are followed by car with two guys in light blue shirts :). However this is a point also, depending on coutry there is fewer cops per citizen than in US I think, might be wrong. But consider case when there is call to 911 in US(or car is beeing pulled of with more than one on board) – few minutes and YOu have like 3-4 squad cars, in europe its usually one squad car.

    Roundabouts are type of junction which allows more or less constant flow of cars. Its not that noticable when one does not know how traffic looked, in certain spot, when there was clasic junction.

  26. Amit Paranjape said, on September 27, 2009 at 12:56 am

    Thanks for the terrific response. Especially from the readers in Poland.

    I have not been there. Though based on the descriptions, sounds like the traffic situation is a lot closer to India!

    Amit

  27. uosiu said, on September 27, 2009 at 1:31 am

    Well… maybe not like India, but it is “traffic hell” also… And fast lane exsists in cities too… 130km/h (80mph) in city streets is sometimes possible. But 50m on you have to start an emergency braking due to red light. I can record my trip to school on tuestday if you want. View at the road and speedometer. I think that’s good idea, you will have some example about polish roads and streets

  28. Unmesh said, on September 27, 2009 at 1:31 am

    Reminds me of the time way back in 96 when I had rented a Renault to drive from Amsterdam to Paris and back. The drive was enjoyable but asking for directions (especially in Paris) was quite a challenge. Driving in downtown Paris too was quite an experience (almost akin to driving in Mumbai). Cobblestone roads in Holland, pizza-stop in Luxembourg, hunting for parking in Paris, memorable.

  29. PiGal said, on September 27, 2009 at 1:59 am

    I’m Polish, but I live in Belgium and I have a lot occasions to drive trough Belgium, Netherlands, Germany, France and of course Poland. The highest driving culture u’ll find in Germany and Netherlands, Frites-Eaters, Frog-Eaters and Bigos-Eaters have a lot sins on their conscience but those sins are completely different. The most common sin in Poland is speeding and forcing you to let to be overtaken (i.e. forcing to pull in roadside). The most common sin in France and Belgium is not using indicators apart of situation when they demand to be let in to your lane. It is better to let them in because they assume that it is enough to flash one time and there is no necessity of checking mirrors…

    About stop signs – Remember that in Europe there are a lot of signs about the priority (not sure if it is correct phrase but I mean sign saying you have priority on every crossing until it is not dismissed by the same sort of sign but stroked) and usually there are signs before most of crossing clarifying status of descent road.

  30. [...] More here: Driving In Europe – How It's Different From U.S. « Amit … [...]

  31. szejset said, on September 27, 2009 at 4:04 am

    Nice note dude! Regarding 9th paragraph, you haven’t seen many 18 wheelers because of the restrictions that allow them to use public roads only in specific hours – mostly at night.
    Greetings regards from Poland

  32. myles said, on September 27, 2009 at 5:46 am

    Paris is a lot of fun due to the very challenge of driving there. The Spaniards and Italians… There is a very good reason they make such excellent race car drivers. I think they are terrified of driving on the highways there versus on a track somewhere.
    Driving in Sweden: a holiday!
    But Poland and a couple of the former Soviet block countries… Those people SCARE me!
    Oh… my experience in the US: I own one of those big eighteen-wheelers. People complain about Los Angeles, New York, Atlanta drivers… give me them for a month versus one day of a mad Polish driver! And Ukrainians… i still shudder at the memory of a taxi ride through Kiev one morning.

  33. Mikken said, on September 27, 2009 at 8:31 am

    Lol? In which Polish city is it legal to drive 130 km/h? I’ve seen many wide 2-lane roads, but I think you are allowed to drive on them up to 100 km/h and these kind of roads are usually near the ends of the inhabited areas…

  34. Michael said, on September 27, 2009 at 9:27 am

    I’ve lived and driven extensively in Europe, from UK, to Germany (where I lived for over a year), to France, Austria, and Italy. There are tremendous differences from country to country, as others have observed.

    1. Germans and Dutch are in general quite disciplined, as you observed. However, Germans in particular can be extraordinarily aggressive and impatient. They will pull up to your bumper at 220kmh and flash their lights if you dally at all in the left lane. They’ll also cut over at high speed to merge into a line of cars waiting to exit.

