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

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

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

On the Tusk of a dilemma: Cameron's latest EU renegotiation foe

Andrew Grice
John Profumo and his wife Valerie Robson in 1959  

Stephen Ward’s trial was disgraceful. There can be no justification for it

Geoffrey Robertson QC
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas