Zak's Survival Pack - English language guide - Old London skyline with Big ben


Part Five. Driving in England.

Read the text below, then in your own words answer the questions.

Let’s begin with some vocabulary for driving on the road system of the United Kingdom. Take a look around. What’s that? That’s a road. That is where you drive. And the other place over there with all the people walking? That’s called the ‘pavement’, and the person driving along it is a French woman.

There is a type of vehicle. There are fifteen people in it, but none of them are driving. What is it? A coach[1]? A bus? No. It’s a typical Greek family on holiday… in an Opel Kadett.

There is a gap between two rows of cars, with a car parked safely between them. What is it? A parking space? A car park? No. It’s the middle of the road….and only a Spaniard would park there… this shouldn’t be a problem, of course, as we are a civilised country, and we tend to drive in two separate directions, avoiding the white lines in the centre of the road. Why doesn’t someone tell the Portuguese this?

In Britain we drive on the left hand side of the road. That angry German you can see hasn’t realised yet. He’s shouting at a driver for driving on the wrong side of the road. In Britain, the driver sits on the right side of the car. The German is, in reality, shouting at the driver’s mother, who is sat in the passenger seat. The driver, who is Irish, is on the other side. He hasn’t noticed yet, because he’s too busy talking to the people in the back seat and sending a text message on his mobile phone at the same time.

A red light in Britain means ‘STOP’; in Hungary a fatal accident is the only thing which produces the same effect. A green light means ‘GO’. Don’t. It is far too dangerous. You can guarantee that a Czechoslovakian is coming the other way. Luckily the Czechoslovakian will be driving so fast that you have very little chance of getting hit. All of these are preferable to finding yourself behind little old English ladies on excursions. Don’t worry too much. The little old ladies have only got to go fifty kilometres more, so you should only be behind their car until next Friday.

What to do in case of an emergency: Obviously, the roads are very dangerous places. There are all sorts of risks; accident black spots, motorway pile-ups, head-on collisions, terrorist outrages, and worst of all... Italians parking[2]. If you see an Italian trying to park, inform the emergency services immediately. Ask for an ambulance, or as we call it in Britain, a Turin Taxi. Phone 999. [3] Don’t call 911, because this is the emergency number for the USA. You’ll be waiting longer for an American ambulance to arrive from the other side of the Atlantic than you will for a British one… But not much. Why? Because there are two old English ladies in front of the ambulance. In future, to avoid trouble just take the bus or underground.


1. Explain in your own words what the German in the above text is doing.

2. What, according to the writer, do Hungarians and Czechoslovakians do on the roads? Use your own words.

3. Why will you have trouble getting an ambulance?

4. Which of the following countries have the worst drivers? Britain. Spain. Italy. France. Put them into order and them justify your reasons.

5. What are the driving habits of the Spanish and the Portuguese?

6. Who drives on the right side of the road in Europe? Who drives on the wrong side?

7. Italians don’t deserve their reputation as the worst drivers in Europe. Discuss.

8. Who are the safest drivers in Europe? Men or women? Who are the most annoying drivers in Europe? Men or women? Write at least forty words to justify your arguments.

9. What further criticisms of European drivers could you make? Think of your own examples.

10. What is your personal opinion about the road problems that we experience in Europe? Who is to blame?


[1] It’s worth making a note of the different names that we use for vehicles, as they often differ from American English. First there is the car. Sometimes called a saloon car, or family car. (Note; automobile is old fashioned. The model with the extra part at the back where you would put the dog or the shopping is called an estate car ($ station wagon). The workman’s vehicle is known as a van. The bigger, more heavy duty vehicle is a lorry ($ truck). A bus refers to the public transport in the city, but the similar looking vehicle that takes you from one town to another is called a coach. Also worth noting is the difference between driver and chauffeur. The first is the general name for anyone who drives a four wheel vehicle, the second is the person whose job it is to drive for someone else. If someone asked you what a motorist was, what would you answer? If you said that it was someone who rides a motorbike, you’d be wrong. It is a car driver. The person on a motorbike or scooter is called a biker, or a rider.

[2] Parking (present participle) (gerund of to park) (noun – at times) One of the more common errors in English is to refer to the place that a person puts their car in as ‘a parking’. This is bad English. The place is known as a car park (£) or a parking lot ($). You can say, ‘They are parking.’ (This is the gerund in a present continuous.) Also it’s possible to say, ‘Parking is not permitted here.’ (Present participle). Parking is possible as a noun, but only with the meaning of ‘a space to put the car’ not ‘a specifically designated piece of land to put the car.’ Confused? Well, just remember that it is uncountable. You can say ‘Is there parking here?’ but not ‘Is there a parking here?

[3] 999 is, unlike some other countries, the emergency phone number for the police, the fire brigade and the ambulance services. 

old three wheel car british
driving signals and what they mean in england

1. Sounding the car horn.

2. A raised middle finger.

3. Danger ahead.

4. Zebra crossing ahead.

5. Tow-away zone.

6. The rear-view mirror.

7. Side window.

8. Steering wheel.


a. Italians in front! Slow down from 150 kph to 140. Wind down the window and give the hand signal mentioned above.

b. A strange black and white animal that looks like a horse is crossing the road in front. Slow down to take a photo.

c. Hey aren’t I just the coolest person in town with my sunglasses and hair gel?

d. This should be beeped only when you see a very attractive potential lover walking in the street.

e. One of your arms is hanging out of the window. Use the other one (or just a finger) to manoeuvre the vehicle. 

f. Park here if you live near the police car pound, and want your car chauffer driven home by the authorities. Can be expensive.

g. An internationally recognised signal to show disapproval or annoyance at another driver’s behaviour.

h. Wind it down and hang your elbow out! Sit back and take it easy.

English language exercise - a typical day's driving in the capital
Heading - Revision of Modal Verbs - Obligation, Prohibition and Advice

Rewrite the following situations to include one of the following modal verbs.


MUST. MUSTN’T. HAVE TO. DON’T HAVE TO. HAD TO. WEREN’T/WASN’T ALLOWED TO. SHOULD (have + past participle). SHOULDN’T (have + past participle).


Example. A traffic warden is telling a Spaniard that there is no parking outside the gates of Buckingham Palace. Sorry sir. You mustn’t park here./ You are not allowed to park here.

1. Last year a traffic warden was telling a Spaniard that there was no parking outside the gates of Buckingham Palace. (Put the above example into the past.)

2. You are the miserable smelly old man that works in the police car pound and hates everybody. In front of you is an ugly little foreign student who parked his car illegally and has come to reclaim it. Give him advise (in the past) about how he parked. You…

3. Name two things that were not obligatory when driving one hundred years ago. (Road tax. Traffic light. Car stereo. etc.) You…

4. Give some advice about talking to traffic police in London. You…

5. Name two things that were obligatory when driving one hundred years ago. (Red flag. Right of way etc.) You….

6. Give some strong advice to the Frenchmen about driving on the right-hand side of the road. You…

7. The police are telling the Greeks who are on holiday in their Opel Kadett that it is illegal to have fifteen people in one family car in Britain. You…

8. There two old ladies in the car ahead. It is not necessary to overtake. You…

9. You are an Englishman driving in London, when a German cuts you up. Wind down the window and give him advice about how to drive correctly. You…

10. You are a seventeen-year-old lad giving advice to another seventeen-year-old lad about how to pick up girls in a car. What recommendations would you give for the type of car necessary, the car’s accessories, and the attitude? You…

Match the following vocabulary with the correct definition.

1. Seat belt

2. Rear view mirror

3. Handbrake

4. Ignition

5. Gear stick

6. Clutch

7. Brake

8. Accelerator

9. Indicator

10. Reverse

11. Steering wheel

12. To check

13. To pull away

14. To pull up

15. To fasten

16. To cut sb up

17. To release

18. To run over

19. To crash into

20. To write off

to undo, to take off  (handbrake etc.)

to do up, to secure (seatbelt etc.)

to completely destroy (cars etc.) so that you cannot use again.

to start to drive, to start moving from a stationary position.

to drive dangerously into sb’s path almost causing an accident

to hit another vehicle in an accident

to see or to make certain that  it’s safe, sure, or correct

to hit a person who is in the street while you are driving.

to stop the car, normally when you park.

a flashing light  showing which direction that you will go.

a pedal for slowing the car down or stopping.

turn this round device to change the car’s direction while driving.

a pedal for speeding the car up.

the action of going backwards not forwards.

a pedal for changing the gears, not found in automatic cars.

a device for changing gears with your hand.

look into this to see what is behind you.

this is what you turn to start the car’s engine.

use this when parked to stop the car moving on its own.

it’s law to wear this for your own protection.

Role Play. 

Student A.  You are a rather stupid foreign pupil who is taking a driving lesson for the first time. You are sitting in the instructor’s car. At your side is a pathetic looking English driving instructor, who is even more nervous than you. Look at the inside of the car in front of you. What are all those mechanical objects, levers, controls and buttons for? Ask him. When he has explained to you what they are and how they work, you will drive the car on a busy public road! You are the student, don’t forget. It is not your car. You are only allowed to do what the instructor says. He will give the instructions and you will use your hands and feet as if you were driving a real car.


Student B.  You are a driving instructor. You are having a normal day at work, when suddenly arrives the world’s most dense person for a driving lesson. Yes. Divine retribution exists in this world and not the next. What terrible thing did you do to deserve this? Not only has this person never driven before, but this idiot can’t even speak English correctly! First you will have to teach him/her all the vocabulary for the inside of a car. Then the action verbs for driving. Finally, you are going to take this half-wit out on to one of Her Majesty’s highways. Continue giving the instructions. Good luck. You are going to need all the luck you can get, and the airbag too.


Now change roles and repeat.

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