It should come as no surprise that London has one of the world’s best and safest public transport systems.

The London Underground (aka the Tube) opened in 1863,  making it the world’s oldest underground train system. The network stretches over 402 km and moves over 1.34 billion people every year – that’s more than 3.6 million people every day.  Then there’s also the overland train network that connects you to stations in and outside the city. Where the Tube and overland trains stop, a Red bus will pick you up to continue your journey.

In London, there are currently over 9300 buses across 675 different routes – this means that more than 90% of Londoners live within 400 metres of a bus stop. The capital’s entire bus fleet is low-floor and wheelchair accessible, except for a small number of vintage Routemasters running on two heritage routes in central London. Where the bus stops, a river bus (ferry) will pick you up to continue your journey.

That’s right, you can now use your Oyster card to board a river bus and sail down the Thames from point A to point B and, should you find yourself in a place where there is no Tube, no Red bus or river bus, then you can pick up a public bike and cycle to your destination, but, should you find yourself in an awkward little spot where none of these systems can help you, then you can hop into a black cab or book an Uber via the app.

We’ve been in London for almost a year and a half now and we’re getting around easily without having a car. But sometimes you really want to make a road trip somewhere. Maybe drive to Scotland or Wales, the beach or Stonehenge and then, your own set of wheels comes in very handy. Luckily, there is now something called Zipcar. Thanks to Zipcar, you don’t even have to buy your own car and worry about monthly repayment fees, road taxes, insurance, fuel or MOT (the road worthy certificate), not to mention the congestion fees in London during the week.

So what is Zipcar? My best description of Zipcar is that it’s like Uber, but without the driver. In and around London there are literally thousands of cars parked in basements, on the high streets and in car parks. As the client, you open their app, find the car closest to you and book the car. Once the car is booked, you can open the car with the app and find the keys inside. You drive where you want, for as long as you want and simply park the car in the same spot where you found it, leave the keys in the car and lock the car with the app. This essentially means it’s like renting a car, but without the insurance, fuel and congestion charges. Seriously – HOW COOL IS THAT??!

Anyway, back to the story. Elaine and I recently got our UK drivers licences, which means we no longer have SA licences and we may now drive without restriction in the UK and Europe. Getting a Zipcar is the easy part, but driving in Britain for the first time was a shock to the system. Growing up in South Africa, we tend to see road laws as ‘general guidelines’. Yes, some of us respect the law, but not even the most patriotic South Africans can deny the fact that South Africa’s roads are like the scenes from a movie called “Wild Wild West”. Anything goes. Some drivers skip traffic lights or ignore stop signs. Some drive on the wrong side of the road to avoid bumper-to-bumper traffic. Some people park in the middle of intersections while others couldn’t be bothered by a speed limit. Driving in Britain, however, is an entirely different ball game.

Looking at global stats, Britain consistently makes the ‘top 5 countries with the safest roads’ list – year in, and year out.

A few reasons why:

  • To ensure that all cars are safe, the UK requires a road worthy test to be done annually. You can’t renew your licence if your car failed its inspection. If you drive an unsafe car, your car will be confiscated and you risk getting a serious fine and you may have your licence revoked.
  • Speed limits are limits, not targets – and drivers obey them.
  • The UK has a points-based system that allows each driver to lose 12 points within a 3-year cycle. Within the first 2 years of obtaining your licence, you may only lose 6 points or your licence will be cancelled. Speeding will not only result in a hefty fine but will cost you up to 8 points. The points database is available online, so don’t even think about renting a car if you’ve had serious offences in the last 3 years, the car rental company will check your score before handing you the keys.
  • There are cameras everywhere, and not just for speeding. Some cameras will scan your plates against databases to check that you have insurance. If you get caught driving a car without having at least third party insurance, you will face a £6000 fine and your car may be confiscated.
  • Bus lanes are for buses only to allow them to safely pick-up and drop-off passengers. Each bus is fitted with cameras, so don’t think you’ll sneak up behind them or swerve around it without being caught.
  • At zebra crossings, pedestrians have right of way (may sound obvious, but this rule is also broken in SA). This means you need to drive slow enough to stop immediately should someone cross a road. You also need to wait until the slowest pedestrian’s feet touches the sidewalk before continuing your journey.
  • At traffic lights, the light goes from green to yellow to red and again from red to yellow to green….don’t be tempted to start moving on yellow!
  • On highways, the far right lane is for overtaking others only, don’t cruise in it or hold anyone up.
  • In and around the city, you simply don’t park your car on the red line or in ‘no parking’ zones. Over here they’ll tow your car without hesitation and good luck getting it back.
  • If you get caught driving while texting or using your mobile fine, you’re licence will be cancelled.

The list goes on and on, but simply put – rules are rules and it actually gets enforced. I know that most South Africans would argue it’s too strict over here, but let’s be honest, when you compare death toll numbers between SA and the UK – I actually prefer the UK’s way, by far.