    2. By contrast, grow an extra pair of eyes if you’re in Italy or to a lesser extent France. It’s like some have observed for Calcutta, minus the huge variety of road traffic. But cars come at you from all directions in the cities.

    3. Sure they drive smaller cars. But the high rate of speed in Germany balances the scales somewhat. Germans seem all too happy to pay the extra cost to continue their speed-limitless freedom. Given that they complain constantly about the nanny state, that seems to them the last bastion of freedom they enjoy.

    4. There are more SUVs than you indicate, they seem to have gotten somewhat popular of late. Of course, you don’t get semi-truck class vehicles like Chevy Suburbans or Ford Expeditions, but the BMW X5, VW Touraeg, and Volvo XC90 are not uncommon.

    5. UK roundabouts are great! They really keep the traffic flowing. Wish we had them in the US. But roundabouts are rarer on the continent (while still more common than in the US), especially Germany.

    6. I have no stats to back me up, but I don’t know where you get the impression that there are fewer 18 wheelers in Europe. To me, they were every bit as common as in the US. Europeans hardly consume that much less “stuff.” If they did, they would also have substantially lower GDP/capita. They do not.

    Enjoyed the post. Above comments aside, it is largely quite observant of conditions on European roads.

  35. Prashant Pungaliya said, on September 27, 2009 at 10:03 am

    Hi Amit, I had been to London and Scotland in May’ 2009. We hired a car and drove extensively. It is right hand drive there and similar to what we have in India. The round about turning is interesting and allow right side cars to go ahead. Cars do stop when you are coming from right and allow you to go ahead. I had also driven left hand cars in USA, and as you have mentioned long trucks and huge vehicles pass by you. One gets scared till they move ahead. They seem never to end. Nice write up by you and recollection of memory.

  36. Pepe de Murcia said, on September 27, 2009 at 1:35 pm

    Great post, I may include a reference about it in my blog if you don’t mind. I’m from Spain and lived in Texas for a while, now I live in Slovakia, 6km away from the Polish border, plus I brought my car from Spain this summer through France, Italy and Austria, and some time ago I also lived and drove in Denmark, so I had some very interesting road experiences.
    I was as shocked as you when I first rented a car in TX, saw the amaizingly huge pickups and the 18-wheelers passing me on my right, and I was already speeding!! You probably saw less 18-wheelers because they have special rules to follow: in some countries they cannot drive during rush hours, or during the weekends, so you will see a lot of them driving overnight, plus, they won’t overtake you at all because they have their own speed limit of 90kmh even if the road sign says 120, and they have an electronic system installed which cops will check every now and then.
    You also mentioned about the monitoring stuff and gizmos… well, I was surprised about having 8 places to hold my half-a-gallon soda (your soda cup is as big as your pickup), I guess Americans prefer comfort rather than fuel efficiency, and that’s related to how cheap is driving over there.
    And yes, in Spain we drive crazy, but we find Portuguese and Italians much crazier, and Eastern Europe drivers… well, I guess they said enough about Poland already.

  37. Keith said, on September 27, 2009 at 4:45 pm

    That’s a fair summary!

    When I went to the US on military business some years ago, I remarked on how courteous the other drivers were, contrary to previous experience.

    I was told … ‘That’s because you’re driving a Humvee, with ‘US Marine Corps’ painted on the side!’

  38. politicallysavvy said, on September 27, 2009 at 6:27 pm

    Living in Italy this is definite testament to many differences from North America. However, the driving here can definitely not be described as “disciplined” it is actually the chaotic, lights flickering, horn blowing, failure to operate the proper turn signals that create such a memorable experience!

  39. Ken Peacock said, on September 27, 2009 at 7:26 pm

    Nice post ~ I’m from the UK but live in Canada now.

    I REALLY miss roundabouts ~ I just don’t get the overuse of 4 way stops!
    They really interrupt the flow of traffic, cause more wear & tear on vehicles and increase fuel consumption. Stop, go, stop go ~ aagh!

    Better the British way of actually deciding that where two roads meet one road should get priority and keep flowing, while the other has to stop.
    Or better yet ~ stick in a roundabout ~ it’s not like Canada is short of room!

    OK ~ I vented now. Feel much better. :o)

    Just don’t get me started on the lane discipline (or lack thereof).
    Oh and I understand Hummer has been bought by a company in China and also Russians are quite into them these days. Good to know 1 billion Chinese are going to be spoon fed the marketing BS that it’s cool to drive a tank on the highway and suck up the worlds resources to go grocery shopping.
    I was rather hoping we had all grown out of that thinking by now. Hopefully Hummer will go bust in China ~ should’ve been strangled at birth anyway.

    Ken ~ Vancouver Island

  40. truthwalker said, on September 27, 2009 at 10:48 pm

    4. In Germany, there is a yearly inspection on old cars. If the brakes are too weak, to much rust, etc, you can’t drive it anymore.
    9. Europeans do not consume less monetarily, they just consume more services then stuff. Also, they don’t use much cargo rail here, not like the US. The European rail net has many small bore tunnels, and many stops. This makes for low, short, light trains. The US uses has the highest ton-miles for rail on earth. Euro spending on rail is primarily passenger.

    There is no such thing as European driving! Italian driving is fast but competent. G French driving is mad, and Parisian driving has one rule: No blood, no foul.

  41. carb said, on September 28, 2009 at 4:25 am

    Try the “roundabouts” on a bicycle. Even more — as you wear those racing shoes, in which you have to “pull out” of those cleats/pedals.
    Just to make a stop. As you been driving your bike at likely 20+ mph.
    Then there are those cops whom claim to having to “meet quotas.” And I have been stopped by them, for “Not making a complete stop.” Which be verified via “Putting your feet completely down.”
    In such a case, and as you speak about gas consumption (for motor vehicles) —-I find it more worthy of traffic lights.
    The only drawback = traffic lights define higher traffic, which define higher density population.

  42. mkahane said, on September 28, 2009 at 7:35 am

    I met a man from Spain and he was like “why does everyone come to a complete stop at stop signs here,” and he was shocked to hear that you can get a ticket for that in the US.

  43. carb said, on September 28, 2009 at 9:16 am

    I’m (mostly on) my bicycle; or on my feet: and I don’t see car drivers coming to a “complete stop.” (most of the time) This include motorcycles.

  44. Ramesh Joshi said, on September 28, 2009 at 9:56 am

    Iread your descrription about differences in driving in two different continents. I had driven in both. Driving in Indian continent is more romantic and one needs top notch skill to escape accidents. Driving in India is like writing anovel. You have to guess all the time what is in the mind of others. I love driving in India.

  45. ian in hamburg said, on September 28, 2009 at 12:43 pm

    Maybe you were only driving on the Autobahn on a Saturday or Sunday, but the major ones in Germany are TOTALLY crammed with 18-wheelers the rest of the week. They have to have special permission to use the Autobahn on the weekends.

    The incredible rise in the amount of truck traffic is the major reason they are widening the Autobahn between Hamburg and Bremen to six lanes. That stretch, btw, is just up the road from where your photo was taken.

  46. Scott said, on September 28, 2009 at 1:03 pm

    Very interesting read, thank you! I spent 6 weeks in Austria a number of years ago and noticed (and loved) the lack of trucks & SUV’s on the road. I can’t wait to get back next summer!

  47. Amit Paranjape said, on September 28, 2009 at 1:25 pm

    Ian, Thanks for your comments. I did bulk of my driving on the weekend. But did notice the less number on weekdays as well.

  48. Barbara said, on September 28, 2009 at 4:13 pm

    Excellent post – it’s always good to see things from someone’s else perspective.

    As to driving in Poland – believe me, it’s not that bad (compared to other European countries, for example Greece, where signs and rules are only meant to be broken, three cars can overtake you on a narrow road at once etc. For brave drivers I recommend renting a car on Crete – an experience you are not going to forget as long as you live ;)

    Anyway, although traffic in Poland is, I admit, horrible (sometimes it takes me 1,5h to get to work — 16 kilometers from my home!!!), but this is only a side effect of fast economic growth. Everybody has a car nowadays, no wonder we get stuck on our one-line roads. So I strongly hope it’s only temporary.

