I talk about roundabouts, differences between driving in Melbourne, Brunei and Kuala Lumpur, and being an overall responsible driver on the road.
Hi! How’re you doing? Welcome to the Along Came English Podcast. I’m Alena.
And today I’m going to talk more about driving in Melbourne. Now think of this as a part 2. I still have cars on my mind because I have to send my car back to my mechanic for more repairs. Well, more like to get a part replaced.
Also, my sister’s family came over from Brunei and we went to Mount Buller, which is a ski resort about 3-4 hours away by car. And because my brother-in-law was doing most of the driving I had to explain some of the road rules to him.
So, I thought that today’s episode might have more stories, a bit more talking. The last episode I did about driving had a pretty good range of vocabulary but it was still quite general and I didn’t really share that many stories.
Oh yes, I also have to mention a correction for episode 7 about driving. So, angled parking is actually 60 degrees, not 45 degrees, which is what I said in that episode. So that was my mistake.
Anyway, I don’t know if you can hear it, but I do have a slight cold post-holiday with my sister. And I’m developing a sore throat, which usually means I’ll lose my voice at some point, so I’m hoping to record this before that happens. So yea, it wasn’t that long ago that I had a cold, and for some reason I’ve lost my voice every time. Yea, it’s Melbourne winter, I guess.
All right! Let’s begin.
Differences in vocabulary – British and American English
Anyway, when talking about cars, you may have already noticed some vocabulary differences between British and American English.
For example, the back part of the car where you store things is called a “boot” in British English, and “trunk” in American English.
“Bonnet” is British English for the part that covers the engine usually at the front of the car. And in American English, this is called a “hood.”
When it comes to which is right or wrong, it’s not really that important.
So I was taught British English growing up, but I had a lot of American influences from TV, cartoons, movies. And living in Australia as well, the country is very closely linked to the UK historically, but it is still very much influenced by America.
Now personally, I use a mix of both when it comes to car vocabulary. I say “petrol,” “windscreen” and “indicators,” which are British English as they are used in Australia. But I also use “rearview mirror” and “road trip,” which is American English.
So, you know, nowadays, because of globalisation, a lot of native speakers are aware of the differences. But if you are studying English, the vocabulary might be different depending on which country the textbook is from, or who the teacher is from… sorry, where the teacher is from and things like that.
Now, I have been driving for a while, mostly in Melbourne, which is also where I first learnt how to drive. And I haven’t really had many opportunities to drive elsewhere.
Now I’ve driven in Brunei several years ago, which has a lot less traffic compared to Melbourne. And the rules are a little less clear as well.
There are a few black spots in the capital of Brunei. “Black spots” or “accident black spots” are places where many car accidents have occurred. And in Brunei these are usually at the large roundabouts. At these large roundabouts, there are about 3 lanes with up to 5 or 6 exits, so it’s quite confusing, and it gets worse during peak traffic.
Now if I’m not mistaken, roundabouts are not that common in Brunei in general. Traffic lights are the norm over there. So in my opinion drivers back in Brunei don’t quite understand what the rules are concerning roundabouts. I mean these large roundabouts are the first of their kind in the country.
One of them has an underground tunnel. And when it first opened several years ago, it was actually a thing to drive through the tunnel. So a friend of mine took a few of us for a drive through this underground tunnel as our first time going through it, and all of us just went, “Ooohhh.”
So yea, so it’s been a number of years since – actually a number of years since, so I’m not sure if things are better now in terms of navigating through these roundabouts. But I remember just the sense of insecurity when driving through these. And people weren’t signalling properly. Cars were cutting through the lanes to get to their exits. Like it was pretty crazy.
And.. oh yea, and I had a lesson with a Japanese student last night – an English lesson of course, who had recently gone to New Zealand on a holiday. And he said that he had a bit of difficulty with the roundabouts over there because there just aren’t that many roundabouts in Tokyo in general. So yea, so maybe this issue with roundabouts is not that uncommon after all.
But in comparison, there are many roundabouts in Melbourne – both small and large. I guess it’s useful in suburbs because there’s no need to install traffic lights and it’s quite a self-sufficient traffic system.
Drivers in general understand the rules regarding roundabouts because if you learnt how to drive in Melbourne, you are bound to come across a roundabout whilst learning how to drive. More so than a hook turn, which I mentioned in episode 7.
