Meanwhile in a country far far away*. Driving school, Lesson 6. Roundabouts, rond punt, ronde-point

As imagined in a local driving school.

Belgique

Instructor:

You have done really well in our previous lessons so today we are going to have a special lesson.  Today we are going to learn roundabouts.

Now there are two rules to roundabouts that you must never forget.

Rule one. There are no rules. In fact it is important that you adapt your behaviour to the circumstances so that in all situations you are able to do just what you want without other people messing up your driving rhythm.

Pupil:

That’s not a rule! Give me a proper rule that I can follow. What’s rule 2?

Instructor.

All driving at roundabouts is subject to the Laws for state secrecy. Under no circumstances should any citizen ever allow any other driver to know where you are going next.

Circulate rapidly always giving the impression that you are going to take the next exit, then just when they think you have made your choice carry on round another one or two exits just to be on the safe side.

Pupil.

What about the indicators?

Instructor.

NO. NO. NO. Indicators are used by foreigners only. Let anyone see you using an indicator and they will think you are English, then you will get no respect at all. It’s like the roundabouts with more than one lane. Don’t get in the habit of choosing the same one each time for each manoeuvre because people will expect us all to do the same and then where would we be, Germany?

Pupil.

Any special instructions if I see pedestrians and cyclists?

Instructor.

ronde point

Sigh. You are not following this are you? The crossings round the roundabout are part of a statistical study. Those people waiting are not really trying to cross, they are sampling the behaviour of motorists to see how many stop. Apparently the samples to date show that it is entirely random. Which is as it should be, or people like me wouldn’t be doing our jobs.

Although you do need to be careful if you ever drive North, the Dutch keep stopping for them and it messes everything up, the cyclists get a bit pushy and expect to be taken seriously. That needs stamping out.

Clear?

Pupil.

I think so. Can we go and practice now?

Instructor.

Yes I think we should. If this goes well next time we can book you in for our special offer lesson. It lasts five hours and it is called “finding a parking space in Brussels”.

*May be Belgium

Ronde Point Albert Mayne

*Substitute Wallonia/Flanders at your peril.

PS: We have our own roundabout here – but that is another story!

Rant time – Austrian drivers

My big wake up call. I have never seen cars and buses routinely used for deliberate intimidation on the scale of my last four days in Austria.

I have cycled all over the world. Most of the time driver behaviour doesn’t worry me too much. I get annoyed by rank stupidity, unnecessary speed, impatience and incompetence, but so do drivers and walkers. Abuse comes, but the threat is minimal and not physical.

Four days ago in Vienna was the first time I saw a car driver partially overtake a group and then steer into the side of the group to force us out of the lane. I thought it was a mixture of incompetence and impatience, someone unable to realise that the group was 50 metres long.

But then several times more over the next three days, including hand gestures to make the intention quite clear. A city bus – like the hated bendy buses of London, but this driver deliberately trapped five riders against the kerb by pulling across us.

While most drivers waited politely to let our groups turn to the left across the traffic flow together yesterday there was a guy who sped towards the group to scatter it out of his way.

I wish I had the presence of mind to take photos or get the bus number, at least in Vienna. I think there would have been some local government embarrassment about intimidation of a visiting cyclists’ group, but the drivers clearly had no such fears.

Maybe I’m naïve – riding companion Vladimir from Moscow said he was not at all surprised by the drivers, but he felt safer in Russia because most roads had shoulders which the cyclists use and he did feel uncomfortable in a group out on the carriageway on rural roads. But I guess I expected Austria to be more benign, at least like Germany.

Most Austrian cyclists I met were positive about the direction of cycling in the country, and especially the potential for tourism with the stunning scenery and iconic routes like the Danube cycle route. Clearly their drivers have a lot of catching up to do and it would be a shame if this put visitors off.

Rant over – later I’ll follow up with some more positive Austrian stories.