10 Reasons why Americans Can Not Drive

angry driver in the carOne day, I will get shot in my car—shot by an enraged American man with a gun in his glove compartment. The German tabloid BILD would then write the following headline: “German mom killed by American in front of her 3 children.”

Gloomy prophecies aside, I’m not kidding about the challenges of driving in the United States. Americans may be polite people in general, but they turn completely crazy while driving. Only yesterday, I experienced yet again how aggressive they are in their cars.

I was driving back from the beach, expecting heavy traffic at the end of the Labor Day weekend. Unsurprisingly, traffic congestion started 25 miles before the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. Over the next two hours, I had to merge from the right lane several times. Every time, the drivers who were previously content to hang 100 yards behind me suddenly accelerate because they didn’t want to let me in! Even though I merged successfully each time, the other drivers made their anger clear. I’m convinced that one day, one may take a gun and shoot me for daring to ignore his wishes.

I have traveled around Europe and other parts of the world for the last 20 years. I drove in Paris around the Triumphal Arch when I was 20 and managed the left-sided traffic in the UK and Ireland without any damage. I drove a Mercedes, a BMW and an Audi for years, and I’m familiar with 125 mph (200 km/h) average speed on the German Autobahn. Italian drivers are kind of crazy, but they can drive a car reliably. Brazilians are more crazy, however. Driving in Belo Horizonte is one of my scariest memories, but at least they can drive a car. But in my experience, Americans can not drive. Let me explain:

10 reasons why Americans can not drive

Reason #1: Low speed limits for their own safety

The American speed limit is so low because Americans cannot drive attentively. Speed limits are set by each state in the United States. The highest speed limit I saw since living here was 70 mph (113 km/h). American highways are usually limited to 55 to 65 miles per hour (88 to 105 km/h). Just imagine Americans eager to drive a Porsche or BMW on the German Autobahn, which are famous for not having a speed limit. (This is actually a myth, as around half of all German highways do have a speed limit.) How dangerous!

Reason #2: All lanes blocked on the highway

Americans drive mostly at the same speed on all lanes, forming barriers that block every lane. I’m not talking about the two lanes of French highways or the two to three lanes of German highways. After two years in the U.S., I still count the lanes on the highway. Usually, there at least four to six. How can you drive safely if you have to check constantly for other cars zipping around you or stopping short?

Reason #3: Passing on the right

Despite laws and signs to the contrary, Americans still pass on the right side! Guys, this is not allowed. Unfortunately, it is tolerated by the police, which is, in my opinion, a big mistake. Elsewhere in the world, you would get a ticket for passing on the right.

Reason #4: Poor traffic law-enforcement

The police tolerates drivers passing right and driving at the same speed in all lanes. Allow me some politically incorrectness: the media also report shootings by police officers against African-Americans. So, where are these officers when angry drivers pass me on the right??

Reason #5: All-way stops

Americans are such poor drivers that they need four stop signs at a junction in order to be sure that everyone will stop. Okay, I’ll admit it: I have problems with American crossroads and all-way stops. The concept of “first arrived, first to go” is not natural for me. I naturally think in terms of drivers on the main road or the secondary road (because only the secondary road has a stop sign, at least in Europe). In addition, I assume that drivers to the right have priority (right before left). Since living in the States, I have asked myself repeatedly whether Americans really know the difference between right and left.

Reason #6: Straight streets and highways

I’m pretty sure that the streets are straight because Americans can’t use the steering wheel properly. They are too busy texting, drinking huge sodas, or eating burgers while driving. Honestly, I understand somewhat: driving here is so boring for me. The lower speed limits may make the road safer, but for Americans who know that “time is money,” multitasking in the car seems inevitable.

Reason #7: Cruise control for dummies

Cruise control is a genius invention that automatically controls the speed of your car. As a result, Americans don’t have to do much in their car. Drivers only need to set the final destination on the GPS, activate cruise control, and hold the steering wheel with one finger.

Reason #8: Oh my gosh, I have to park!

Every single day, I go crazy at Pauline’s school. There is a short-term parking area for parents while they bring their children inside the daycare. However, you can only park here in parallel or if two successive parking spaces are empty. If Americans could drive, they should be able to park in parallel. But because they are used to parking in huge spots, they block much-needed space for other parents.

Reason #9: The drive-through

Americans invented the drive-through because they can’t take the time to park. It is so much more convenient. No parking, no walking, and easy eating in the car during the trip (see reason #6).