And the rules are pretty basic. So you know, if you’re going left, you signal left. If you’re going straight, you don’t signal. Signal right if you’re taking the exit on the right. Watch out for cars in the roundabout and for cars entering the roundabout. And their signal should tell you which exits they’re taking unless they’re doing a u-turn.
So usually these suburban roundabouts have only 1 lane with a raised traffic island in the middle, which I guess is for drivers not to just drive through the middle of the roundabout.
So when you get to the main roads, the roundabouts are 2 lanes or more – so these are a little bit bigger. Now, the general rules still apply about signalling, but painted on the road as you’re entering the roundabout, there are arrows that tell you which exit you can go.
So usually, not all, but usually the left lane is reserved only for cars to exit on the left. And then the right lane has 2 arrows going straight and to the right. So if you’re going straight, you don’t signal. If you’re going to the exit on the right, you must signal right. You get the drill.
So although there are no traffic lights, it’s really all about timing and courtesy. So you don’t just cut in front of a car in a roundabout because the likelihood is that the other car will hit you. Signal properly because it lets other cars know which exit you’re taking and just to help them better navigate through the roundabout.
Now closer to the city is where you get the bigger, fancier roundabouts. So there’s a pretty massive one near the Royal Melbourne Hospital in the city. Now this one, yikes. It’s like traffic management is crazy about making sure you know which lane you’re supposed to be on. So there are arrows pointed… sorry, painted on the road. There are sign boards telling you which lane you should be on to get where. And then there are traffic lights to manage traffic flow.
So before Google Maps became popular, like this was a pain to navigate. But now with the app, you know, the lady tells me which lane I should be on to get to my destination.
And also, I actually went to Canberra several years ago and they have many roundabouts in their city. So rather than having massive intersections with traffic lights, they just have massive roundabouts just throughout the whole city. It was pretty impressive.
Now, why am I talking about roundabouts at length? Well because my brother-in-law wasn’t signalling properly when he drove through roundabouts.
Bad driving etiquette
So, you know, in general, a lot of drivers have bad habits, like driving while using their mobile, not signalling, tailgating or cutting lanes. And these are things you have to avoid and just be aware of when you’re driving, but for him, you know, it was more a matter of explanation.
In Melbourne, traffic police here are quite particular so you get fined and possibly lose your licence if you get caught using a mobile while driving. All passengers are required to wear seat belts. So again, you can get fined and possibly lose your licence.
Now with roundabouts, he didn’t quite know when to signal. So for the most part, he was winging it – so “to wing it” means to improvise, to do something without full preparation or knowledge.
And when I explained it to him, he asked me why other cars weren’t doing it. Well, sometimes it’s because the lane already has an arrow pointing to the exit. Sometimes the driver just didn’t signal properly.
Like he got honked at by another car at a roundabout while he was making a u-turn even though he was signalling properly. And he asked me if he was doing anything wrong and I just said the other driver was just a douche.
So my brother-in-law was driving most of the time because my sister as accompanying their 2-year-old son in the back seat. I was in the passenger seat.
They had rented a car here during their trip mostly for convenience and they stayed with a friend of theirs on the other side of the city for half of their trip. So this car was pretty comfortable, and as with most rental cars, they’re pretty new, with cruise control and rear view reversing cameras.
So “cruise control,” according to Wikipedia, is a system that automatically controls the speed of a motor vehicle. So the system is a type of mechanism that takes over to maintain a steady speed that’s set by the driver. So it’s usually this little lever just behind your steering wheel that you operate.
I noticed that my brother-in-law didn’t use the cruise control. And I’m not sure if it’s because his car in Brunei doesn’t have it, but it’s pretty convenient to use if you’re driving long-distances.
Also “rear-view reversing cameras” have become pretty popular in recent years and is really convenient if you drive bigger vehicles like vans or caravans. So there’s usually a screen on the dashboard which turns on the rearview camera when you put the car in reverse.
Now this car we were in had it. But I guess my brother-in-law was not used to using it in general, so he just didn’t pay much attention to it. I’ve actually tried using in another rental car… oh yes, from the… my last trip to Launceston. And it took me a while to get used to it. It’s a little disorienting in a way because you’re looking forward, but also looking backward in the screen.
Now there are also other things like “rear parking sensors.” So instead of cameras, these are sensors which go off when you’re reversing or if things are too close to the back of your car.
