Driving in England: From Insurance to Tow Trucks

Driving in England: From Insurance to Tow Trucks.

foreign-correspondent badge final“Do you want to drive, or should I?”

My boyfriend Jarl and I were renting (or “hiring” as the English say) a car to move from the temporary flat we had been living in for the last couple of months since arriving in London, across the city to a new flat.

Since moving to London, I had almost stepped out in front of oncoming cars too many times when crossing the street, forgetting to look left. Walking down the sidewalks and through the tube tunnels I was struggling to adjust my instincts and stay to the left. Trying to change all my deeply engraved driving instincts to the reverse side, like shifting gears with my left hand, was more than I was interested in only six weeks after arriving in England.

“You drive,” I said.

Since moving to London, I had almost stepped out in front of oncoming cars too many times when crossing the street, forgetting to look left.

There was a moment where Jarl and I debated getting the insurance. I emphasized how all the driving was going to be on the left side of the road and we decided that insurance would be worth it.

Turning out of the parking lot, the narrow road went between the curb and cement islands that are put in the middle of the road and used to herd pedestrians, like cattle, across the streets. These cement crossing islands force people to only cross the road at the striped “zebra crossing” by putting up wrought iron fencing blocking the rest of the sidewalk from being able to be crossed. As we rounded the next curve between the “herding” cement islands I heard it–a “kathunk” sound coming from my left passenger side. Then the car started wobbling.

“I hit the curb. The wheel is pulling. I think the tire’s gone flat.”

“That’s what keeps us in business. People who aren’t used to driving on this side of the road hitting the curb.”

A large amount of swearing followed. We were only a block away from the car rental agency. Pulling over we got out to look; the tire was completely flat and looked like it had been sliced with a knife. The curb (or “kerb” as it is spelled in England) was a rather sharp 90 degree angle, unlike the nicely rounded American curbs, which cut right through the tire.

Calling the rental agency, Jarl asked how to deal with the flat tire, and if the insurance we had just purchased would cover it. Giving us a number for a company that would come and replace the tire, the rental company promised the insurance will cover the cost.

The repair people said it would take an hour or more for a tow truck to come and replace the tire. When the repair man did finally come (I had gone for a foray into the unknown landscape of West London looking for food, while Jarl waited with the car, wandering past all of the posh embassy buildings and the infamous Harrods department store, finding nothing to eat), he looked at the flat tire and chuckled.

“You hit the curb?”

Glumly, we nodded.

“That’s what keeps us in business. People who aren’t used to driving on this side of the road hitting the curb.”

Currently, we’re just not driving.

This only made us feel slightly better. The rest of the time with the rented car went without incident. Unless you count having to navigate through London streets that change name every block, faster than the GPS map on my phone could keep up with, causing some moments of panic. A few weeks later we received a bill for £100 for the cost of changing the tire. There’s a reason that flat tires from hitting curbs are what keeps the car repair companies in business; the insurance doesn’t cover it.

There have been several other cars rented in the United Kingdom, but luckily no more flat tires. Now, just because Jarl and I have lived in the United Kingdom for over a year, our American drivers licenses are no longer considered valid and we are no longer allowed to drive or rent a car in the United Kingdom without getting a British license. This process entails a provisional test, a written test, an eye exam, a driver’s test, and £600 of driving lessons. Currently, we’re just not driving.

 

About Alethea Alden

Alethea AldenAlethea Alden is a Minnesota native who currently lives in London.

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