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Old 13th October 2009, 14:22   #1
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Default Driving In Europe How Its Different From U.S.

I recently wrote a blog about my recent driving experiences in Europe and how it compares with the driving in U.S./India. I have lived in the US for over 12 years and extensively driven there.

I would be interested to learn more about other members' experiences related to driving outside India.




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

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). 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: Octane rating - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)

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
Autobahn - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
A good site with lot of information (speed-limits, restrictions, etc.) about various Autobahns Autobahnatlas

Last edited by GTO : 20th May 2011 at 13:17. Reason: Please avoid using external smileys or images. Thanks
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Old 18th May 2011, 15:58   #2
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Default Re: Driving In Europe How Its Different From U.S.

"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."

"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."


That's because you have gone through extensive training before getting your DL, so discpline becomes your 2nd nature when you are on road. That i can safely say for Germany. To be honest, i felt like i came to some india like country in terms of traffic, everytime i crossed germany and entered into a neighbouring country.

"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)."

That's because, you have to get your car checked and cetified by TV for it's road worthiness every year.(for 3yrs old cars). You cannot take your car on Autobahn if it cannot touch 60kmph.(though they are checked for 100kmph worthiness).

Last edited by Suess : 18th May 2011 at 16:00.
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Old 18th May 2011, 23:33   #3
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Default Re: Driving In Europe How Its Different From U.S.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Suess View Post
"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."

"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."


That's because you have gone through extensive training before getting your DL, so discpline becomes your 2nd nature when you are on road. That i can safely say for Germany. To be honest, i felt like i came to some india like country in terms of traffic, everytime i crossed germany and entered into a neighbouring country.

"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)."

That's because, you have to get your car checked and cetified by TV for it's road worthiness every year.(for 3yrs old cars). You cannot take your car on Autobahn if it cannot touch 60kmph.(though they are checked for 100kmph worthiness).
8. Police here in Germany are not authorized to book and receive fines in cash, they should either receive only through card transaction or send the ticket to home.

4. Better maintained cars: they have points system. If a car does not reach the points, it is not permitted even to enter the city centre. More over every city has a shopping/pedastrian zone where no cars or public transport is permitted.

Overall police are quite friendly. As you said Autobahns are getting speed limits these days as accidents are increasing. Here passing the driving test is quite tough as compared to United States. Here a change in rule has come which means when one commits a mistake abroad(inside EU) then the licence receives points in Germany. And on reaching a certain point the licence gets cancelled and they are prohibited from reappearing for a licence for another 3 years. Obtaining a licence normally is costly too and when one goes back after to revoke they have to pay quite hefty amount.

Last edited by AlphaKilo : 18th May 2011 at 23:36.
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Old 18th May 2011, 23:54   #4
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Default Re: Driving In Europe How Its Different From U.S.

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Originally Posted by AlphaKilo View Post
8. Police here in Germany are not authorized to book and receive fines in cash, they should either receive only through card transaction or send the ticket to home.
OT but can we implement that in India? Only the vehicle owner needs to have a card issued in his name not the poor driver/cleaner and it could be a special purpose card only readable on police swipe machines.

I like the idea!

--Ragul
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Old 19th May 2011, 00:03   #5
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Default Re: Driving In Europe How Its Different From U.S.

Main differences: Roads with curves and cars with stick shifts!

On a more serious note, getting a drivers license in Europe requires a lot of patience, time and money. Very expensive process and strict norms. Guess it translates into better drivers.
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Old 19th May 2011, 09:10   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by AlphaKilo View Post
Here in Europe, the drivers, no matter what car they are in, they are always in their senses and they stop for pedastrians and cyclists.
Are you sure? Just visit Italy and you know the answers. Especially, the south.

Not driven in all of Europe. But done in France & Italy. So the above points.
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Old 19th May 2011, 12:27   #7
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Default Re: Driving In Europe How Its Different From U.S.

When I drove in US, I did not have much difficulty in adjusting to LHD. Infact, after 2-3 days, I was driving normally. The reason for this was Auto Transmission. So I did not have to shift gears with my right hand.
I have always shifted gears with left Hand in India.

I am wondering, how difficult it is to learn shifting gears with the right hand?
I ask this because, if we do a Europe trip, we would love to drive through the countryside.
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Old 19th May 2011, 12:32   #8
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I am wondering, how difficult it is to learn shifting gears with the right hand?
I ask this because, if we do a Europe trip, we would love to drive through the countryside.
Believe me, Not much of problem. It should take just a couple of KMs and you will be used to it.

May be you will come back and search for the gear stick in your safari with your right hand
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Old 25th May 2011, 10:04   #9
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Default Re: Driving In Europe How Its Different From U.S.

Nice write-up, aparanjape - enjoyed reading it. And could relate to most of it, from the few months spent in Belgium in the 90s. We had a fleet of company cars (all Fords - Clipper etc) with free fuel and thus could drive out to Amsterdam, Paris, Lille etc.

