Kolumni: Driving Me Crazy

People in Finland sometimes mention British manners and politeness, ‘Oh, British people always say thank you and often apologise for no reason.’ This is true and is also seen on British roads. In the UK, drivers are constantly waving to each other as they drive along for many reasons; ‘Thank you for letting me pull out in front of you’ or ‘Oh sorry, I didn’t notice you.’ OK, it is true sometimes the hand gestures are not so friendly.

Driving in Etelä-Pohjanmaa is… different.

Finns are proud to have a challenging driving test. Firstly, the theory test, then many hours of lessons, then a driving test and, finally, drivinging on oil to simulate icy winter conditions. Something I‘ve realised is that, in Etelä-Pohjanmaa, after passing their test people are given a license and told ‘Congratulations. Now, remember, this road belongs to YOU!’ Unfortunately, the same thing is said to everyone, so everyone drives like THEY own the road! Finns are rightly proud of their countrymen who have succeeded in motorsports. It seems that everyone has a little of Räikkönen or Grönholm in them, and they want to demonstrate it on the road.

When I learned to drive, I was taught a very important phrase, that was applied to every situation on the road “Mirror, Signal, Manoeuvre”. You check the traffic around you, signal your intention to move, then make the manoeuvre when it is safe to do so. A young friend recently failed her test because she did just this – and the rule in Finland, apparently, is different; “Signal, Mirror, Manoeuvre”. From my experience, the rule in Seinäjoki is “Brake hard, Start to manoeuvre, Signal while turning, Mirror? What mirror?”

I mentioned this article to a few international friends and the thing they mentioned most was etuajo-oikeutettu tie, when smaller side roads that have equal right of way. Seriously! The only signs advising this are in the side roads, and I can only see the back side; a grey triangle. As I approach these crossroads, I am looking 90 degrees to my right to check who has the right of way. While doing this, I am not looking ahead to notice the driver in front of me as he does “Brake hard, Start to manoeuvre, Signal while turning...”

There are serious points behind these observations too. Road safety. Many times I’ve stopped at a pedestrian crossing to let someone cross the road and, while the person is walking in front of my car, another driver will overtake me and go straight through the crossing. Only narrowly avoiding hitting the pedestrian.

I’ve also seen children waiting at a crossing and when I stop to let them cross, they refuse to walk and wave me through! This is clearly behaviour they have learned from adults – surely, if the traffic has stopped, you should cross quickly and carefully?

Between Kivistö S-Market and Seinäjoki Station, a distance of 2km, there are 4 traffic lights and 14 road crossings, indicated with bright blue signs. The problem here is that there are just too many that you stop noticing them. Also, many of these crossings have bad street lighting along streets with trees blocking the driver’s view of people standing at the side of the road.

Some of these issues could be improved with street planning. Others are cultural and encouraging Seinäjokiläiset not to drive like Kimi may take a little longer.

Mark Wiltshear

yrittäjä, podcastaaja