Reason # 10: Easy driver’s licenses

My eldest daughter will turn 16 in December. It’s almost time to get her driver’s license. This was the only plus point on her list before we moved here: driving at 16! However, when we started to explore how to learn to drive in the United States, we were quite surprised. Most children here are taught to drive by a family member or friend and take the driving skill test in their own car. Malia Obama, President Barack Obama’s oldest daughter, was taught to drive by the Secret Service. I assume that the Secret Service can drive, since it’s responsible for protecting the President of the United States. Other kids may be too young to be behind the wheel, but maybe Malia Obama won’t be a danger for DC!

Do you have more reasons why American driving is insane? Let me know by leaving your comment at the end of this post!

Foto credit by Vladimir Mucibabic

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22 Comments

  • Oh my, this was a good read. I agree with most of what you say, though some of it is a bit blunt.
    I have driven in the USA and all over the world for 15 years now and I still get surprised/irritated at how bad people are at driving every single day. I drive at least 60 miles a day, commuting back and forth, with an estimated 300 000 miles of driving experience. I think people on the road must have the attention span of a goldfish.

    What frustrates me the most is how oblivious people are at what is going on around them. Looking confused in general, staring at their phone, staring at anything but what is happening around them. Looking confused when I honk at them when they are driving 35 in a 65 zone, blocking a never ending stream of cars behind them all the way to the horizon, for miles and miles. Rarely do people actually notice such things, and even more rarely do people actually pull over/let people pass. You should see how people react when emergency vehicles try to drive past other vehicles. Instead of getting out of the way, most people will literally just come to a full stop. Thats it. They just stop, blocking the way for the emergency vehicles. No matter how many sirens and honks, they will just freeze and not get out of the way. This is fascinating to me. Trying to help, but making the situation worst. I can’t wait for autonomous vehicles…..

    When I am joy-driving/driving in problematic circumstances, and I see someone/several people behind me, looking like they need to get somewhere, I DUCKING pull over and let them pass. Its not the end of the world. I think there might be an ego/individualistic problem here, something about letting someone else overtake you seems to be diminishing in some basic way. I don’t get it. Sometimes I think that they just like to have that temporary power over you, by blocking you, which is really sad.

    The second thing that happens on a daily basis, is people who block you on the road on purpose. They think that one should drive 10-15 mph under the speed limit, and they will do everything they can to make sure you cannot pass them, often endangering all parties involved, by swerving in your way when you try to pass, accelerating when pass lanes are available, slowing down as soon as passing is not safe, “brake checking” etc… One basic rule of driving: when someone is passing you, you should slow down a bit, to reduce the amount of time that the person passing you needs to spend on the wrong side of the road. Even if all you can think of is yourself, this rule should make sense, for your own safety…

    I am venting, yes, but this stuff happens on a daily basis and it makes me sick. I worry every single day that my wife has to take the car somewhere. I can’t count how many times I have had to depart from my lane just to avoid people changing lanes without checking blind spots. I can’t believe how many times I have had to explain to people what blind spots are. I can’t believe how many times I have had to demonstrate to people what blind spots are, because they still don’t believe me when I tell them that such things exist. I can’t believe how much people slow down because they saw a shiny object somewhere in their field of view. I cannot fathom why ‘curiosity traffic jams’ are actually a thing. If you have never witnessed this in America, let me tell you that people will come to a full stop on highways, just to stare at an accident in the other side of the highway, regardless of how dangerous doing so might be. Are people that morbid that they want to witness other people’s misery? Every single time there is an accident somewhere, traffic jams ensue, in both directions. Don’t people want to get home/wherever they are going? Not only that but it is also disrespectful to those poor people who are dealing with the reality of those accidents. They don’t need a whole highway of people staring at them. This happens with EVERY SINGLE ACCIDENT EVERYWHERE.

    I have driven in Colorado, California, Florida, New Mexico, Utah, New York, Germany, England, France, Spain, Italy, Switzerland, Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam, Japan, Costa Rica, and some other places.

    I can tell you that the apparent chaos in East Asia, and the apparent ‘bad driving’ in Europe, is much safer than driving in the USA (except maybe for Italians driving in France ;)), where speeds limits are lower, the road are much wider and straighter and the police are everywhere, enforcing the wrong rules. I won’t even get into nonsensical signage on the road…

    Have I told you how people can’t merge onto other roads. They will use acceleration ramps to slow down for some reason. The thing was built on purpose to allow people to accelerate, thus making it easier to merge from a small road to a bigger road, and yet somehow it is used to slow down and even stop, making it much harder now to merge…

    Here I am forced to actively avoid accidents on a daily basis. Like really, avoiding accidents every single day.

