Where’s a better place for driving – UK or U.S.A?

I’ve been living here in California for some years now having grown up in the UK and I hear various comments from both sides of the pond. This has prompted me to see if I can give both some overall and some personal perspective…

Saying that, in my decade of driving in the UK I didn’t get a speeding ticket. Cameras had to be signposted and painted yellow on the back so if you’re observant then you shouldn’t get caught very often.  I drove for a living for a while, so I got observant. I suspect as well that the fact I’ve never been a high speed driver came into it, and I would enjoy my spirited driving out in the back lanes where there are no speed cameras at all.

However, I did get my first speeding ticket recently. It was here in the U.S and I was just three months off of going twenty years of driving without a speeding ticket.

To my mind it’s a mixed bag, all those cameras in the UK are in specific points, well mapped out and signposted and it means cops aren’t generally looking for speeders as much. On the other hand, a camera has no discretion whereas if it’s a quiet road and you’re only a few miles over the limit and cop can leave you alone. A cop can give you just a warning… but a camera is binary – you either were or you weren’t speeding.

Of course, a camera can’t be a dick or point a gun at you but I’m still going to give this one to the U.S despite that ticket of my own.

Most importantly… roads. A car without a road is a bouncy affair, and one of the most common criticism I hear from Brits back home is how boring American roads are.

It’s a bit of a nonsense to complain America has a lot of straight roads. America is considerably larger than the UK – the UK in fact can fit at least a few times of in just about every state in the U.S. If you want to drive from San Diego to San Fransisco then you want the straightest road from A to B possible. America was also a blank canvas for the most part and straight roads make the most sense if you don’t already have well travelled routes around arbitrary land borders.

So yes, America has a lot of straight roads. Long, long straight roads. It’s a little disconcerting the first time you travel and spend hours driving and watching a straight road disappearing into the horizon, then look into the rear view mirror and see a straight road all the way to the horizon… if nothing else it makes you understand the muscle car. A large, powerful cruiser designed to eat up the miles quickly and comfortably.

However, as we understand America is a big place with a lot of geography. If you know where to look and are in one of the right states, not only are there some killer roads but some very long ones. Where I am in California, right on my doorstep is a range of mountains with some fun and technical roads. One of them has this warning sign:

Saying that, in my decade of driving in the UK I didn’t get a speeding ticket. Cameras had to be signposted and painted yellow on the back so if you’re observant then you shouldn’t get caught very often.  I drove for a living for a while, so I got observant. I suspect as well that the fact I’ve never been a high speed driver came into it, and I would enjoy my spirited driving out in the back lanes where there are no speed cameras at all.

However, I did get my first speeding ticket recently. It was here in the U.S and I was just three months off of going twenty years of driving without a speeding ticket. 

To my mind it’s a mixed bag, all those cameras in the UK are in specific points, well mapped out and signposted and it means cops aren’t generally looking for speeders as much. On the other hand, a camera has no discretion whereas if it’s a quiet road and you’re only a few miles over the limit and cop can leave you alone. A cop can give you just a warning… but a camera is binary – you either were or you weren’t speeding.

Of course, a camera can’t be a dick or point a gun at you but I’m still going to give this one to the U.S despite a ticket of my own.

Roads. A car without a road is a bouncy affair, and one of the most common criticism I hear from Brits back home is how boring American roads are.

It’s a bit of a nonsense to complain America has a lot of straight roads. America is considerably larger than the UK – the UK in fact can fit at least a few times of in just about every state in the U.S. If you want to drive from San Diego to San Fransisco then you want the straightest road from A to B possible. America was also a blank canvas for the most part and straight roads make the most sense if you don’t already have well travelled routes around arbitrary land borders.

So yes, America has a lot of straight roads. Long, long straight roads. It’s a little disconcerting the first time you travel and spend hours driving and watching a straight road disappearing into the horizon, then look into the rear view mirror and see a straight road all the way to the horizon… if nothing else it makes you understand the muscle car. A large, powerful cruiser designed to eat up the miles quickly and comfortably.

