Why Motoring in UK is more fun that in US

(Posted 6/5/2004) - After four visits to the UK (England and Scotland) and to Ireland, the verdict is in: Its more fun to drive there than in the US.

Aside from differences in scenery, why would one locale be a better motoring experience than another, you ask? Well, as I became aware of my preference for the non-US motoring experience, I ask myself what was really behind it. Here is my attempt at answering the question.

Road design in the UK and Ireland is fundamentally different than in the US, with the following results:

  • Lane widths on A, B, and M class roads are narrower than their counter part county, state, and interstate roads in the US. This has forced the production of narrower cars and trucks, with the benefit that UK drivers have better position awareness.
  • There are many two-lane roads in the UK with lane widths of 2.5m (6.4 feet). In the US there are long haul trucks that are 8-feet wide. You do the math.
  • The UK eschews traffic lights in favor of turn-abouts in many areas; a benefit is that no one has to sit at a red-light with no crossing traffic.
  • Roads are designed to be travelled at the rated limit (40 MPH for single lane/with turn-out C and D roads, 50 MPH for two-lane B roads, 60 MPH for A and WS2 roads, and 70+ MPH for M roads). What this means is that you can't realistically average faster than the target speed limit, but you will find it very pleasurable to drive at that speed limit -- the roads will not go into decreasing radius or off-camber turns that require braking, as is so common in scenic highways in the US.
  • For those who drive slower, the rules of the road and common expectation result in them using turn-outs or, on WS2+ roads moving to the left, to let faster drivers by.
  • WS2+ roads go to 3 lanes every 5 miles for about a quarter mile to let faster traffic pass slower traffic.
  • Small, powerful cars abound. The European car market provides really great performing small cars. I last rented a 1.4L Nissan-Renault Micra (100HP 5-speed) that was 1.7 meters wide (about 5.6 feet) and 11+ feet long. It went where I pointed, taking turns like it was on a rail, while getting 40MPG.
  • UK drivers take more extensive driving exams and are in general more precise and consistent in their driving than their American counterparts. They use turn-signals, maintain intervals, pass only on the right, and get out of the passing lane quickly. They park and maneuver well in congested traffic producing less frustration for those behind.

Long story short; I like driving in the UK and Ireland. I like the Euro-styled cars, and I like the road systems and rules. As far as scenery, we've got just as beautiful country side, its just not quite as much fun to drive through, on average.