Hit the Road, Jacques / Jakob / Giacco!

Crazy Italians, abusive French, aggressive Germans, laid back Brits – is it true? How do we Europeans show our character on the road and how true are the old clichés? I can tell you from personal experience that five minutes on an average British motorway will probably be enough to convince you that there’s nothing laid back about drivers here. The British can be just as crazy, abusive and aggressive as any of their European counterparts.

You only have to take to the road in a foreign country for the cultural differences to strike you. Is it really just our subjective perception that “it’s the foreigners” who are mad, bad and dangerous? A survey being carried out by the European Commission examines how attitudes vary from country to country in Europe. This is the fourth time this has been done since 1991 so by now there is a mountain of statistical evidence. Someone must be having fun sorting it all out, collating it and drawing conclusions.

Here are a few of those statistics:

63% of drivers consider that “other drivers are more dangerous than me”. This is the mean figure: percentages by country range from 77% of self-confident Italians to a modest 45% of Finns. I know where I’d feel safer!

19% of French confessed to exceeding the speed limit on their autoroutes, compared to 50% of Portuguese and 59% of Germans. Is this a case of greater self-discipline, more visible highway patrols and speed cameras, or self-deception on the part of the French, and greater honesty on the part of the Portuguese and Germans?  47% of French admitted to failing to signal when turning or overtaking, so perhaps they are telling the truth about speeding. The European average for this particular traffic sin is 31%.

85% of Germans go when the traffic light is amber, and 72% drive for more than 2 hours without taking a break. However, only 11% of Germans drive after drinking more than 2 glasses of alcohol, compared to 27% of French and a whopping 40% in Luxembourg.

There seems to be unanimous recognition of the danger of drunk driving. In countries where the legal limit is 0.2 g/l of alcohol in the blood (Sweden, Poland and Estonia) the majority was against raising it to 0.5 g/l.

Similarly, in countries where the law is less strict, two-thirds of drivers favoured lowering the limit. Paradoxically, though, there is universal rejection of the proposal to install, as a general precaution, a breathalyser device known as an alcolock that prevents drunk drivers from starting their cars and driving under the influence of alcohol.

The report of the survey – known as SARTRE (“Social Attitudes to Road Traffic Risk in Europe”)  – which involved questioning more than 24,000 drivers in 23 countries and was released in 2011, is the subject of a conference to be held in Versailles at the end of May.

Presumably participants will arrive by car … have you seen the traffic around the Palace gates? Should give them some existentialist food for thought!


2 thoughts on “Hit the Road, Jacques / Jakob / Giacco!

  1. Well, opinions are always going to be subjective…! I intensely dislike driving on German motorways because everyone thinks that because you can drive 220 kmh, they should, whether it’s appropriate or not. Lots of ego and “here I come, so get out of the way…”, even if I’m driving at a perfectly acceptable (and fast) 140, 150 or 170 and would have to brake hard to change lane, depending on conditions and car!
    France has improved dramatically since police presence has increased and fines made heavier – on the motorways they are mostly very civilised, except around Paris, where they still drive like madmen…
    Here in Switzerland, it seems to depend on whether the drivers are cautious countryfolk or arrogant city folk ;o and then of course, there’s the subject of what type of car you’re sitting in – drivers of posh or fast cars dislike being overtaken by people movers or small, cheap cars LOL!
    At the end of the day, it’s all prejudice and no statistics are likely to prove any kind of truth…

    • If you look at the link, the objective is to find out about attitudes and beliefs in order to try and improve safety – but the statistics are very interesting in what they suggest.

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