The horrendous road rules of Luxembourg

d'Lëtzebuerger Land du 11.01.2019

To American visitors, Europe is really nice. It can be a little bit over-stylized or can feel like an architectural museum, but we love that about it. And after moving here, we appreciate it in whole new ways, as we discover some wonderful social safety nets and marvelous things done with public funding. (Meanwhile, of course, in the States the healthcare system is so broken that people now pay for hospital bills with GoFundMe campaigns). The history, the culture, the fashion, the architecture, the functioning governments – Europe is a utopia indeed! And then you get your European driver’s license.

Never is an American expat closer to death than when first driving on your roads, with their insanely specific rules and impenetrable signs. Never will an American miss I-96, the Ohio Turnpike, or Route 66 so very much. Because, indeed, your European streets and signage are so overdesigned that they can only be described as a fiasco. Or, to quote the dictionary’s definition of that word, a complete and humiliating failure.

In the name of conciliation, here is a lone concession: roundabouts are smoother and safer than intersections. OK. Fine. But that’s all you’re going to get.

Now then, catastrophe number one has got to be the “right priority” rule. First off, the preposterous hieroglyph that for some reason represents this rule has, in its design, zero intuitive value. Nothing about it suggests what it requires you to do. For comparison, its American cousin is a red sign that says STOP on it. Clear. Minimal. Logical.

And so you learn about yielding to the right. Very well. But when you roll up to the intersection, about one time in seven you’ll see a car coming and jam wildly and suddenly on the brakes, sending your French fries falling all over the floor. Because, of course, you can’t see more than a few meters up the road to the right, and those six smooth times have made you overconfident.

Oh! What’s that? You thought you spotted a stupid little yellow diamond sign back there? Well that means that you’re on a big road and don’t have to do the right priority anymore. Why the yellow diamond means that, nobody knows. You look in your rearview mirror, suddenly, and see a Luxembourger sitting in your backseat. He takes a long drag on a cigarette, leans forward, and whispers: if you’re in a neighborhood, then “right priority” is the rule even if no signs or marks show it.

You throw him out of your car for being ridiculous.

Sometimes, governments will change a road’s speed limit. In a normal country like the States, this is typically indicated by means of a nice big sign that announces what the new speed limit is. Europe, not to be outdone by this elemental, perfect solution, instead posts the old speed limit – which is no longer relevant to drivers, perhaps to anyone on planet Earth – and crosses it out. So now you know what the speed limit isn’t. (But only if you happen to see the sign, which is often tucked away on the left side of the road where it’s less noticeable).

Bizarrely, however, crossed-out numbers actually stand for other numbers. A 70, crossed out, means 90. This is a fact so offensively subjective, even to the average mind, that it cannot be adequately discussed in this article without causing undue pain to the author. It will not be mentioned here again.

Next: any moron loitering next to a zebra crossing triggers a law where you have to stop, in case he or she wishes to cross the street. If no crossing occurs, then you are permitted to roll slowly by. Social security will pay for your blood pressure pills.

And while zebra crossings are putting weak, fleshy bodies in the path of your metal speed machine, some ministry or other is busy making sure street-name signs only appear now and then, and always in slightly different locations so that drivers aren’t burdened by noticing them too quickly. It’s not like in the States, where green signs, always in predictable locations, show the names in large letters. Reliable. Legible. Obvious.

How about Luxembourg’s lovely country roads, meandering through gentle hills and idyllic farmland? They’re death traps, of course: fields that are otherwise totally open are lined with trees that look just sturdy enough to smash a car into tiny pieces.

Or how about the T-intersection by the Geesseknäppchen, where cars on Boulevard Pierre Dupong have stoplights while those on Rue de Bragance have nothing? This intersection is perhaps the most dreadful abomination of all: it’s the only place in the entire Solar System where drivers must regularly look at a stoplight facing in a different direction to determine who can go.

And let us not forget about that section of the Route d’Arlon where one lane becomes two, yet isn’t wide enough to accommodate two cars side by side – unless you wouldn’t mind it if oncoming traffic blew your rearview mirror to smithereens. Picture a Knippchen getting blasted with a bazooka. That was your driver’s-side mirror. Goodbye.

In contrast, driving in the States is so easy that even 16-year-olds, a group who possess nature’s most questionable style of decision-making, can do it. Basically, you just drive until you see the color red. Then you stop. The lanes are cushy and wide, and there is no ambiguity over pedestrian rights (they have none) or speed limits. You’ve got no worries at all, except maybe the bill for your appendectomy. But that GoFundMe campaign will probably take off any moment now… and, even if it doesn’t, at least you were able to drive yourself and your bursting appendix swiftly and safely to the hospital.

Jeffrey Palms
© 2019 d’Lëtzebuerger Land