RogerBW's Blog

Mainland European Driving 21 August 2017

In the UK, drivers are told to stay in the lane closest to the edge of the road (lane 1), pull out to overtake, and pull back in afterwards. In mainland Europe they actually do this.

The typical motorway offers only two lanes each way; major non-motorway highways may be just a two-lane road to carry all traffic. I do more overtaking onto the other side of the road in a couple of weeks than in the entire rest of the year, when I'm mostly driving on British motorways.

With vehicles travelling at a wide variety of speeds, the standard approach is to stay in lane 1 until the last chance you'll get to overtake the vehicle in front without braking. It's apparently entirely acceptable to cause a vehicle coming up in lane 2 to have to decelerate to avoid hitting you. The other side of that is that you are expected to pull back quickly after completing the overtaking if there's anything behind you.

Not everyone does pull back over, especially in Belgium; pulling a little closer soon after they clear the vehicle they're overtaking as if you were going to go ahead at your preferred speed, and perhaps weaving back and forth a little to remind them of your presence, usually works. Some people flash headlights, usually a long flash rather than the peevish short flash that most British drivers seem to favour. Everyone drives much closer to the vehicle in front than I consider reasonable; judging by German-registered cars I've been in, I think they mostly also have rather sharper brakes than is usual in the UK.

Obviously it only works if the roads aren't completely packed; once they fill up, e.g. near a major city, the frequent lane changes make things harder work for everyone.

Some other notes:

On Belgian and Dutch motorways, toilets generally cost (€0.50); in theory you get a voucher for the same value you can use in the shop, but then you're buying something at motorway service area prices, and nothing's less than €2 or so.

On the Autobahn there are various grades of rest area: basic ones (Rästplatz) may or may not even have a toilet (look for the "WC" on the sign), but are free; Räststatte usually have fuel and at least a shop, perhaps a restaurant in the coffee-shop style; the Rästhof has somewhere to sleep; and the Autohof is a truck stop where they will charge you for the toilets.

Danish and Swedish roads have a similar Rästplatz-style system, but the larger areas seem to be less formal; often you'll be directed off the road to a local garage instead of having a dedicated service area. In Finland, it's either roadside areas without facilities or garages; there don't seem to be any small rest areas with toilets.

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