Archives for posts with tag: Driving

There are some excellent drivers around. A lot of drivers effectively do it for a living: couriers, reps, taxi drivers. Then again, a lot of us are really good drivers. Almost all of us are. We forget that we’ve been doing this for decades, some of us. Longer than any career many of us have.

One thing that amazes me about skilled drivers, in fact all drivers: the amount of journeys we negotiate with no trouble at all, no mishaps.

We’re all guiding extremely expensive killing machines, over a ton in weight, through busy rush hour traffic, often at high speeds on motorways, and we don’t even touch all the other cars milling around us like atoms, nor all the people, cyclists and other people using the same arteries as us. Amazing.

Most of us will only have a couple of accidents in our entire driving lives: thousands of hours behind the wheel with no more than a few seconds of difficulty among them.

So, the next time you think you’re not skilled anything, think abut your driving. You’re pretty adept at steering a dangerous piece of heavy machinery through a pretty complicated obstacle course, at speed.

When I lived in the US I loved the drive thru. One of the benefits of living in a country which is relatively new and whose growth exploded at the same time as the growth of the motor car, is that places are geared to arrival and departure with the combustion engine. The US can be a very convenient way to do drive thru business.

Drive thru fast food, banking, liquor stores, car washes, and even drive thru mail boxes which are a fantastic thing; there are so many ways to get what you need done on the move.

Drive thrus never caught on as much in the UK and Ireland, probably because of the infrastructural thing I alluded to. Fast food stores like McDonalds abound in Ireland, but that’s about the only sector that has embraced it. I can think of one cash machine drive thru in south Dublin, that’s it.

Did I mention how convenient a drive-thru mailbox is? The alternatives for someone in a car faced with an inner city or inner town post box is to park and walk and post and walk and drive off, or else block the traffic and send a passenger or yourself to the post box for a few seconds which are agonisingly long for both you the driver and the vehicles behind you.

Of course, we’re being discouraged to drive less, walk or ride for a short trip, and generally take better care of ourselves and the planet, which I’m totally on board – rather than bored – with. Often, though, we bundle our errands and things to do into a single time-saving, efficient trip on the way to somewhere in the car, and for that the drive thru is invaluable.

Drink driving limits vary by country, but, at the risk of generalising, if your blood alcohol levels exceed between 0.05 and 0.1% – or between 50 and 100mg alcohol per 100ml of blood, you’re committing a crime.

Again, at the risk of generalising, that meant for an average sized person one drink and you were OK to drive. A bottle of beer, a glass of wine, a spirit, a pint of lager, that sort of thing.

I have always kept religiously to that rule, because I’ve lived in countries where it’s been 0.08% or 0.1%, even out in the country where’s no public transportation and no taxis. It’s not worth it, for so many reasons.

Not any more.

Ireland is now 0.05% and at least a 3-month ban. I checked, 0.05% means half a pint or a small glass of wine puts you at risk of being over the limit.

I remember about 30 years ago my Dad was returning from an afternoon game of golf. He was a similar size to me and back then the conventional wisdom was a pint and a half and you’re fine, which he never exceeded. On this occasion he was breathalysed and told he wasn’t over the limit but he was borderline. He never had a pint and a half before driving again.

I’d be interested in seeing what my degree of driving impairment would be after a small glass of wine. Would my reactions and judgement be noticeably slower or would there be less jerkiness and over-reactions because I was a tad more relaxed?

It’s a moot point, because it serves no purpose to have a single drink and get in a car any more. I’m fine with that, since the ramifications of excess drink are unthinkably bad for another family, but I’m not sure how folk in the country will get on, whether their quality of life in massively unpopulated areas – where you’re unlikely to meet another car or pedestrian and you’re only risking yourself which is your own fault – will suffer.


We all feel the pinch from time to time and need to watch the pennies. At least some things are genuinely free, like air. That’s true in a narrow sense but many types and formats of air are not free. In some cases, the air we want to put into our vehicle tyres to keep them safe and economical is not free.

These days at fuel stations you tend to see large automated machines that provide you with air and water on payment of a coin, typically a euro or a pound. Other fuel stations have free air dispensers, but they don’t work much of the time, or the gauge is broken or illegible.

Air is part of the overall service that a fuel station provides, along with a host of other vehicle- and house-related items.

In my town there are 3 fuel stations. They have a tendency to converge on exactly the same price, even down to the tenth of a cent per litre, which is worth another post in itself. I have a policy, where prices in my locality are comparable, to buy my full tank of fuel – about €80 – at the station that has a free and regularly functioning air dispenser, so I can check my tyres too.