So I was offered this feature when I got my car – when I bought my current car, but I declined. Well, I don’t really need it really. But I remember I heard a story from someone who had this feature in their car, and one time she almost crashed into another car because it wasn’t working properly – like it was faulty. And she had become reliant on it and didn’t look behind her when she was reversing. So thankfully she didn’t get into a car accident but yea, I think it’s… it’s one of those things where technology is not always that reliable sometimes.
Driving culture in Melbourne
Now as for the driving culture, Melbourne drivers are very particular about rules, of their “right-of-way” – which means the driver’s right or authority to drive in a particular situation or place.
So for example, Australia drives on the left. So if you are turning right, you can’t just turn right into a perpendicular road anytime. Like you have to wait for the oncoming cars on the right side driving in the opposite direction to pass before you can turn right. So they have the right of way.
So yea, so it’s kind of weird because I feel that driving in Melbourne sometimes… I feel it is bound more by rules rather than awareness. Sometimes I feel that certain drivers’ reaction times are sometimes a bit slow because they take their right of way for granted and then don’t respond quickly enough.
So from experience, driving in Melbourne can be quite monotonous and repetitive most of the time. You drive to work and back. Drive to the shops and back. Day in, day out. Week in, week out. So driving is often taken for granted in some way.
I should explain this phrase, “taken for granted.” So “to take for granted” or “to take something for granted” means to use or treat in a careless or indifferent manner. So it’s about not appreciating the value of someone or something.
Quite often we use this to talk about relationships. So if a person has a husband or wife, boyfriend or girlfriend that they take for granted, it means they don’t fully appreciate what they do, how they contribute to the relationship or to the household and they don’t appreciate them as a spouse or partner.
So you can think of, you know, a TV drama or movie where the leading male character has a girlfriend but doesn’t appreciate her and cheats on her with someone else. Yea, she’s being taken for granted.
Now, when I’m talking about driving and drivers’ right of way, I’m referring to how drivers sometimes don’t appreciate the importance of being a careful driver on the road. And their responsibility, not just for themselves but for their passengers and the other people sharing the roads. So some people… some drivers just think about their rights and their authority on the road, which is why I feel sometimes they take driving for granted.
I’ve seen and I’ve been in situations where a car has very quickly turned right into a street or location, and then the oncoming traffic, instead of slowing down, continues in their speed, and honks at the car instead.
So now, I’m not saying I’m a good driver, but my first reaction would be to avoid the potential accident first by braking, and then honk.
So I remember I was in a friend’s car and he had turned right into a car park, but ended up blocking the road because there was a “hold-up” – “hold-up” just means a situation causing delay. So maybe because there were people trying find car park, there was a bit of traffic. I guess my friend hadn’t noticed the hold-up and just followed the car in front. Or assumed it wouldn’t take too long to clear before we could enter the car park.
Anyway, so our car was blocking the road, and the oncoming car was a decent distance away. And as it came nearer, it didn’t slow down. It honked at us of course, and then didn’t brake until it got very close – stopping only a few inches away from our car. Now I was in the passenger seat, and if the other car hadn’t stopped in time, I could’ve been hit.
Now I would say my friend was in the wrong blocking the road, but this was a pretty small road in an industrial area leading to a main road. The other car had ample distance and time to slow down so if anything happened, the other car would’ve been, I guess, responsible for any potential collision even though legally my friend would’ve been in the wrong.
Driving culture in Malaysia
Many years ago, I was in the passenger seat while my sister was driving, and this time… this was in Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia. And we were trying to enter a busy road from a shopping area within a residential area – residential neighbourhood.
As she tried to squeeze herself onto the road, like another car just honked at us furiously because it was their right of way. And I remember quite clearly the other driver was a foreigner.
Now, legally, my sister’s in the wrong here, but the driving culture is a bit different in Malaysia because cars are constantly darting in and out of traffic – so it’s expected. Drivers there are a lot more alert, and they slow down even if another car cuts in front of them.
So when I was in Kuala Lumpur or KL for short, I didn’t drive much at all, I mostly took Uber or GrabCar because it was really affordable over there. And when my dad came over to KL from Brunei, I would sometimes drive him around in our local area, but only to certain places.
So in general, driving in KL is pretty complicated because of the many highways, tolls, one-way streets and just insufficient parking spaces. Like there are massive malls with multi-level car park and they’re just packed all the time. And quite often, people park illegally on the streets. And it’s just easier to take an Uber or a GrabCar.
Now as for the driving culture in KL, I would say it’s more opportunistic. So “opportunistic” means… according to the dictionary, “exploiting immediate opportunities, especially regardless of planning or principle.”