    I think the root of the problem is that people here do not care about much, especially not driving correctly, as long as they are happy on a daily basis. This is baffling, considering how pro-life people are and how much time people spend driving everyday.

    One thing I have noticed in the USA is that people seem to equate driving slowly with driving safely.
    It is true that there is a correlation between speed and mortality when accidents happen. That does not mean however that driving slowly is inherently safe. In fact it is dangerous to be driving too slowly in certain places, like mountain roads, highways, etc. I have seen so many people drive slowly, and yet be so dangerous on the road. Not stopping for pedestrians crossing, going through STOP signs and red lights, slowly, but still…One must pay attention to the road, and that is about it…..

    People who say French drivers are bad, don’t understand driving. Half the time people simply don’t know the local rules, like priority to the right, to the main road, to minor roads (all with appropriate signage). Acquiring a driver’s license in France is a very difficult process, involving hard studying and hard practice. Most people on the highway ‘KEEP RIGHT EXCEPT TO PASS’. The police actually enforces this basic rule, what a concept.

    In the USA, you simply have to show up at the DMV and they basically give it to you as long as you know what a STOP sign is. I literally had to do nothing else than STOP at a STOP sign and I got my license. I had to take it on my own to take Driver’s Ed classes, where they actually do teach a few things.

    I have heard arguments that acquiring a driver’s license should be easy, since driving is an integral part of American society, due to the lack of public transportation, the sheer size of the country, etc… This is wrong on so many levels I don’t even want to get into it. You are controlling, at your fingertips, a several-ton object, at high speeds. Perhaps it should be at least a little but difficult to get to do this.

    The relationship between this problem and gun control is interesting. Somehow, people would rather it be very easy for them to buy a gun, something they do maybe once a year max, than do something about our children getting shot up in schools…It is baffling to me how personal ease of buying is more important than other people’s lives…

    I get that you might want to own/use a gun. But why is it so hard to accept that not everyone should be able to buy one. There are plenty of crazy people out there willing to use these weapons to kill children/strangers. The news is proof of this. Why not at least do something about it. In other parts of the world, when people have conflicts, they get into a fight, beat each other up, and leave it there, or continue some other day. Here, people draw their weapons, and death ensues. You don’t have time to even think about it, you get enraged for whatever reasons, and next thing you know the person is dead, so easy. What kind of conflict resolution is this? Death to the opponent…

    I won’t even mention the statistics which clearly show that having a gun in a conflict leads to death, more often than in conflicts where guns are not present. Does not matter who is holding the gun, situations turn sour when lethal weapons are drawn…

    Anyhow, Ill leave this here.

    I’m glad I am not the only one with these thoughts.

  • I think you have a lack of understanding for the American system and the American psychie… I could say that I feel French drivers are the worst in the world and sometimes I do to my husband, but I realize it’s a different culture.

    I fail to see the problems you have with the system actually being problems and rather being things that are different from France/Germany.

    • I completely agree with you: I have little understanding for the drivers in the DC area or on the I95 toward NY and Boston ! However, I’m aware that DC is not America and I had only good experiences during a road trip last year or last week driving to Florida (Gulf).

      Thank you for reading and commenting this post Paige!

      • Have you ever driven in the US?
        French drivers know how to park, how to use turn signals, how to stop for pedestrians (a non existing category of people in the US), how to look for bicycles etc…
        Check also my post about teen driving!

  • RUSSIANS are the worst drivers in the world.

    american drivers are actually pretty good compared to countries like Russia, China, India, etc.

    In russia it’s MADNESS, for 8 reasons:

    1. insurance fraud

    2. excessive alcoholism (vodka), no laws on drunk driving. In the US you get arrested.

    3. Disregard for traffic laws AND speed limits, lack of enforcement due to corruption. In the US a cop chases you and gives you a ticket.

    4. Disregard for other motorists AND even pedestrians. a lot of hit & run’s, no one cares. in the US people are way more considerate esp down south everyone is generally courteous and not as high strung / fast paced as big cities like new york and san fransisco (which are still better than russia).

