Driving in the UK has become a chore

For over a decade now I've called California home, but for the last month I've been in the old country, back in Bristol where I grew up. I've never particularly loved driving, it's just a way to get from A to B. To be fair though, a fast car on a windy road in the middle of nowhere can be fun.

Over the last decade plus I've been back a couple of times but never for more than a day or two on my way somewhere else, and I never had to drive. During this trip, I rented a car on and off to reach some further afield outings with the kids.

There are speed cameras everywhere now. I feel like I barely went a mile on a motorway without seeing a sign for speed cameras. That's not so bad, I'm fine with setting my cruise control at 70 and just chugging along. In the cities though, it seems like speed limits have almost universally decreased to 20 mph and there are also far more cameras around. Combined with what felt like busier roads, I was a less safe driver because I was constantly taking my eyes off  the road to check my speedometer in case I hadn't noticed a speed camera. I was absolutely paranoid about it.

Looking from 2010 to 2019 (we'll stop there as Covid really messed with everything since), it seems like traffic increased about 10%. During that period however, accidents resulting in serious injury went up by 25-50% depending on which figures you trust. After a significant drop from 2009-2010, we subsequently only saw about a 6% drop in fatalities from 2010-2012, and the figures have since remained pretty flat.

Maybe it could be argued that without all the speed cameras and reduced speed limits we'd have seen fatalities increase, or serious injuries increase even more. I suspect though that the number of accidents is similar and we're seeing more serious injuries rather than fatalities due to improved safety features in cars. Whether it's better crash protection or the ability to detect pedestrians and automatically break, cars are getting better at protecting people inside and outside. I'm not particularly convinced the speed cameras have done much.

Speed cameras aside, Bristol is slowly turning into a massive "resident only" car park. Pretty much everywhere we went required a resident parking permit Monday-Friday. If you're visiting with a car, I hope you're staying with a friend that has a visitor pass or off-street parking for you. This was happening in areas of London before I emigrated, and seems to be proliferating to other cities too. Finding parking means you're likely having to pay for it at a car park. It just seems a little excessive and silly. The street my parents still live on has parking behind every house, and there are only houses on one side of the street, yet the whole street has now been turned into resident only parking. Was it busy before and sometimes you had to park 50 yards up or down the road? Sure! Now however the street seems to be half empty most of the time. It probably would have made a better balance to just make the side of the street with the houses resident only.

Something I noticed while walking around was also the lack of old cars. It seemed like 99% of all cars on the road were probably less than 10 years old, a substantial amount looked less than 5 years old. Maybe I've just gotten used to seeing so many early-mid 2000s Camrys still running smoothly in California, but it was odd to me to see such an imbalance towards new cars. I'd guess it's partly driven by the congestion zone charges that only apply to less efficient vehicles. Almost any new, small car doesn't get hit with congestion charges. It makes me wonder though if it's really achieving its aim. I've read research on both sides of the "buy an EV vs keep your old ICE car" environmental debate, but I'm pretty sure when replacing an old ICE car with a new ICE car you're probably never going to overcome the sunk environmental cost of manufacturing the new car, with the moderately improved fuel efficiency. So really the congestion charges may decrease pollution in their immediate vicinity, but they've actually created a net increase in pollution, it's just somewhere else, probably somewhere poorer frankly, given how these things tend to work out.

Anyway, a bunch of stuff has changed in the last decade and I couldn't imagine owning a car in the UK these days, which is sad. For all their problems cars made the world smaller, and that's a good thing. When the world seems big people get insular and that lot over there seem all the more foreign, strange, and scary. Maybe I also suffer a little wanderlust and the desire to be able to jump in a car and go somewhere isn't as strong in "normal" people. I did afterall jump on a plane and move over 5000 miles without a second thought within days of finishing university.

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