In late September last year, my other half James and I wanted a little adventure, so we decided to drive all the way from our home in Preston, Lancashire to Gibraltar. Gibraltar is a British Overseas Territory at the very southern tip of Spain and it’s where James was born and raised.
Before starting our journey we made sure we did all the things we needed to do to make our car as safe as possible to drive – we had our tyres checked for tread and condition, changed the oil and water and checked the bulbs and wipers.
We also bought a European Car Travel Kit which included all we needed to keep our car on the right side of the law in both France and Spain.
Beginning our Drive
I must admit that we did both feel a slight trepidation about driving “on the continent”, as they say. And it didn’t have anything to do with driving on the right-hand side of the road…although roundabouts can be a little confusing! I’m from the US and James is from Gibraltar so we were both drove on the right-hand side before we moved to the UK.
Our anxiety was more about driver and road safety. Neither of us has felt safer driving anywhere than we have in Britain, not just because of the generally excellent signposting, but the fact that UK drivers are, in our experience, generally the safest out there.
But as soon as we drove off the ferry in Dunkerque we felt pretty reassured. Not only were people driving a lot more carefully than we had expected, but the highways and even the city streets were in very good condition. They were also awash with crash barriers and bollards.
We took a half day detour to Bruges after we arrived at Dunkerque and despite very heavy traffic going into the city, the crash barriers and bollards on both sides of the road, and, most importantly, separating directly oncoming traffic, really made a difference to our peace of mind. We had a similar experience in Paris and Madrid and it felt safer to drive around European cities than we expected.
And it made perfect sense, I think. Car crashes don’t just happen when people are driving at speed down a motorway. Many accidents occur in built-up areas, where the volume of cars driving so close to each other, as well as pedestrians, motorcycles and visual distractions, place the driver under often intense and difficult driving conditions.
Not to mention, of course, the risk posed by visiting drivers not knowing the road layout and struggling to navigate their way around a place they just don’t know! i.e. us!
I have to say that we may well have something to learn here from our ‘continental’ friends when it comes to making it easier to drive around European cities. I’ve personally witnessed at least two collisions in town centres here in the UK which could easily have been avoided had there been bollards separating lanes. The cost wouldn’t be outweighed by the obvious safety benefits to drivers and pedestrians, surely?
And if you want to argue money, what about the health costs of treating accident victims who may not have been as badly hurt, or hurt at all, if a car had hit a crash barrier or bollard instead of another car or person?
Barriers direct could become a gateway to safer roads in our towns and cities. Check them out and see if you agree.