Every country you go through has their own special way of driving from the sedate but fast Europeans to the downright dangerous and stupid Asians. Here are a few driving observations from our journey across the world so far.
Europe – One of the worst roads we travelled on in Europe was in Germany about 15km before the Polish border. The potholes were larger than houses!
Poland – If you want to overtake someone you flash them and they will then indicate and move to the right if the road is clear. Many of the roads are surfaced in cobbles in Poland.
Baltic states – You have to drive with your headlights on all the time. The Baltic Highway (EU funded) is an excellent stretch of road. The capitals of the Baltic countries are very difficult to navigate around as there are very few signs. Riga has no road signs to get out of the capital back onto the main road north.
Russia – In Moscow, there is no lane discipline and there is permanent grid lock. If you are an experienced Muscovite you chose a lane and then change out of it as fast as you can with no consideration for any other surrounding you.
During the winter time when the roads outside of the capital are all iced up there is usually only one lane to stick to. Everyone drives down the middle of the road until overtaking or meeting another car coming the other way and then they drive with one wheel on the black bit and one wheel on the sheet ice. Everyone must drive with their headlights on all the time. We saw a lot of accidents as people were driving too fast and overtaking on dangerous sections of road. Lorries break down regularly in the centre of the road causing tailbacks which cause more lorries to break down. The RAC will cover you to the Urals if you fancy the drive over to there, although be warned it is only for one call out!
Kazakhstan – there are very few vehicles of any sort outside of large towns. Roads are excellent with recent tarmac coating the surface. In the mist, if they overtake, they use their four-way flashers to indicate. Road signs indicate that you have 400km to go to a town as you enter a city and as you leave the city after 2km you have 410km to go. There are policemen that will use radars to speed check you from over 5 miles away.
China – Over 100,000 people are killed each year in road traffic accidents in one province in China and it is no wonder! There are cyclists everywhere along with three wheeled motorbike pickups and taxis, motorbikes, pedestrians, tractors, lorries, horse drawn carts, people drawn carts and cars driving the wrong way down the road. Many vehicles have no head lights, no brake lights, no lights of any sort in the dark. Driving at night is just as treacherous with those that have lights. Cars coming towards you refuse to turn their headlights off or if you manage to persuade them to turn them off they will flash you repeatedly completely destroying your night vision for several minutes. If someone overtakes you they will put their high beams on and honk you just to warn you that they are overtaking and blind you at the same time. A lot of drivers also have a habit of overtaking on blind bends. On the “Super” Highway there are toll booths for which you usually have to pay for the rubbish potholed lumpy road you have to drive on. There is an off road track that runs alongside the main roads for thousands of miles, remnants of the service road.
The northern roads of China are ice covered potholed roads in the winter whereas the southern roads are melting potholed truck rutted roads in the winter. There are treacherous roads that wind into the mountains with no roadside protection to stop you plummeting into the deep ravines on one side or protect you from the landslides on the other.
A horn is an essential element to your car in China and is required on average every 30 seconds when driving in towns to alert the driver in front that you will crash into them if they don’t stop driving into your lane and maybe every 2 or 3 minutes on motorways and roads outside of towns to stop buffalo, pigs, chickens and cyclists from straying in front of you.
The roads in China are being improved all the time as China races towards the 2008 Olympics. In the 1970s, there were only 7000 miles of roads in China. There are a few more now but many wouldn’t even be classified as dirt track by the Ordnance Survey mappers.
Laos – Laos driving is stress free, in comparison to China. Most of the main roads are sealed and have protection at the sides. There are some roads with potholes and road works on. There are road signs that tell you the correct distance. The roads in the north wind up and down mountains and limit your speed to 30km/h.
Thailand – In Thailand, drivers drive on the left and if you come in from Laos you cross over to the other side of the road before you cross the Friendship Bridge over the river Mekong. Thai drivers are laid back but they do insist on undertaking you whilst you are trying to overtake someone. Bangkok driving was supposed to be as bad as Moscow driving but it was more gridlocked than 15 lanes to the 2 lane road. Road surfaces are good and maintained.
Malaysia – Drivers are courteous although they do undertake you. The motorways are excellent but there are tolls every few miles which can be expensive. There are stopping points under bridges along the motorways for motorcyclists in the event of heavy downfalls. You are required to have a Carnet de Passage to enter Malaysia but we were told at the border that the International Circulation Permit was all that was required.
Singapore – There are only about 15% of the population in Singapore that own cars. To have a permit for your car costs #30,000 for 10 years. You are required to have an autopass to drive on the roads which is detected and you are charged for driving on the road. There are 2 sets of traffic lights, if you are turning right you need to look at the second set of traffic lights to know if you can turn right, driving through a set of red traffic lights in the process! As a foreigner having your foreign car in Singapore costs S$20 per day (even if you don’t drive it!). Many Singaporeans do not know how to drive in wet conditions. You are required to have an International Circulation Permit to drive in Singapore as well as your Carnet de Passage.
Australia – Australia is a massive country and to travel between one town and another usually entails a three or four hour drive on average. In the outback you have to be very aware of the large road trains which dominate the roads. You need to allow a minimum of 1km to overtake a road train. You are obligated to wear your seat belt in Australia and if you are caught not wearing it, it is a A$225 fine (#90). You do not need to have insurance for your car but legally you must have insurance in case you injure someone in a crash. Most roads are surfaced with tarmac but when you leave the main roads there are gravel roads that deteriorate into dirt tracks that develop into corrugated rutted roads over time. Most drivers are courteous although Australians do drive too fast for road condition