A Conversation for Tips for Drivers in Devon, UK

The alternative prospectus

Post 1


Having lived in South Devon my whole life and been driving here for two years now, and of course being an opinionated local, I have fairly strong viewpoints on this particular topic (strong enough to sign up to make them, anyway).

First, foremost and without exception, know the width of your vehicle. I cannot stress this enough. And no, I don't mean the measurement, I mean having a decent grasp of how big a gap your vehicle will comfortably fit through. This cannot be stressed enough.
For people whose experience of driving to date has exclusively consisted of roads with little white markings to show you where to go, thus relieving the driver of any mental effort in this area, I can see how the impression that lanes are "too small to fit one car, let alone two" could be formed. I mean, if there's no white line in the middle of the road, it's not wide enough for two cars, right? Wrong! The absence of a line indicates that the road does not meet some regulation width for safe passing devised by some public servant Up North (due to quirks of geography, this applies to anyone living north of the Isle of Wight as far as I'm concerned, and thus any inhabitant of a city with a population of more than 300,000 or so). "Wide enough to pass" depends entirely on the vehicles in question.

Which brings us to the second point, namely what do do when you see another vehicle coming. If you've stuck to point one, and if the other vehicle has a reasonable grasp of it too, you should be able to work out (within a reasonable thinking period, say five seconds for the uninitiated) if you're going to fit by or not. If not, then someone's going to need to back up. The order of priority for this is flexible, but the following guidelines may help. First, generally the fewer number of vehicles reversing, the better. If there's one of you and three of them, you're going backwards. This is modified by a couple of things. Firstly, reversing weighting is given to the person going downhill - it's easier to reverse up than down. Secondly, vehicle size. Tractors don't go backwards. Tractors with trailers generally _can't_ go backwards. Don't get me started on hay transporters, they're the bane of my existence. Buses have similar problems, although they shouldn't be there in the first place and, outside school runs, generally aren't.

This does of course bring up point three, which is the stunningly obvious "know how to reverse". I hope I needn't go into detail as to _why_ this is necessary, but the ability to back your car up a hill, round a bend and into a gateway is a requirement.

Also, a note on passing places. These tend to take three forms. Firstly, genuine passing places, where the road widens slightly. These aren't always wide enough even for skilled drivers if large vehicles are involved, but for most cars they're fine. Second, there are junctions, be they with other roads, house driveways etc. Generally you can squeeze past most things here. Thirdly, gateways. These aren't always paved and can be risky, but there's often no alternative. Regardless, when driving down any road of restricted width, you should always know how far back the last passing place is. Make a mental note every time you pass one.

So, road positioning. As a guideline, on most roads you'll want to keep your wing mirror out of the hedge when doing more than, say, 10mph. For most, the mirror-greenery distance probably needs to be around six inches. This is a useful general positioning guide for most drivers, as it keeps you a safe distance from the hedge without intruding too far into the road. When pulling into the side of the road for a particularly tight squeeze, the sound of plastic intersecting vegetation can act as a useful indicator of when you've pulled over far enough. It is possible to embed more thoroughly than this (ensure windows are closed first), but you run the risk of hitting a protruding rock, which tends to be bad news.
There's also, obviously, a need to keep clear of other vehicles; my recommended distance here varies with speed. Generally, if you want to pass someone at normal speed (35-40mph on most lanes), you'll want the six inch gap on the inside plus a foot or so between you and the other vehicle, measured wing-mirror to wing-mirror. If this isn't possible, it's probably a good idea to slow down, speed decreasing with distance. At crawling speeds, the only prerequisite is not doing too much damage to the hedge on the inside and hopefully not touching the other vehicle on the outside; don't be afraid to retract your wing mirror to achieve this.

This of course leads onto the next point, namely how fast you should be going. Where there's sufficient room to comfortably pass another vehicle, this is similar to what it would be on any other road, ie approaching the fastest speed at which your car can comfortably negotiate the bends. Where there isn't, your target speed is simply a function of view distance and stopping distance: you should be maintaining a velocity such that, at the point where an oncoming vehicle is spotted, the distance between you and them is just over twice your comfortable stopping distance. This means that if both cars proceed to brake at this moment with a severity which they find acceptable, they should come to a halt a short distance apart. This of course requires you to have a grasp of your stopping distance, but you passed your driving test so this shouldn't be an issue, right? If you find that you're coming to a halt fifty metres from the other vehicle, you're going too slowly. This will annoy people. Considerably.

Finally, these guidelines apply to pretty much any vehicle you may find yourself driving down a narrow lane. There is no exception for people with clean, new, shiny, expensive, precious or otherwise potentially "special" vehicles.

If you can't deal with any of the above, stay out of the lanes.

This may all make driving the back roads of Devon seem a daunting, draining, potentially damaging and quite possibly downright dangerous exercise with no redeeming features whatsoever, apart from possibly getting to that beach. Not true. Indeed, the reason that I'm so passionate (read "up-tight") about this issue is that driving in lanes, when the people around you actually know what they're doing, can be huge fun. First, I suppose if you're not used to it it can all seem very pretty and "quaint" (although I'd be careful using that word pretty much anywhere in Devon within hearing of a local). Secondly, and more importantly, they can be huge fun to drive. The routes roads take are generally a product of field boundaries, which being rather antique tend to avoid right-angles where possible; this leads to a huge variety of interesting bends. Devon also is not flat, something that may sound obvious but the full truth of which will not become apparent until you sample some of the more interesting routes available. Thirdly, the actual construction of the roads is often, uhm, "interesting" - the surfacing tends to be OK (where there isn't a grass ridge down the centre), but there's often little regard for conventions on issues like camber, smoothness and the avoidance of, say, sudden unexpected dips. Combine the three and you get interesting features like the bends on one favourite route of mine which combine a right-angled left-hander with a twenty degree drop and a ten degree camber to the right. Not recommended at speed in the wet, that's for sure. Once you get the hang of such things of course, things like the road positioning recommendations are altered to take into account racing lines, maximum-visibility position and other such factors.

One final thing ought to be mentioned here, and that's lanes at night. It may seem counter-intutive, but (small animals running out into the road aside) driving lanes at night is usually safer, faster and more fun. Why? Firstly, they're quieter, and there are less dumb tourists. Secondly, and much more importantly, you benefit from the massive cornering aid that is full-beam headlights. Not yours, but those of the other vehicle. See, lights point forward, and illuminate the hedge in front. If you're coming up to a bend, most of your light will be directed at the hedge in front of you. Similarly, most of the light from a potential oncoming car will be directed at the hedge in front of him. As these two points are spatially seperate, it produces the end effect that, on approach to a bend, if someone is coming then you'll know about it fifty or more metres before you start turning, and equally they'll know about you. The assumption is made, of course, and it's important to know this if you're in a lane at night in any circumstances, that a lack of light corresponding to another vehicle indicates a clear bend, thus extending the "view distance" and thus increasing cornering speed. And given the number of corners in most lanes, this will significantly decrease journey time, and add plenty of fun-factor into the bargain.

The alternative prospectus

Post 2

C Hawke

smiley - biggrin

You may want to write that up into a formal entry and get the powers to add it/replace the original.

I've lost track of how many times I've been stuck behind a muppet who refuses to go past an on coming (but stopped ) car because they did'nt think they had anough space, when in reality they could get a bus through.

It's true about night driving about the lights - also in low sunlight shadows can do the same job as headlights in warning you.

I think any devon driver you gets anal about not scratching their door mirrors once in a while should stick to the A30, A38 and M5!


The alternative prospectus

Post 3


Absolutely - if you can't handle the lanes, don't drive on them

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