Meaning of DRIVING in English
Americans have long had a ‘love affair’ with the automobile ( also car), and are surprised when they meet somebody who cannot drive. In 2001 around 88% of the people aged 15 or older were drivers and 8% of households had no vehicle available for regular use. American life is arranged so that people can do most things from their cars. There are drive-in banks, post offices, restaurants, movie theatres and even some churches.
In Britain around 70% of the population had driving licences in 2003, and 72% of household had access to a car. As in the US, many people prefer to use their car rather than public transport, because it is more convenient and because they like to be independent. In order to reduce pollution the government tries, not very successfully, to discourage car ownership by making driving expensive. In particular, it puts a heavy tax on petrol and regularly increases the annual road tax .
To many people the make and quality of their car reflects their status in society, and it is important to them to get a smart new car every few years. In Britain since 2001 the registration number of a car shows the place and date of registration but older number plates can be used and a personalized number plate (= a registration number that spells out the owner’s name or initials) may also suggest status. Many people prefer to buy a small, economical car, or get a second-hand one. Cars in the US are often larger than those in Britain and though petrol/gas is cheaper, insurance is expensive. In the US car license plates , commonly called tags , are given by the states. New ones must be bought every two or three years, or when a driver moves to another state. The states use the plates to advertise themselves: Alabama plates say ‘The heart of Dixie’ and have a small heart on them, and Illinois has ‘The land of Lincoln’.
In Britain, before a person can get a driving licence they must pass an official driving test , which includes a written test of the Highway Code and a practical driving exam. Only people aged 17 or over are allowed to drive. Learner drivers who have a provisional driving licence must display an L-plate , a large red ‘L’, on their car, and be supervised by a qualified driver. The US has no national driver’s license ( AmE ), but instead licences are issued by each state. Most require written tests, an eye test and a short practical test. The minimum age for getting a licence is normally 16, although some states will issue a learner’s permit to drivers as young as 14. Many states now apply a system of graduated licenses in which young drivers are first required to have an intermediate license for a period of time before being given a full license . An intermediate licence may, for example, prevent driving alone at particular times of the day or require the driver to take special classes if they drive badly. Americans have to get a new driver’s licence if they move to another state. US licences have on them a picture of the holder and are important as a means of identity.
In Britain people drive on the left and in the US they drive on the right. Generally British and US drivers are relatively careful and courteous but there is dangerous driving. In the US there were over 42 000 deaths due to traffic accidents in 2003. About 40% of these accidents were caused by drivers who had drunk alcohol. Drink-driving ( AmE driving under the influence or driving while intoxicated ) (= driving a car after drinking alcohol) is also a serious problem in Britain. In some British towns special cameras have been set up to catch drivers who go too fast. In the US the main job of state highway patrols is to prevent speeding .
Many drivers belong to a motoring organization in case their car breaks down. In Britain the main ones are the AA (Automobile Association) and the RAC (Royal Automobile Club), and in the US the largest is the American Automobile Association .
Oxford guide to British and American culture English vocabulary. Руководство по британской и американской культуре, Оксфордский английский словарь. 2005