    And – I live in Krakow – the driving culture is very high here. People will let you pass (yes, we give a sign using our lights), especially if you have foreign plates.

    As to the police – believe me, they are where you least expect them. So be aware of strangely looking bushes or nice and tempting straight roads — I they are surely hiding somewhere in the neighbourhood. Our police like surprises ;)

    Plus, here is one more useful tips — when you see a car coming from the opposite direction ‘blink’ with its lights — that usually mean cops are on the way.

    Enjoy driving in Europe!

  49. Pawel said, on September 28, 2009 at 4:55 pm

    If a driver that is passing by you is doing a circle on air with his finger, that’s also a sign that there is police nearby. Some people do that instead of flashing lights, to avoid a ticket for using lights not according to rules.
    [Poland]

  50. combofix said, on September 28, 2009 at 7:03 pm

    very nice article, thanks!

  51. nelq said, on September 28, 2009 at 10:56 pm

    @ no. 7:
    Most of German highways are speed limit-free. Only at north parts of Germany there are speed limits.

  52. Vivek Tulja said, on September 30, 2009 at 5:18 pm

    Great article, Amit. Enjoyed reading it.

    My first trip to Europe (Germany) was about 16 years ago, I was living in the US at the time. I decided to pay a little extra from my own pocket and rented a 3-series BMW for the sheer joy of high-speed driving on an autobahn. As I was trying to pass a slow moving VW, which was probably doing 120 kph anyway, I saw flashing lights in my rear view mirror. Within what felt like half a second, a big Merc was on my tail, continuously flashing his lights. I moved over as quickly as I could. The Merc passed me, and I saw that there was a motorbike on his tail. I learned that day that tailgaiting in Europe means you have to be no further away than a few inches AND accelerating. That was my exciting initiation to driving in Europe.

    I have driven extensively in Western Europe, and driving anywhere on a rural highway is a joy. People are very law-abiding, if not always courteous. I frequently drive at whatever speed I want, and have never gotten a ticket. But all big cities seem to be alike.

    Here is a joke: In Italy, there is only one traffic law. If there is a car in front of you, you must pass it.

  53. badri said, on October 1, 2009 at 9:05 pm

    Perhaps the geographical expanse of the United States, the idea of a cross country drive, low density suburban living, 2kids + dog all contribute to the larger car as standard.

  54. [...] though, I found only more frustration. Nobody’s complaining about blogging and driving in Europe.  And stateside, the U.S. National Safety Council appears to [...]

  55. uday phadke said, on October 6, 2009 at 2:05 pm

    hey that was a great piece and very useful. it’s like a technical manual of drivig in europe. drove in austria recently nd musr say drivers are far more courteous than in usa

  56. Abhijit Athavale said, on October 15, 2009 at 3:46 pm

    Nice article. I have driven only in Germany, obviously apart from the US and India. But, what I noticed was that while speed limits to exist, they tend to be closer to the cities or if some sort of construction work is ongoing.

    Aside from that, it was a great joy to drive from Berlin to Frankfurt in ~5 hours at an average speed of 130kmph. The rental C180CDI topped out at 210 kmph, unfortunately. How I wish I had my M3 there …

  57. ridwanzero said, on December 30, 2009 at 10:57 am

    My first trip to Europe (Germany) was about 16 years ago, I was living in the US at the time. I decided to pay a little extra from my own pocket and rented a 3-series BMW for the sheer joy of high-speed driving on an autobahn. As I was trying to pass a slow moving VW, which was probably doing 120 kph anyway, I saw flashing lights in my rear view mirror. Within what felt like half a second, a big Merc was on my tail, continuously flashing his lights. I moved over as quickly as I could. The Merc passed me, and I saw that there was a motorbike on his tail. I learned that day that tailgaiting in Europe means you have to be no further away than a few inches AND accelerating. That was my exciting initiation to driving in Europe.

    onlineuniversalwork

  58. claus said, on June 4, 2011 at 4:51 am

    in romania when somebody is flash lighting in front of you , means that you will meet a stationary police car with radar ,,,,after pass the cop.s car ..you might do the same


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