When driving in Europe amongst foreign persons it pays to learn the rules of the road as they can change from country to country. Standards of driving can vary enormously. Parisian motorists for example see it as their duty to try and kill a tourist a day; it’s a matter of honour to them.
Broadly speaking though, the road infrastructure, systems and signs are all more or less understandable with painted lines and markings on the road acting as guides to how a driver should behave. Stop means Stop in any language and visiting motorists learn to use them just as they do at home.
At home in Britain, our drivers can be more complacent. Speeding or being careless at road junctions are examples. We get lazy, we fail to give our full attention to the job in hand as we would if there was three Spanish truck drivers trying to overtake at the same time. (This has happened by the way. I believe I got mixed up in some sort of private contest. It certainly keeps you on your toes.)
Now we learn that experiments are taking place to remove, in certain places, the white demarcation lines, crossings and other painted symbols from our roads. It is hard to understand the true reasons behind this. Ostensibly, it is about road safety; without lines and the like it is assumed that drivers will slow down because they don’t quite know what to do. ‘Shared space’ or ‘naked streets’ is what they are calling it. I’m sure this is true. In all ways, if you don’t quite know what’s going on you proceed with caution; but will it last?
Consider this: We used to have fairly draconian licensing laws in this country. Pubs shut at eleven and closed in the afternoons. We all knew the ropes and as a nation we were used to it.
Then we joined the ‘Common Market’ and were encouraged to be more European and eat more dubious French cheeses. With visions of warm, lazy afternoons sitting beneath the sun outside drowsy cafés (something politicians do a lot of on holiday) with a glass of Maison Plonk in hand, our government slowly relaxed the law and we became open all hours.
Being British, we understood that if we sat outside pubs and bistros we would die of hypothermia, but we did quickly see the opportunity to get considerably more booze down our necks over a greater period of time and instead of being more European we became a nation with a drink problem. Some of those drinkers continued to drive and they really needed lines to get them home, because that is what they expected.
This is the point. I have no idea if this plan will work and, at a guess, I assume it will confined to towns and urban areas, with the intent of slowing drivers down. I don’t know the answer but I do know British drivers very well. The trouble is we are very accustomed to the road system that we have learned over many motoring miles. To suddenly up and change it might induce more problems than it solves. Sure, drivers may be more cautious for a while but what happens when they get used to it and become again complacent?
Of course, people will get used to anything given time, but how many accidents will there be in the meantime? In short; why fix what’s not broken?
I leave the last word to one Hilary Grime quoted from earlier in February: “… perhaps he can come and teach those of us still trying to work out how to cross the new Frideswide Square in Oxford. Pedestrian crossings and traffic lights have been removed. There are just three “flat” roundabouts, where traffic can go round or over the top. All of this is at the busy entrance to the station, with the main traffic route from the west entering Oxford under the railway bridge. Pedestrians are advised to make eye contact with drivers or cyclists, not easy for those with visual impairments, or drivers behind sun visors. The final piece of the jigsaw: cyclists are allowed to go on either the road or the pavements!”