In a survey of the European branch of RAC, the vehicle breakdown company, it has been found that one of the main concerns for drivers abroad is struggling to grasp the local language, especially when it comes to driving incidents and emergencies.
Each year, millions of drivers take their cars across the Channel, in addition to the millions of HGV drivers who regularly cross the European continent, and undoubtedly many run into difficulties with their vehicles. Like fish out of water, many UK travellers struggle to make sense of what is being said to them and battle to make themselves understood.
The survey revealed that more than half of the six or so million people who drive abroad for holidays, around 56% are nervous about the trip solely because of this language barrier – not including any cultural or national restrictions such as driving on the other side of the road.
42% of those respondents said that they were more worried about breaking down in a foreign country than if they were to break down in the UK. This is largely because when we are in our home country, we know that just about any passer-by could help us or direct us to help. However, even telling someone that your car is broken down in another country can lead to endless charade-type moves as you depict what has happened; so discussing the intricate details of what’s under the bonnet is going to prove an even greater challenge.
It was also reported that women were much more nervous than men about driving abroad, some 25% more, but this was primarily due to a perception that drivers in other countries have a less than spotless reputation when it comes to road accidents and road rage behaviour. France and Spain, two of the main destinations for driving, are often reported as being slack when it comes to indicating and performing manoeuvres which might be deemed illegal in the UK. Other countries, such as Germany for example, present their own unique challenges, with routes such as the Autobahn proving scary for even the bravest drivers.
Around 20% of those surveyed indicated that having to read the road signs in another language was also a strong deterrent. Not only the language, but also the colours of the signs; brown signs in the UK are places of historical relevance, but in France these are used solely for city centre locations. Road numbering systems on motorways are one of the other key reason for insecurity, especially in countries like Estonia and Greece, where road demarcations are not always clearly visible to the untrained driver.
In addition to inherent language barriers, 14% of the motorists in this RAC survey admitted to driving for extended periods of time on the wrong side of the road when in a foreign country, with 7% stating that more than half a mile was clocked up before they noticed! Young drivers were found to have even more trouble going the right way around a roundabout, and many had been given penalty tickets or fines when abroad for this very reason.