Blog: Dave LeggettTaking the car for a spin?

Dave Leggett | 25 May 2007

We've got a long weekend this weekend - Monday is a national holiday - and many of us will be hitting the road. Two bits of research caught my eye today. One suggests that urban dwellers need to get into the countryside in order to de-stress. But another survey suggests that if we reserved, stiff upper lip British do that, we're much more likely than peace loving and laid back Americans (obviously flowers in their hair, all smiles, Beach Boys perpetually on the car stereo) to resort to making rude gestures to fellow motorists.

Well, we did have something called the British Empire once, so maybe we're not all nice guy DNA here. Or maybe the rage at the wheel is simply a part of the de-stressing process...

A survey undertaken for an insurance company found that one in six Londoners never leave the city at weekends and one in four escape the city just 1-2 times a year. A research psychologist says we should escape the city ideally once a month and spend 20 minutes a day in a public park/garden and even longer out of the city at weekends. This is 'known to stimulate many health benefits from lower blood pressure to reduced irritability'.

And we're an irritable lot apparently. The RAC foundation says that in the USA, 35% of drivers use the horn in reaction to bad driving, while just 8% use obscene gestures to make their feelings known. But in Britain, the RAC says, the rude hand signal is the motorists’ first choice. We're obviously a repressed bunch who let rip at each other from behind the wheel. Something to reflect on as you head out of town with the hordes this weekend.

Some other snippets from the 'RAC Foundation Communication Fact File':

  • In 2005 a Taunton lorry driver who waved to motorists to warn them of a speed trap ahead was prosecuted for obstructing the police, though he was cleared on appeal as there was no proof that any driver had seen his signal.
  • In France, a driver flashing his headlights at a junction doesn’t mean “After you, Claude” but “Out of the way – I am coming through.” (That's an important one to get right.) 
  • Citroen 2CV owners wave at each other when they pass. Smart owners do the same. (Ford Mondeo owners tend not to, in my experience. But I'll  keep trying.) 
  • In the USA, Harley-Davidson riders have an elaborate vocabulary of signs and signals. A biker stopped by the side of the road with their helmet on the ground needs assistance, while a biker with a safety-pin on his leathers is signalling that he is “passing through” rival territory rather than looking for a fight. (Blimey. Some actually still like a dust-up and they're not all weekend lumberjack types drinking Babycham then?)


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