Susie Rushton: The shock of renting a car in America is that they don't drive like in the movies

It's hard to really rev your engine in an automatic, and the lack of a gearstick disconnects driver from his ride

Share

Maybe it's because I'm a child of the Cold War era, but I grew up assuming America was a far more aggressive place than Britain in every way. After all, it has the most bombastic foreign policy, its citizens tuck revolvers into their glove compartments, and they talk in loud voices.

Americans don't apologise for their machismo. We have stifled resentment and The Bill. But last week while travelling around Arizona in a rented car – my first time driving in the States – I realised that there's one count on which the Brits hit harder than Americans: we're far more aggressive behind the wheel. You'd hardly believe it to watch Hollywood's depiction of car chases, but in real life they are comparatively meek and polite as they negotiate broad freeways and highways.

Ryan Gosling's speed-freak getaway man in Drive is an Xbox fantasy, not a reflection of the worse behaviour you'll actually see on US roads. Take the notoriously tricky four-way junction they use to negotiate the grid-like road systems over there. Usually, everybody has a stop sign. Whoever arrives at the junction first has priority, but reading the situation safely means taking care to watch the other drivers.

You're forced to roll over the junction slowly, just to make sure the other guy has seen you. In Britain – certainly in London – such a system would result in continuous car wrecks, as every van, bike and BMW (the marque recently shown to be most likely to honk, and generally driven like an idiot, incidentally) raced to get through the junction.

Then there are the four-lane freeways. Sure, it's disconcerting that Americans rarely signal when they change lanes, but manoeuvres are usually undertaken at a sedate pace, with a comfortable distance between vehicles. I compare this to my experience on the southbound A3 yesterday where I was forced to brake hard every time a suicidal minicab attempted to squeeze into a four-metre gap – in 50mph traffic.

So why is it that American drivers seem so courteous? I have a few theories. First of all, it's hard to really rev your engine in an automatic. Slam pedal to the metal and a Dodge SUV inches forward with all the enthusiasm of a sun-drunken elephant. The lack of a gearstick disconnects driver from his ride, its rising growl less expressive of inner angst than for his British counterpart. Secondly, the highway patrol, lingering under bridges and camouflaged behind tumbleweed at the vergeside, are intrinsically more scary than our equivalent and an effective deterrent.

Finally, besides the fact that Arizona seems largely peopled by retirees (and I do make an allowance for that, even though older drivers are not necessarily more polite nor more safe), I did wonder if the near-certainty that the guy next to you has a Glock in the glove compartment might make the potential road-rager hold back, for fear of bloody reprisal.

Not that I'm suggesting British drivers should arm themselves, but sometimes a little New World charm wouldn't go amiss.

 

And guess who the show-offs are...

Remaining in the driving seat, this week we learn the "surprising" news that women are superior to men when it comes to the art of parking a car. The news is surprising because just 18 per cent of women themselves believed that their sex were better at this long-contested driving skill, perhaps taking to heart Alvy Singer's words to Annie Hall: "Don't worry. We can walk to the kerb from here."

Reading the details of the NCP survey reveals why most men (and women) believe the opposite: male drivers are much faster at parking, giving the impression of competence, but the final placement of the vehicle is slapdash. So, male drivers are hurried, messy showboaters, unlike their careful, much-scorned female companions – who'd have thought it?

s.rushton@independent.co.uk

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

£35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Blunkett joins the Labour candidate for Redcar Anna Turley on a campaigning visit last month  

General Election 2015: Politics is the messy art of compromise, unpopular as it may be

David Blunkett
File: David Cameron offers a toast during a State Dinner in his honour March 14, 2012  

Vote Tory and you’re voting for the rich to get richer and the poor to get poorer

Mark Steel
General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'