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!