And I say this pretty… I say this because pretty much anything goes over there and their drivers have to be more alert. Now I’m not saying that there are less car accidents because of this. In fact I would say there are more, just for the sheer fact that KL is a much larger city with a significantly greater population than Melbourne.
Now my brother has lived in KL for about 15 years. And I have feared for my life when I’m in his car. Now he watches videos on his phone while he’s driving. He picks up phone calls. He drives even though he’s had a few beers. He doesn’t signal. No regard for speed limits whatever.
So yea, so very different way… very different culture of driving in KL compared to Melbourne. So I think… you know, I think part of the reason is because there isn’t a stringent, strict policing system when it comes to traffic violations.
Fines don’t really work in KL. The neighbourhood I lived in resorted to clamping illegally parked cars because people just don’t pay their parking fines and they don’t want to pay 2 ringgit for the underground parking. RM$2 is like, less than AUD$1. Yea.
As for Melbourne, you know, if you listened to episode 7, it’s pretty obvious that Melbourne’s quite strict about traffic violations. So… and most people would pay their fines, even parking ones. Most people would not illegally drive if their licence was suspended.
Although, I had an ex-colleague who very openly talked about driving even though his licence was suspended for 6 months. And he actually drove himself to work anyway. So, you know, just some people who don’t really care.
Now I would like to say that Melbourne drivers in general are more courteous, a bit more polite. So usually I would wave to the driver if they gave me space to move into their lane. So usually they would flash me with their headlights to indicate they were letting me enter their lane.
If I’m not mistaken, in Japan, there are these robot tails that you can attach to the back of your car that you can wave as a thank you to the other car. Well, I say “wave,” but probably it should be “wag” if it’s a tail right.
On the other hand, there are “tailgaters.” So to “tailgate” is an informal word to mean that another vehicle drives too close behind another vehicle. So from experience, drivers tend to do this as a way to intimate you.
So I drive a small Toyota Yaris, and I’ve been tailgated by cars, trucks, sports cars, you name it. And sometimes they would keep flashing me with their headlights, and honk at me to tell me that I’m going too slowly even though I’m driving the speed limit.
So previously it would make me nervous. But really, you know, if I think about it, if I slow down for any reason, and the car behind me crashes into me, it’s legally their fault. Now, I wouldn’t want a truck to crash into me because no matter whose fault it’d be, I would come out on the losing end.
So trucks in general have a pretty bad reputation on Melbourne roads because sometimes they can be pretty aggressive drivers on the highway. And they often speed because of the power of their engines. And you know, if you’re kind of in their way, they would do this whole tailgating thing as well.
So I’ve also had one tailgate me once. Not a massive truck, I think it was a small… smaller one. I don’t know, they’re all still big. And it was honking and flashing behind me even though I was driving the speed limit. So yea, and then eventually it gave up on me and changed lanes when they found the opportunity.
However, I was in a situation one time and this is a pretty good story actually – well, in my opinion, a good story.
Now somehow, when I was driving on a highway one time, somehow I ended up pretty much surrounded on all sides by massive trucks – which are what you call a “b-double truck.”
Now I had to look up what these types of trucks were. So they are… they’re trucks with 2 trailers – so the front part is pulling 2 containers. And they’re massive. Like, I’ll find a picture so you can see it on the website.
And Australia has a massive trucking industry so it’s very common to see them on the highway.
And yea, there was just this one time where, you know, I was in my tiny Toyota Yaris, and on all sides I was surrounded by these massive trucks. And I think… I think one of them actually realised what was happening and he or she actually changed lanes so that I could get out of the situation. And when I got out of the situation, the truck just went back to where… the original lane that it was driving on.
So I thought that was really impressive. Like I just thought, how courteous that was to help me get out of that situation.
Now I have to say, this is a rare exception. Like I actually shared this with somebody who I knew really disliked truckers on the roads, and he just brushed it aside. Like yup, don’t care.
Yea, but anyway, yea, that was my very impressive trucker story.
Anyway, I think that’s all about driving for today. I hope this is a more satisfying episode about driving for you and for me.
So don’t forget to follow this podcast for more episodes like this and you can find the vocabulary list on the website as well as pictures and things like that so that you know what I’m talking about. You have a visual reference to what I’m talking about.
I have been uploading a new episode weekly, although this one’s a lil late because my sister came over.
But yea, all right.
Have a good day and have a good week! I’ll catch you later! Bye!