I visited the UK again in September as my first visit there in February was very nice. This time I went to Folkestone, Kent, where it was taken place by the musical “Half A Sixpence” I watched at Kokugakuin Tochigi High School, via Brighton, Tunbridge Wells, Hastings, Rye and New Romney.
I flew Aeroflot to Moscow, where I changed the plane to London. At Heathrow Airport, I had usual strict inspection at the immigration counter. Being asked why I was going to Folkestone, I answered the plain truth that I had been impressed by “Half A Sixpence” I had watched several weeks before and it had encouraged me to visit there. I told the cab driver who took me to the hotel from the airport the same thing, and he said, “Oh really. Enjoy your trip to Folkestone.”
I hired a car to get to Folkestone as I wanted to try to drive in the UK just once. The rental car store offered me a brand-new Audi A1 with a sat nav, a manual gearbox and a cruise control. It was so eco-conscious a car that it had a clean diesel engine and such a system that, if you change the gear to the neutral position and step off the clutch pedal, the engine stopped until you step on it again.
Driving on the street in the UK was really easy. I got accustomed to the manoeuvres of the car very soon as they were almost the same as those of the VW Polo I own in Japan. Other drivers had good manners, and drove more briskly than some Japanese car drivers who drive too sluggishly. I found out that the important thing to drive in the UK smoothly was to be always aware of speed limit and right-of-way. Every road has an explicit speed limit. For roads within a town, the speed limit is 30mph. If you drive away from the town, you will see an end-speed-limit sign, and then you can speed up to 60 mph (or 70 mph for the road with multiple lanes). When you are approaching a town you will see a 50 mph speed-limit sign and a marking, and then you have to reduce speed to 50 mph. When you are driving closer to the town centre, the speed limit will be 40 mph and finally 30 mph. I saw that almost all the cars followed the speed limit, and the driver drove at 60 mph where allowed. It was rare to see such a driver that drove so dilatorily that he made a long queue behind him, as is often seen on the road of Japan.
It is clearly defined in every situation if you have right-of-way or not. At a roundabout, cars driving along the circle have right-of-way and incoming cars have to give way to them. If you see an inverted triangle road marking, you have to give way to the traffic on the road ahead. If you are driving too narrow a road ahead to go by each other, a road sign explicitly shows which has right-of-way, you or an oncoming car.
Roads, road signs and road markings in the UK are designed logically, concisely and minimally. They are easy to understand. I think that Japan, though cars and roads are ostensibly developed, will need more than dozens of years to catch up with the UK in road administration.