Sunday, November 23, 2008

Driving in Denmark

It was a little over a year ago that I obtained my Danish driver's license and started to really get to know driving in Denmark. One might think that roads are roads but there are a few random things I have come to know about Danish roads. Keep in mind, I live smack in the middle of Jylland, so yes, roads near Copenhagen and other cities are probably a bit different.

Unlike the states, where we have yellow lines that indicate a separation of traffic, all the paint is white here. You would think it wouldn't matter but I have to admit that initially, it was quite disconcerting. I grew up being told that if there was a white line separating your lane from another lane that meant that both lanes were traveling in the same direction. What they do give you are lollipops. No, not that kind of lollipop but a little white thing sticking out of the ground on either side of the road. On one side of the road the pops have yellow reflectors and on the other side, they have white. I can't remember which is which, which probably tells you how helpful they are.

The above refers only to the roads where someone actually bothered to paint lines. There are many, many roads in Jylland where they felt it unnecessary. And, along that same theory, there must have been a pavement shortage at some point because they also felt it unnecessary to make the road wide enough for two vehicles - even though it IS a two-lane road. I hate these roads. Everytime a car approaches from the other direction I want to close my eyes. It's frightening! There actually IS enough space to get past one another, but it definitely doesn't feel that way. It basically feels like you're in someone's driveway.

The roads are dark - VERY dark. While studying for my danish license, the translation referred to the headlights as either in 'dipped' position or in 'main' position. The weird thing about that, to me, was that 'main' position translated to what I had always called my 'high beams'. Now I know why they call them 'main beams' here. Driving in Jylland means you will use your 'high beams' more times in one evening than you would in an entire year in the states. You will have them on ALL the time - you will switch back to 'low beams' only for oncoming traffic - hence the term 'dipped' beams!

Trivia time! What bizarre, outdated driving law still exists on the books here? Get this - by law, when passing other traffic at night, you are to first slow your car to approximately 30 mph and only after you have slowed down, you are to dip your headlights from high beams to low beams. HUH???? In fairness, the law was written back in the days when low beams could only illuminate a short distance - I guess not being able to see far ahead when driving at fast speeds was a more critical issue than blinding the approaching traffic. While this is still law, I highly recommend breaking the law on this one or you'll probably get rear-ended.

For the most part, the Danish roads are designed to keep traffic moving. Perhaps brakes were or are too expensive to fix, and therefore, the laws are designed to never actually apply the brakes. Just a theory.

Traffic lights exist only in the cities, and only because some road engineer hasn't yet figured out how to tear down the surrounding homes and businesses so he can stick a round-about in there instead. Round-abouts are everywhere! Weee... ! When riding in the passenger seat it can feel a bit like you're on an amusement park ride - wooosh to the left... wooosh to the right. Okay, granted, this probably has something to do with the actual driver. ;)

Watch for cyclists in round-abouts. You may think you can just go around in the circle and turn to the right when your street appears. I highly recommend you look over your right shoulder before doing so, as that cycle next to you may need to continue to the next exit of the round-about. Yeah, it's pretty easy to forget they're circling around in the same circle!

In addition to the round-abouts, you will find little patches of pavement on the shoulder wherever there is a place off the main road that someone may wish to turn to the left. This little patch of pavement is there so that you, the driver behind the one turning left, will not be required to slow down or stop because of the one turning - simply swerve your car into the patch and keep going. Remember, whatever you do, do NOT ever stop moving.

Now, in contradiction to the 'keep moving' theory, is probably the most non-sensical thing about the roads here. On the main roads, you are permitted to drive 80kph. However, anyone pulling a trailer or driving a truck may go only 70kph. This is not a road with two lanes of traffic in the same direction; this is a freaking mess! You can just be cruising along and wham, there it is, the long line of cars behind the guy driving to Plant-o-rama with trailer in tow to pick up his 15 bags of sphagnum - everyone stuck behind him until the next really big passing area appears at which point everyone tries really hard to get around him but inevitably, you won't be able to. Why? Because there will always be someone in that line of traffic who just doesn't want to pass, causing logistical issues for everyone else.

And even those who do wish to pass have problems. Cars are small here. Lots and lots of 4-cylinder, 0-60 in 10 min, cars. These are not well designed for passing other cars. These are road cloggers but oooo, they get great gas mileage... grrr.

80kph doesn't really mean 80kph. Ole likes to say that since everything in Denmark is taxed, you can add 25% tax to the speed limit too and as such, you can drive about 100kph in an 80kph zone. Sounds good to me!

The danes like to be prepared and they like to be forewarned. Before a passing section ends, the dotted stripes in the center get longer and longer before becoming a solid white line. Before a traffic light turns green it first goes from red, to a combination of yellow and red - I call it the 'rev your engines' setting. I must admit, however, that I rather like it - quite handy when you're approaching the intersection!

So, there you have it, driving in Denmark. I'm sure there is more, but I'll give you a chance to absorb that first!


  1. You basically described what it is like to drive in any European country as opposed to driving in the USA where cars are 5m wide and 10m long...

    Nice to see you're starting to get a hang of it though... ^^

  2. Ah yes....watching out for the bicyclists!! I remember that very well.


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