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The Complexities Of Motoring

Blog Date - 03 February 2018

To get a full motorcycle licence here in the UK you need to pass several tests. One of these requires that you have a good grasp of the Highway Code - a comprehensive book filled with rules and regulations a rider really should know. From insurance requirements to box junctions, from bus lanes to road signs there are many many many things to learn. 

Most of the highway code will be learnt by osmosis if you live in the UK all your life and spend time around traffic. Cars stop at red lights, vehicles on the roundabout have right of way and don't cross the road until the little man is green. Hopefully a parent or friend will explain things like insurance and how the nice policeman will lock you up if you ride your bicycle like an idiot. 

2 policemen stood next to their police motorcycles
Play nice or the Rozzers will be 'avin ya.

Now imagine arriving in the UK from a remote island with a handful of dusty dirt tracks and a few beat up old pickup trucks. Imagine trying to get your head around a basic give way junction. What do these red, amber and green light things mean? What the devil is going on with this round bit of road between other roads? Why did that car stop when the pedestrian started to cross on the black and white striped bit of road?

We established residents barely give it a thought. Yet it's not always easy even for a long established rider or driver. Occasionally we're thrown a curve ball, an unexpected event.

Take for instance the new bridge across the Mersey at Widnes/Runcorn. For years and years the old bridge was toll free but something of a nightmare to cross at busy times. The shiny new bridge is flowing well but it is tolled. Please PLEASE don't start on the politics of this, that's for another subject. 

Of course all the locals and most of the North West residents are aware that the new bridge needs to be paid for. Imagine though Mable and Ted, 2 elderly out of towners making a special journey to go to their granddaughter's wedding. They follow the signs and maps and eventually they approach the bridge. Ted spots a small sign stating toll ahead and Mable notices that it will cost £2. Oh heck, Ted gets his wallet out as Mable drives on.

2 elder people enjoying the sun. Ren's real Grandparents
The real Ted and Mable - my grandparents. They were actually very well informed.

But there are no toll booths. Maybe they've not installed them yet? Maybe you only pay in one direction (there are some tolled crossings like this)? If they are particularly observant between the cars, trucks, signs and junctions they may see a matrix sign informing them to pay at MerseyFlow. MerseyFlow, what the hell is merseyflow? 

I can easily imagine a bewildered Ted and Mable not knowing what to do and having nowhere to pay thinking it's OK, not to worry. That is until they get a £40 charge through the post. Maybe Ted and Mable don't have internet access to pay online. Maybe they don't know you can pay by phone or any "Payzone" outlet around the UK.

By the way - I cannot find anything in the Highway Code that mentions toll roads. If you can please drop me a link below or an image from the book itself. If it is not mentioned in the Highway Code how the devil can people be expected to follow the rules regarding tolls?

None of this applies to you. You know what the internet is. You know all the rules of the Highway Code. You understand how tolls work. You are insured, taxed and MOTd. Great! Well done you. Now hop on your bike and ride into another country and see how you get on.

2 portaloos and a car park with a playground, a French service stop
Roadside services in some countries may not be quite what you'd expect.

I daresay most people reading this will be aware that French motorways have tolls on them. I know I knew they did. So when I found myself unintentionally on a French motorway out of Monaco I knew there'd be a toll to pay. 

There are booths. Good. What is not clear is which booths are which. I wanted to pay cash with a €10 note. I saw what looked like a basket with money being thrown in, maybe that's what I need? Yip - except there was nowhere to put notes in and I had zero change. I ended up with a big queue behind me and one very irate toll employee shouting at me in French.

Here in the UK a red light means stop. This applies even if it is 0400 and there is no-one at the pedestrian crossing that has turned red. In Spain in 2005 I thought the same rules applied - but the indigenous drivers saw them more as "guidance" rather than as a hard fast rule. 

A french pedestrian crossing, just some white rectangles across the road
French pedestrian crossings are more for guidance rather than the hard and fast British rules.

Priorite a Droite - priority to the right. Hell's teeth I don't think the French even understand their rules regarding this. The Dutch too once had it, may still have it and if you ask them they are not sure. 

To confuse matters further the French seem to be spewing out new rules with great regularity. Did you know you're required to have some form of breathalyser with you? A high viz jacket to hand if you break down? The RAC says I need a reflective warning triangle too but does this apply to motorcyclists? 

Of course you know this. You are a careful, well informed, well researched and thoroughly prepared traveller. OK then have you got your "Crit'Air" sticker too? Well if you end up in the wrong city at the wrong time you could get a £117 fine and maybe even points. 

Come to think of it I don't even know how the London congestion charge works or what areas it covers. Overall though I find it best to avoid London.

Ignorance is no excuse either. You can't stand there in front of a Gendarme trying to explain in your pathetic high-school Franglais why your gloves are not CE approved. Yes - in France you cannot ride a motorcycle without wearing CE approved gloves.

It's a minefield.

A large white rocky outcrop over the beautiful French town of Sisteron
It's hard work travelling, but then it can be worth the effort.

If you have any legal pointers for the bewildered motorcyclist - especially those travelling to foreign climes - we'd love to publish them here on Bikes And Travels. Contact

Reader's Comments

Keith m said :-
Down here in Kent we have the Dartford crossing. It too takes its tolls via cameras. If you don't pay the charge within 24hrs they send you a fine through the post. Now 140,000 to 170,000 vehicles use this crossing per day. Nice little earner that one.
3/2/2018 8:12:44 PM UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-
Hi Keith m. Apparently the Runcorn/Widnes bridge's tolls are collected by the same (French) company as the Dartford crossing. When I went over the Dartford Bridge there were signs EVERYWHERE threatening all kinds of doom and disaster if you didn't cough up sharp style. So much so even though I'd heard motorcycles were free to cross I still went to the website to double check.

Here at Runcorn there's a couple of signs, definitely not enough if you're from out of town. There is only one sign from either side declaring the point of no return if you wish to avoid the tolls. It's as though they want you to cross the bridge. It's as though they want to fine you. Hmmmmmm. Maybe I'm just paranoid.
3/2/2018 8:58:23 PM UTC
Borsuk said :-
The first time I took my car over to Spain I programmed the sat nav to avoid toll roads, unfortunately that didn't include emission zones. Imagine my surprise as I passed a sign saying I was entering the London Emission Zone or whatever it's called and had to call some number within 24 hours or get fined. Try remembering a phone number on a street sign on your own with what felt like half of London's traffic trying to herd you in the same direction as them. When I got to Dover I arrived earlier than expected and managed to get internet access and found the web site to pay. Only to find my little Suzuki is exempt in the first place. It was a nice surprise but I had been driving with visions of being stuck somewhere in France when the time limit finished and getting a string of fines for not paying.
It's as bad as these places that require you to pay street parking fees using a mobile. Becomes bloody expensive quickly if you are on International roaming.
3/2/2018 10:35:13 PM UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-
There is an assumption that EVERYONE has internet access and EVERYONE has a mobile phone. I daresay the vast majority of people do but not everyone. If someone in a modern first world country finds themselves without these 2 items I can only assume they must feel like something of an unwanted pariah.

I'd best stop otherwise we'll have the flat-earthers espousing conspiracy theories...

5/2/2018 9:06:49 AM UTC
Henrik said :-
Damm flat-earthers ,... I know better :-)

5/2/2018 1:45:17 PM UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-
Phew!! I'm glad they've found the mounting points for the earth. That said I thought they'd be at the poles because on most globes I've seen they usually are.
5/2/2018 2:11:54 PM UTC

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