Home > Travel, Uncategorized > Bergen, Norway, Part 7 – Driving

Bergen, Norway, Part 7 – Driving

My observations on driving in Norway.  I must apologise because I get carried away and expand it to more general observations.

In Norway, the speed limit is, if not the lowest, then amongst the lowest in Europe.  Giving way to traffic merging from the right seems to prevail more than elsewhere in Europe, and virtually every footpath or pavement crossing has a controlled crossing that gives supreme priority to the pedestrian.  The locals don’t even look or hesitate; they just step out trusting the traffic to stop for them. It invariably does, but I must admit I tend to wait till I’ve made eye contact with the driver or actually see him slow before I trust it.  All the drivers have had winter driving training, of course, and it’s a part of the driving test.

In winter, schoolchildren wear high-vis vests when they walk or cycle to school, without any fuss and appear to be happy to do so.  Generally everybody out walking in the dark wears a reflective arm-band or disc.

Driving; now there’s an emotive topic.  Is it an over simplification to say that most people think they’re excellent drivers and all “foreigners” are crap drivers?  Let’s confine ourselves to Europe here; I’ve driven in most (western) European countries and have concluded that Britain has the best and worst.  Those in the best category would figure in that category anywhere because they’re simply the kind of people who take pride in doing something well.  The worst, because our test is so inadequate for the actual task and that our traffic systems are so good.  This means that badly trained drivers can use our roads fairly safely and efficiently thanks to the excellent signing, the simple road numbering and the sometimes OTT traffic management systems.  I would argue that this means that the poor driver can hold a licence and never improve, because he doesn’t need to.  I’m sure we all know of someone who has been driving for years but has never ventured into a major city or has to get someone to put the car in the garage.  Our extensive motorway and dual carriageway network is excellent, but on a two-lane road, the majority of drivers can’t manage a simple overtaking manoeuvre, because they haven’t needed to learn how.

The Dutch, I believe, have removed some “traffic management” and have found an improvement in accidents at these spots.

My best drivers?  Probably the Italians.  They seem to have more than their share of hazards like narrow, un-uniform width streets, squares that are anything but square, pedestrians with seemingly global priority and a built-in need to go as fast as possible.  They share with most continental Europeans an excellent road sense that “keeps the traffic moving” to everyone’s mutual benefit.  They use every square metre of blacktop in a spirit of co-operation.  The concept of “merge” is apparently instinctive.  You won’t see a stationary line of traffic behind a well-meaning but incompetent driver stopped to allow an equally incompetent driver to join the flow.  They’ll achieve the same result with “fluid merging”.  (Here’s a link to a short video in Naples, note the creator’s comments: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o0h7JkkJUAs )

Drive in Amsterdam or any Dutch or Belgian city and you’re confronted with the bicycle.  Bicycles that rule.  Drive in historic France, Italy or Spain and you’re confronted with old squares, markets etc. with no traffic aids whatsoever.  Drive in Scandinavia or the Alps or Pyrenees in winter and you’re confronted with ice and snow.  These countries have drivers that can handle all of the different situations they may encounter because they’re taught to do so (winter driving in Scandinavia is part of the test), or they have had to learn.

The picture is taken from the Arc de Triomphe in Paris

Traffic at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris

which sits in the middle of a 12 point “roundabout”.  Note the absence of traffic lights, road markings etc. QED.

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