You reward the suppliers who have your long-term interests at heart and who try to provide a more rounded service, some elements of which may cost them money, but which they recoup in spades.

It’s been some thirty-odd years since I last drove in France. I managed to correct this shortcoming over the summer with some long distance and local driving on holiday. In this post I offer you 7 observations about the experience.

  • They drive on the right (I’m starting with the obvious one. It pays to remember this one at all times…)
  • Their road signs are excellent. Why can’t every country adopt a visual picture that shows a 130 below a sun, and a 110 below some rain, so you know what speeds you can drive in what weather?
  • People obey the speed limit almost all the time. This might be something to do with the frequent speed cameras and the zealous gendarmerie
  • They don’t signal you in, flash you in, or wave you in, to allow you to pull out, or across or in front of them
  • They don’t acknowledge you when you signal them in, flash them in, or wave them in. I don’t know why this is. For me it completes the transaction and is simple good manners
  • They ignore or don’t see your offer and simply pull out, across or on front of you.  I don’t know why this is either
  • They touch park with gay insouciance

I don’t know if this correlates with your experience, but it certainly correlates with mine :-).

Signs on the road – literally painted onto the road, as opposed to ones on a pole which itself is on or by the road, if you get my drift – confuse me. Why they are upside down? Or perhaps it’s back to front?

The huge majority of people in the western world read from top to bottom and left to right. We start top left and we finish bottom right. Yet road signs start from the bottom left and finish top right, perhaps assuming that you read the nearest word first and the word above it second.

Let me give you an example. When I’m driving and I come across this sign on a road:




I read it ‘ahead, school, caution,’ rather than its intended meaning, the much more helpful ‘caution, school ahead.’

Perhaps the best solution is to arrange the words in the same order as they currently are, but further spaced apart, so as I’m driving I read the words separately, rather than together, and I’m less inclined to treat them as one clause and start at the top.

It’s the little things…





There’s a new-ish kind of road sign on Irish roads. I like it. The sign combines a speed camera and an instruction.

When you’re travelling along a road with a certain speed limit, the sign shows you the speed you’re going. If you’re going in excess of the speed limit, which is also displayed in the sign, the speed shows red. When you dip under the speed, it shows green. Crucially, after it shows you your speed in green it then posts a ‘thank you’, also in green.

These are signs with manners. They thank you for obeying their rules. But, crucially, they remind you about the speed limit in a creative way and also encourage you to drive below the limit. You comply, and you get your reward, someone’s – or something’s – thanks.

I have no data on this, but I would imagine that these new-ish signs are effective, certainly more effective than other kinds. Until, perhaps, we tire of the novelty factor. But will we ever tire of someone using good manners?

What is it with mini-roundabouts? You don’t have them in the US as far as I can remember, favouring instead your 4-way stop junctions and that kind of thing. People’s ability to navigate roundabouts varies inversely according to their distance from the capital city. Out here in the country in the west of Ireland, they’re hilarious entertainment.

At mini-roundabouts with 4 or more approaching roads, people either wait at them politely, even though they might have the right of way, or else they blithely head on through without a care in the world. Farmers are legendary for this, on the rare occasion they venture out from their place of work.

Then you get mini-roundabout that were formerly T-junctions. At this treacherous kind of a roundabout, cars plough across the top of the T at great speed, in both directions, whereas those approaching the T edge up timidly to avoid being totalled, even though they might have the right of way.

So here, dear reader, I offer my rules for mini-roundabouts. By way of disclaimer, I should say that I have no idea if these are the highway code rules for your particular country, so don’t take them as gospel, but they make sense to me anyway. Note that they only apply to places where you drive on the left :-).

1) A mini-roundabout is like a proper roundabout, except that a proper roundabout might have 2 lanes, so your lane position is important.

2) A mini-roundabout is not like a large roundabout with traffic lights on it, or even a huge roundabout with lights on it, or a ‘huge-about’ as my daughter calls them. You simply obey the lights at these kinds of roundabouts.

3) You approach the mini- roundabout and give right of way to the cars on your right. So, if a car to your right is on the roundabout, or is close to the roundabout and if you pulled out you’d cause it to slow down, let the car pass and wait until the road to the right is clear.

4) Once on the roundabout, signal as you’re about to exit the roundabout. This lets the person know who’s giving right of way to you that you are coming off and they can get on.

5) If you don’t use your indicators, or if you keep your indicator on as you pass one or more exits, folk don’t know what you’re doing and will hate you for it.

Being a good driver is as much about communicating to other drivers what you’re doing as it is watching for what they’re doing. Pretend other drivers are your customers. You want to please them and improve their lives, right?