UK / France signal confusion.
February 27, 2007 4:00 PM   Subscribe

In the UK the accepted drivers signal for ' Go ahead / I am surrendering my right of way ' is a flash or two of the headlights. In France the same signal means the opposite. How does one signal ' Go ahead / I am surrendering my right of way ' in France?
posted by Dr.Pill to Travel & Transportation (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Yeah, after driving some in France my impression was that drivers were going to assert their right of way whether they had it or not. But I suppose it's possible that such a signal exists.
posted by timelord at 4:58 PM on February 27, 2007

UK drivers certainly were doing it to warn of police they'd just passed to people coming the other way when I was a kid. Whether they're still doing it 25 years on I can't tell you - don't drive, and left the UK.
posted by genghis at 5:05 PM on February 27, 2007

French drivers are famously discourteous, but there is a crossroads near my house where five roads come together such that almost everyone winds up making a left turn. I have seen the following gestures:

wave = "Go ahead and turn left in front of me"
lights briefly out = the same
flashed lights = the same
flashed lights = wait, I'm turning now
brief honk = "you go ahead"
long honk = "my turn"

My conclusion is the French are just as confused as you are. If a French driver thinks you've done him out of his priority there will be no ambiguity, though - you'll get the shotgun rider head and shoulders out the window screaming and shaking both fists.
posted by jet_silver at 5:32 PM on February 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

My family lived in France slightly before I was of driving age, and my brother and I were always impressed by the communication between vehicles there, and in Europe in general. It's something we ported back to the states and our friends thought we were weird. Anyway, from what I remember, a flash of the lights certainly could mean 'go ahead, I yield to you", as well as a host of other things that made sense contextually (like, "thanks for letting me know I left my baguette on the roof of the car"). This was going on 25 years ago, though, so things may have degraded depuis.
posted by cocoagirl at 5:50 PM on February 27, 2007

To buck the trend and answer the question, I'm not sure where you got the idea that 'in France the same signal means the opposite', as I've definitely seen the headlight flash used to mean 'Go ahead!', and succesfully used it myself (in Charente-Maritime, anyway, never driven anywhere else in France). In daylight, a dismissive backhand wave also seems popular.
posted by jack_mo at 7:11 PM on February 27, 2007

I agree with jack_mo - I'm not sure where you get the idea that the signal means "I'm coming through" in France. I drive there most days and have never seen this. There is a road I take often which has 5 or six narrow place to slow traffic down - people flash other cars in exactly the same way as they do in the UK - I'm going to wait for you, come on through.

If the cars are close enough (letting someone out of a side road for example), then a hand wave does the same trick, although thinking about it, it's usually me that does that, not sure many French drivers let others through that often!

And the flashing is definitely used here for the police / speed trap warning.
posted by jontyjago at 1:25 AM on February 28, 2007

South Africans flash lights to warn of speed traps. Few drivers in South Africa understand the concept of 'right-of-way', so can't yeild it anyway.

I don't remember much of my car trip to France. It puzzles me a great deal. There was a fantastic wooden rollercoaster at the park by Metz. Everything else is a fog.
posted by Goofyy at 2:22 AM on February 28, 2007

Just to add to the confusion, in the UK, the Highway Code specifies that you should only flash your headlights to inform another road user of your presence and that it should never be assumed to be a signal meaning 'go ahead'.

So it would seem that the correct message from a British driver flashing their lights is 'I am here' rather than 'you can go'.

(Just in case of confusion, I'm a British driver myself so I know that in real life flashed headlights means 'you can go', I'm just pointing out that the official meaning isn't the same as the actual one - it's always seemed a little dangerous to me that new drivers get instructed that they can flash their lights to let other road users know of their presence - for example if the new driver is about to pass someone - when the other road user will probably assume they mean something different).
posted by koshmar at 2:35 AM on February 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

Flashing lights in the UK doesn't exclusively mean you are giving up your right of way. It is a signal to other drivers for various things. If you are at a crossroads it can mean, go ahead. If you are coming up fast and someone might not have noticed you, you use it to them 'em to get out the way. It can also be a warning of any kind to slow down, or if someone has a bulb gone.

It's the same in France. I was there last weekend. Best practice, if you're not sure, don't use it.
posted by tomw at 3:12 AM on February 28, 2007

Seconding koshmar about flashing your lights in UK, that's what I was told.
posted by Abiezer at 3:33 AM on February 28, 2007

driving in the UK if I flash my lights it's to tell the other driver they can go ahead of me. Also I almost never see people flash to tell you there's police ahead, but then I've almost never seen a speed trap (and I drive a lot here)
Speed cameras are generally well indicated in advance with big signs telling you they're ahead. They are bright yellow in case you miss them. The British are very kind about things like this cos in Ireland they are hidden.
posted by Wilder at 3:44 AM on March 1, 2007

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