I love France, but I don't think I'll ever get used to how the French drive, or even how they park: by hitting the cars on both sides. One time I was sitting in my car waiting for someone and a man not only bumped my car several times while parking, but actually parked with his car's bumper on top of mine! I got out and said, "Vous n'allez pas laisser votre voiture comme ça!" and he said, "Ah? Ça vous gêne?"
A lot of Americans are afraid to drive in Paris, but I got over that years ago. I'm one of those people the non-driving maire de Paris, Bertrand Delanoë, hates: I take my car everywhere and I will until Paris has enough taxis and until public transport doesn't stop right after midnight. I even enjoy driving through Etoile, like a big game of real-life bumper-cars where the trick is not to get bumped.
In fact, when I say that French drivers are more disciplined than they used to be, I can't be sure that it's not just me who has gotten less disciplined. I admit that I speed sometimes, try to beat people at the green light, sometimes park on the sidewalk, and when I see a driver talking on a portable, take advantage of their lack of attention and cut in front of them. I retain a few American habits though. I always signal when I change lanes, even though it makes the typical French driver speed up so I can't get in. I always let people in when they signal. And I never tailgate and still get furious every time someone does it to me. There are plenty of drivers in France who will ride your bumper while you are passing a truck at 80 mph. This seems to be happening less than it used to, I must admit; but is that because the French tailgate less than ten years ago, or is it because I drive faster?
Recently the motards [motorcycle riders] have been on a safety kick. Not for themselves, of course. There is a campaign against gravel in the road. There are signs all over the Périphérique saying: "Trajectoire coupé, vie brisée." [Trajectory of a motard cut, life broken.] This means that drivers must never change lanes suddenly; there is usually a motard coming up your righthand side, even if you are signaling a right turn, so it is even more essential than in most countries to turn your head and actually look. I approve of the campaign, but not of the reasons for the need for it. Nothing about the motards not speeding, not cutting off cars, not honking and flashing, not giving drivers the finger just for going straight ahead in their own lane (the motards want you to move over and practically crash your car into the median to leave room for them to speed past you on the right between lanes). This sudden interest in safety is a joke coming from people who refuse to follow the "legal" requirement not to go between cars. (It was only this year I learned that driving between lanes--which 100% of all motards do here-- is actually illegal, as well as suicidally stupid.) The motards have managed to get the government to dump the daytime lights-on initiative, even though that has been proven over and over to save lives and cut down on accidents everywhere it has been tried. The motards say that only they should be allowed to drive with their lights on, that it could confuse other people. A huge percentage of deaths among young people in France are motards. For me the solution is simple: enforce the laws against driving between the lanes. That would quickly bring the number of deaths down and it would soon cut down on the number of people buying motorcycles, because if they had to stay in lane and go at the speed of the rest of the traffic, like people in countries with a low accident rate, it would be a lot less attractive for them to risk their lives every day.
Of course I know that is a vain hope. The motards would go on strike, block the roads, Radio France Info would interview a few motards en colère (but no one from the safety associations), the government would cave. The standard scenario.
Today a young man on a motorcycle with a 6-year-old girl behind him came within a few centimeters of my right mirror as I was driving.
My beloved friend A was killed on a Monday morning in San Francisco when a clueless driver took a left turn into him as he sat at a stoplight. He would still be alive if he had been in a car.
My brother K was almost killed at a stoplight in Nashville, Tennessee when a driver didn't see him and hit him from behind. He spent a month in the hospital.
One of my best friends' husband C skidded his motorcycle in the rain and almost died.
I have seen eight to ten dead motards on the roads since I moved to Paris. One of them was a guy who had zoomed past me, weaving in and out of lanes at insane speed, just a few minutes before. "That guy has a death wish!" said someone in our car. Sure enough, just outside the Périphérique, there he lay. His head, with its helmet on, was ten feet away from his body.
I hate motorcycles.