Driving for the first time in the UK, I deliberately chose a circuitous route home, so that I could be accustomed to the controls of the car. As soon as I eased the car out of the rental agency, I put it into gear and watched in glee as the car shot ahead like a bullet each time I depressed the gas pedal. Now, Milton Keynes is not your run-of-the-mill city which you know like the back of your hand – a lot of roundabouts, and too many roads with the same kinds of trees lining them. Lost, I had to depend on the satellite navigation in my phone to guide me home.
“Take second exit on the roundabout”, it said, and I swung my car into the roundabout. Once in the roundabout, there was another car approaching the roundabout from the left. Not recalling that he would stop (as I had priority in the roundabout), the Indian driver in me thought it was best to apply brakes, much to the displeasure of the vehicles behind me in the roundabout.
Later, by the time I returned to MK, having driven over innumerable roundabouts and having horns sounded behind me (a vehicle honking at another here means it is saying "F%#$ you") I knew by trial and error that (i) You don't enter a roundabout if there is already one in it or there are vehicles entering it from your right, (ii) You stick to the outer edge of the circle if you have to go straight ahead, and (iii) You stick to the inner edge of the circle if you have to turn right.
There are a lot of other things to be kept in mind other than these three, depending on whether it is a two lane roundabout (shown) or a single lane, but these three rules of the thumb helped me to return back safely. I then learnt that there are things called "double roundabouts" where the exit of one roundabout will lead you right into the mouth of another!!! All said, roundabouts are a lot of fun when they are empty, but when there is heavy traffic all around, it becomes a bit too much to handle. I also learnt that as compared to traffic lights, roundabouts cause less traffic accumulation and they are the fastest way of clearing intersection traffic - unless of course a maverick like me does not take any exit and just keeps moving around the circle. But I digress.
The Sat-Nav decided to have some more fun, and just at the point where I’m passing a T junction, it says “Just ahead…Take right”. Unable to turn right without indicating, I proceeded ahead, and stopped the car at the kerb, put on the hazard lights and waited for the software to determine a new route. Just then, a car pulls up behind me and a guy comes out and asks if I’m all right. That was when I thought – renting a car was such a bad idea.
I was about to tell him I stopped to answer a phone call, thankfully I didn't because (i) you can't stop at the kerb to answer a phone call and more importantly (ii) you don't put on the hazard lights unless there is a hazard ahead. Had the words come out of my mouth, I could as well have been writing this from jail. The man probably thought I was sick or there was something seriously wrong with the car.
Cut to two hours later – Renting a car was the best thing I did in a long long time. Watching myself cruise over the motorway connecting Milton Keynes to Ipswich, I could not help wonder. To drive in a foreign country was a dream come true. Two years back if you would have told me I would do it, I probably would have laughed in your face. Yet, here I am, savouring a sweet feeling of "being there, and doing it". It is almost utopian. People stop where there is a Give Way line, so you know that even if there is a car coming on the side road, he will wait for you and you don't have to reduce speed. People stop if there is a red traffic light, even if it is 1 a.m. in the morning. Lane discipline is strictly followed.
Drivers here are made to fall into place with the system - the licensing process is stringent. There is a theory test, for which you are ACTUALLY supposed to read up, to answer questions such as the distance to stop while travelling at a certain speed in good conditions, wet conditions and snowy conditions, such as the length and duration for a car to back up, such as the name of the document which is issued as a cover till the time your actual documents are sent.Additionally, there is a visual perception test, where there are 14 video clips, recorded through a camera atop the vehicle. The point is to identify potential hazards as soon as they begin to develop - a hazard may be a cyclist, who may swerve in any direction, or a person getting into a parked car (he could open the door wide) etc. The practical test will allow a limited number of minor errors, and NOT EVEN ONE major error. So much so, that if you change two consecutive gears without lifting your hand off the gear lever (like we so often do while picking up speed), you will be asked to pull over and marked failed.
Little wonder then, that driving in UK is such a charm!!