Pre-car roads

Outside the Americas, much of the world urbanized before the automobile was popular, and hence roads are not really car-friendly. This causes a couple of problems.

First, if you are coming from the US, you will generally expect the speed limit to be correlated with the condition of the road. In the US, if there’s a sharp turn coming, for instance, there is usually a sign showing that you should slow down to, say, 40 miles an hour.

In countries with pre-car roads, that kind of detail would be impossible to achieve, so the speed limit does not relate to the condition of the road. Basically it’s up to you to figure out how fast it’s safe to go; frequently you’ll have a sign saying it’s okay to go 60 down a winding narrow country lane with blind corners. Legally, yes, it’s ok; but you would crash.

A second challenge: often, pre-car roads are not wide enough for two cars to pass each other. Sometimes these roads are explicitly signed as “single track.” At other times there is an obstacle (a parked car for instance) that makes it impossible for two cars to pass by each other without a head-on collision.

In that case, you just have to work it out with the other drivers. Technically, if the obstacle is on your side of the road, you are the one who must yield (in most countries). Sometimes one car will need to back up to find a place where the road is wide enough to allow passing.

Eventually, once you become proficient at it, you’ll be surprised how fast you can go while generally avoiding head-on collisions. But at first it takes a lot of concentration to decide when it’s okay to keep going and when you have to stop and negotiate how to get around an oncoming car.

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Roads that weren’t built for the automobile tend to require a lot of concentration. My wing mirror hit the pole at left. Photo by the author.