However, as we understand America is a big place with a lot of geography. If you know where to look and are in one of the right states, not only are there some killer roads but some very long ones. Where I am in California, right on my doorstep is a range of mountains with some fun and technical roads. One of them has this warning sign:

Challenge accepted! Challenge accepted!

Just a mile from me is another road through wine country and out into farmland that is one of the tightest roads I’ve driven – hairpins, decreasing radius turns, S bends that mix up the camber. 

Then, just an hour and a half away if you choose the straight roads is Malibu and some fantastic driving roads in that area. Mulholland is quite the mecca, and YouTube will serve you up a bunch of great videos wether you want to see silly crashes or cool cars. But if you do some research and go exploring there is everything out there from spectacular sweeping views to tight highly technical roads that demand a high skill level and brake fluid that won’t boil easily.

In the UK you have places with spectacular scenery like Cheddar Gorge which mostly is spellbindingly beautiful, or the backroads of Devon and Cornwall… or indeed the backroads of anywhere. If you live in the UK you’re not far from at the very least some fun little roads.

When it comes down to daily driving, neither country has worse drivers – wether you want to compare New York, L.A or London… it’s all a shit show. The only major difference is getting around at night in the city.

American cities where for the most part planned then built, rather than growing organically over thousands of years. So American cities tend to be laid out as a grid. This makes navigation a breeze (It also means you can get pretty much anywhere in a city just by turning left, which is fun to do once). However, America does not have roundabouts and very rarely (at least in California) their version of “Give Way” which is “Yield”. Between traffic lights and stop signs it means you have to stop all the fucking time. It drives me nuts.

No coming up to a roundabout and having a look before just rolling onto it in second gear or even third gear. No coming up to a junction and checking each way before just rolling on. Nope, come to a red light and you stop. Come to a stop sign and you stop before going. Even if there is nothing on the road at three in the morning. Of course, people do roll the stops and it’s illegal (known here as the “California Roll”) but that’s not the point. You have to come to a dead stop. It’s insane and stupid. Particularly in a state so hell bent on making cars green and efficient! What’s more inefficient than making a car accelerate from a dead stop?

California does have one little great thing – you can turn right on a red light. The first time you do it it feels WEIRD. And the second… and the third. In fact, the first time I turned right on red I had a cop car behind me, and it took an act of will to make myself turn right on a red light in front of it.

This one though… I’m going to call it for America. There’s just so much more road and if you’re willing to drive far enough so much variety. In one road trip you can be hammering the canyons, driving through the desert, driving in the sand, driving in the snow, driving in the dirt, driving over rocks… whatever floats your boat it’s there.

Now, let’s talk about cars.

This is a huge subject. For other people to argue about frankly because I rather like both. I grew up with small European cars with every little bit of power squeezed out of small engines and tweaked to make small twisty roads manageable when driven with gusto. Here in the U.S… I totally understand the big muscle car for eating up long stretches of highway in some comfort, or smaller pony cars for getting away from all the traffic lights quickly. I also get the luxury barge with the soft floaty suspension eating up all the bumps so you can cruise around in comfort. Everywhere does seem to be an hour away… people don’t even bother to measure journeys here in miles because time is easier.

For all of that though, I drive a small European car here but it’s just personal preference having to choose a single car. If I could afford three or four cars, there would be a muscle car and a luxobarge to go with it. 

When you add it all up together there is no question is the better country for driving. To be fair, if you put the UK up against each state individually it would be better than some. Consider the UK will fit a few times over in most states, and many times over in some states it’s just not a fair comparison.

But life isn’t fair and America has every kind of driving you want and it’s far cheaper to do it in every way – gas, insurance, speeding tickets and even maintenance. It has all of the best European cars as well as a bunch of home grown stuff it would be exorbitant in cost to own in the UK.

The only thing I find weirdly lacking in a country with such a huge car culture is the lack of race tracks in proportion to the people. Maybe I’ll try and figure out why in a future piece.

Please follow and like us:
RSS
Facebook
Facebook
Twitter
Visit Us
Instagram