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Thoughts on Driving in Europe

January 30, 2013 by Matt

German Autobahn Ausfahrt Road Sign

Here’s an excerpt from a blog post I wrote during my trip to Europe with a couple of buddies back in June of 2004:

Quick note on driving: They know how to here! It’s so wonderful. Highways are either two or three lanes; trucks stay mostly in the right lane, only venturing into the middle lane to pass, and cars occupy the left two. People pass only on the left, use their signals and get out of your way quickly if you’re coming up behind them. And on average, drive around 90-110 mph. Drivers stick to the speed limit when there actually is one (around construction and in hilly country) and aren’t boneheaded like most American drivers. I love it—except, of course, for the fact that our little rental Opel is hardly Autobahn-worthy (at least in my mind). Ah well. When I have my [BMW] 850CSi I’ll come back and have some fun.

Every time I’m caught in a back-up caused by an American driver’s failure to merge properly, or stuck behind some secretary trundling along obliviously in the left lane, I feel a pang of longing for my glimpse of that remarkably disciplined driving environment.

Of course, such a system comes at a price. Driver education is far more involving, strenuous and expensive in Europe than it is here, and more rigorous annual inspections mean the cars must be maintained to a higher standard in order to pass muster (and endure the stress of more demanding driving). Furthermore, the experience of being behind the wheel requires more focus than it does on this side of the pond; I remember asking my dad whether he enjoyed driving in France, and he replied that he didn’t. He later clarified that it was stressful for him in the sense that it required all of his attention; he didn’t feel free to just relax and make conversation with his passengers the way he did in the US. That said, I can attest personally that for fully-engaged drivers, the European system works, and can actually be less stressful and more satisfying in the sense that if you understand and obey the rules along with everyone else, traffic moves quite swiftly and smoothly.

Do you think some form or portion of the European system of traffic laws and driver education could work here in the States? I don’t know anyone who would seriously argue for fewer rules; driver’s ed and traffic laws are pretty lax, relatively speaking, but what about simple measures like forbidding passing on the right above 35 mph? Would drivers take to it? Would it work with the current highway code or would interchanges have to be redesigned? What about on a state-by-state basis? Or does Europe’s tighter geographic integration makes it better suited to more strenuous road rules than America’s more sprawling landscape?

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Filed under: Car Stories, Miscellaneous


  1. John D says:

    Ausfahrted just a minute ago… ;)

  2. John D says:

    But seriously, don’t get me started. I have to go to bed soon and I just can’t get sucked into this one right now…

    While I’m not willing to concede that the drivers here in the States are good examples of driving behavior at all, I haven’t really had enough scares for me over the past 16 yrs to think our system is totally inadequate and a complete failure. Sure there are lots of bad drivers out there and I think we definitely need to require more training/class time/probationary period/etc than has been required in the past. Although I have heard that it is much more of an ordeal for a teenager to get a license now than it was when I was coming along (~15 yrs ago), which is as it should be. The statistics for teenage drivers is/was appalling and something certainly needs to be done. I still think there should be more driving training required to first obtain a license, but with that inevitably comes an increase in both the number and amount of taxes imposed by the government on the system as a whole. Just look at Japan or the UK. The amount of time and money it takes to get a license is absurd. While I certainly think we could all benefit from our drivers having to go through more to obtain a license and understand that driving is not a right but a privilege, I’m not convinced we need to scrap the whole system and become as pedantic about it as some of these other countries.

    My stance is that we need to find a happy medium that balances the emphasis of driver involvement and skill without the costs and taxes imposed by the government in order to ‘regulate’ and ‘administrate’ the additional training needed.

    That sound fair?

    • Matt says:

      I tend to agree. My natural bent is away from more government regulation, so I instinctively dislike the idea of any more rules, but… There’s got to be something we can do within the current framework. Maybe make driver’s license exams more challenging, with dedicated “courses” (think traffic cones in a parking lot)? Something to ensure our local DMV offices are more than “driver’s license mills…”

  3. Hello Matt. You’ve put together a very insightful post here! If any of your UK readers are regular visitors, or are planning a longer journey through France, they might be interested in the Liber-T tag from Sanef Tolling. The tag enables UK motorists to use the automatic telepeage lanes, which have previously been reserved for French residents. Find out more here:

    Best wishes, Alex.

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