Quote:
Originally Posted by aparanjape
Better Driving Discipline – Fewer crazy drivers!
It's not just the drivers - everyone is disciplined including pedestrians - so no crossing the road, when it is Red for pedestrians etc. And this is a culture they take care in passing down to future generations as I learnt.

I had walked out of my hotel one fine morning to catch the 8AM bus to work, for which I needed to cross the road. I am waiting at the pedestrian crossing waiting for it to turn green. Standing with me is a young man and his son (5 years old maybe). I can see the bus approaching from a distance and am wishing the signal turns green for me to cross the road and catch the bus. The next bus is some 20mins away and I don't want to be late to work. But the signal stays red and the bus is approaching quickly. I look both sides, see no vehicles approaching and decide to make a dash for it. I put a foot forward, but then decide not to - concerned about what the guy would think.

The guy has been watching me all the while & says something in Dutch - I reply in English that I do not follow the language. He replies back in English, "Please do not set a wrong example for the kids". Felt so embarassed - I told him that I was sorry and crossed the road, when the light turned green. The bus came in just after that and I reached office as planned.

Quote:
Originally Posted by aparanjape
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.
It sure is confusing - I remember doing few rounds of the round-about before I could finally extricate myself and car out of the chakravyuh.
Stopped driving there after that experience.

Quote:
Originally Posted by aparanjape
Gasoline is currently priced around 1.40 Euros/liter. Diesel is a little cheaper at around 1.05 Euros/liter.
Interesting. So they also have subsidised diesel like in India ?

Quote:
Originally Posted by tsk1979
When I drove in US, I did not have much difficulty in adjusting to LHD. I am wondering, how difficult it is to learn shifting gears with the right hand?
From my experience in EU, for some time, your left hand keeps searching for the (non-existent) gear-lever, finding the door instead. But I think it should not be much of a problem to get used to this like mjothi mentioned.

Last edited by supremeBaleno : 25th May 2011 at 10:05.
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Old 6th June 2011, 21:07   #10
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Default Re: Driving In Europe How Its Different From U.S.

May I add a few thoughts of my own :

Better maintained cars - Europe has a strong public transport network in place, and driving is not really necessary for day to day errands. Coupled with the high car and gas prices - only the well off buy and drive cars. But in US (if you live outside of the major cities) - even if you live on food stamps, you got to have a car. So the prevalence of shabby and patchworked vehicles are more.

Yes - I feel US is the ideal place to drive stick shift, but getting a good stick shift car and more importantly, selling it after use, takes more time and fetches lower value. Thus the ATs.
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Old 6th June 2011, 21:39   #11
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Default Re: Driving In Europe How Its Different From U.S.

Quote:
Originally Posted by aparanjape View Post
I recently wrote a blog about my recent driving experiences in Europe and how it compares with the driving in U.S./India. I have lived in the US for over 12 years and extensively driven there.
Good information but looks to me like a case of grass is greener on the other side.

  • I found that rental car maintenance to be the same for both Europe and US. All rental cars are sold and replaced after 1 year in the US. Maybe you get that impression because US companies use more domestics vs imports. But lately Big3 have stopped those huge fleet discounts and so you see a lot of Japanese cars.
  • Private cars, yes tend to be better maintained in Europe. Thanks to the excellent public transit system/gas prices and regular MOT inspections.
  • Excessive speed difference between different lanes on the Autobhan while it can be exciting can also be very dangerous potentially.
  • Changing speed limits also mean you have to concentrate more and cannot chillout.
  • The base model cars in Europe are tiny SLOW. I rented a Opel Vectra with 1.8 petrol and the damn thing was so underpowered I had to keep it redlined all the time on the autobhan.
  • LANGUAGE BARRIER- If you are an English speaker, you will have a hard time reading sings and adjusting. Of course, nowadays GPS make things easier.
  • Manual transmission is generally perceived as low end compared to the automatics in the US. Good for enthusiasts however.
  • Fewer Crazy drivers you say? Maybe in Germany only. Have you driven in downtown Paris. The scooter and motorcycles buzzing around and cutting lanes will drive you nuts. Their multilane roundabouts there are scary too.
  • I didn't find any difference in the # of cops. They have plenty of speed cameras and traffic light cameras in London at least. Personally I dont overspeed so I would feel more reassuring to have cops patrolling lonely country roads.
  • I've crossed the border to Canada plenty of times and there was never any hassle. If you travel on long weekends, there is bound to be a 30-45 min wait which is understable.
  • Quality of roads however is simply top notch esp in Germany. Even the best of American highways cannot match the smoothness and flatness. Roads are also generally more picturesque compared to midwest. But there are some beautiful roads in Pennsylvania and California.
  • Overall its waay easier to drive in the US. In fact its so easy that its boring.

Last edited by Mpower : 7th June 2011 at 17:41.
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Old 7th August 2011, 20:29   #12
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Default Re: Driving In Europe How Its Different From U.S.

You cannot take your car on Autobahn if it cannot touch 60kmph.(though they are checked for 100kmph worthiness).[/quote]

That is true for many of the major highways in France, Germany. If you are too slow on the road, the police will come after you telling you to go faster
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