    5. terrible driving training system. earn a license by giving a bribe from $5 – $10, sometimes up to $600, without actually taking or passing the exam. None of that hoohaa in the US, In the US you take drivers Ed, and learn all the fundamentals, take an exam, get a permit, have your parents train youy till you’re 18, then you take a 2nd exam and get your license, its either pass or fail.

    6. the cars are trash. busted struts, bald tires, busted brakes, no ABS or power steering etc. Cars in the US are in better shape.

    7. Russian construction cant even spend a little bit to improve their awful roads either. US spends billions on construction.

    8. there is a law now against texting and driving in the US. nothing like that in russia. they will disregard it anyway.

    usa has better control. accidents are not as rampant as what russia has to dish out.

    • Hey Chuck,

      I have never been to Russia, so I can’t agree or disagree with what you are describing.
      To number 4 I have to say as a pedestrian, the drivers are not very considerate, not rarely I nearly get run over by cars that then yell at me or similar.
      The drivers license here is a joke, with 15 and 9 months you get your permit, with which you can drive, as long as an adult is next to you, no training needed before the permit. This permit you have to have had for 9 months before being allowed the license, for which you need 6 hours of Behind-the-Wheel and some 40 hours of watching movies that tell you not to text and drive or drink and drive. At the end you pass a test, that often consist of driving a certain route (that most people know) and that’s it. Certainly that is better than bribing someone but its far from good. Kids driving unattended at 16 and a couple of months is not the best idea in my opinion. But then again it is needed due to the lack of public transportation.

  • It’s refreshing to know someone else sees driving in the U.S. the way I do. The American driving mentality stems also in part from the obsession in this country with “individual freedom”. The freedom of the individual is more important than the safety of the whole. My right to drive as I like, however unsafe, outweighs the safety of others. Another example where our obsession with indivual rights creates problems is in the area of gun violence. I’d love to read some Germans comments on that issue

  • Traffic – where ever you go it’s always emotive, especially if you are on a driver’s seat 😉 The volume of traffic is much heavier here and too many people don’t use a turn signal. But I actually think people are more flexible in America. I guess it depends on where you come from and what you are used to.

  • Shame on you to make fun of those poor American drivers… But reading this refreshing and politically incorrect article – based only on true facts of course – and written in the respect of the French art of provocation was so enjoyable !

  • I totally agree to your points. Another point, which Americans never will learn, is filter from two lanes into one lane. Americans always try to have a very small distance to the vehicle in front and nobody can go between. If yo do it against the will of the following vehicle, they will blow a horn.
    The Americans like to blow a horn. If you are to slow at traffic light or change the lane.

    • I see… Take care of you Carola! Or you may also come once on the first page of Bild Zeitung!

  • Well, here comes one that doesn’t have complaints with the American Style of Driving at all. I’m European who lived a couple of years in West Africa and spent a lot of vacactions in Asia and South America. I actually had nightmares when driving in Italy and in some African countries, however, over here driving is smooth as long as you focus clearly what’s going on around your car. To be honest with you, I don’t like the Beltway this is just too much focusing and way too many cars zipping around and sneaking in. You need to think for others, but that’s the case everywhere and everytime.

    • Love you, Evelyne! You are a great driver, never passing right or cursing in the car like I do 🙂

  • I have to agree with you Americans are terrible drivers…the worst in the developed world anyway (EU, Australia, New Zealand, Japan). By the way, I was born and raised in Florida, which has the worst drivers in the United States, but have lived in Europe and Asia for 25 years.

    One reason they are such bad drivers is the lack of access to good public transportation in so many areas. A lot of people who are two old to drive, sick, or just poor drivers (and a lot of people know they are poor drivers) are forced to drive. They have no other choice.

    Another reason is law enforcement’s obsession with driving while intoxicated. The police departments, lawyers and governments are so dependent on the revenue from drunk driving, that they ignore “lesser” infractions, such as driving through red lights, stop signs, speeding, or as you said, passing on the right (see reason one).

  • just read your blog on driving in the U.S., I totally agree they are the worst drivers I have ever encountered and I have also lived and driven in many countries.Just one thing though, do not ever expect a policeman to stop anyone for passing on the right as it is legal in many states (and certainly in DC as I learnt when I did the DMV knowledge test in March). I know it is crazy – but we just have to live with it.

    • Thanks Juliet for sharing! I didn’t know that passing right was a state matter. In Maryland, it is not allowed… but tolerated!

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