Who’s afraid to drive on the left-hand side?

I don’t scare easily, but nothing puts the fear of God in me like driving on the left-hand side of the road.

On a recent visit to Bermuda, while I was taking a pre-dawn walk along a winding road, I nearly collided with a swarm of scooters. Turns out I was facing the wrong direction. In London, despite signs on the pavement warning tourists and absent-minded pedestrians to “look right,” I was almost run over by a bus. I’ve never tried to rent a car there. I don’t dare.

But many travelers do, and that’s a problem. Just a few weeks ago, a German woman in New Zealand died when her camper collided head-on with a car. She had been driving on the right-hand side of the road, which is the wrong side Down Under. An Irish survey a few years ago found that an astounding one in 10 road accidents on the Emerald Isle involve tourists; many are probably related to wrong-side-of-the-road driving.

If your travel plans take you to Australia, India, Japan, New Zealand or the United Kingdom, then you should consider this before you leave your hotel, and definitely before you rent a car. In fact, about a third of the world’s drivers go to the left, including motorists in many Caribbean and Pacific islands and parts of Africa. So there’s a reasonably good chance that you’ll someday have to drive on what, to you, is the wrong side of the road.

Bob Barton, president of the American Car Rental Association, insists that making the switch isn’t difficult. “You have to focus and concentrate,” he told me. “Bring a companion, so you don’t have to worry about navigation and turns, and you can fully concentrate on the drive.”

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The Association of Car Rental Industry System Standards, an organization that develops standards for international car rentals, says governments are doing their best to help visitors make an easy transition to the left side of the road.

Diane Clancy, a spokeswoman for the group, said many airports in destinations with left-hand traffic post signs at the airport warning car renters to switch lanes. “The car rental on-airport operators will also provide useful advice,” she says, but adds that they will do so only if you ask.

Beverley Brookes, a retired immigration officer from Ottawa, says that making the adjustment can be jarring when you see a car facing you on the wrong side of the road. (Interestingly, Canadians used to drive on the left. The last left-drive roads in Newfoundland switched in 1947.)

“The hardest part is in making turns,” Brookes says. “Your tendency is to get to the right-hand side of the road when you turn, but you have to get on the left. I found that saying ‘left, left, left’ continuously until I got around the corner really helps.”

Kristi Moriarty’s tip for driving on the left — and she’s used this one many times on roads from Australia to South Africa — is to use another vehicle in front of you to orient yourself. By following the car, but not too closely, she always knows that she’s in the correct lane.

The hardest part? Operating a vehicle with left-hand controls. “The turn signal and windshield wipers are in opposite spots,” says Moriarty, an engineer from Denver. “You will drive with a clean windshield but rarely signal to other drivers while turning.”

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Barton’s advice to get help from a friend doesn’t work just for car rentals, by the way. Jane Becker, who works for a software company in Hermosa Beach, Calif., remembers her honeymoon in Bermuda. She and her husband rented a scooter, and whenever he started turning right, she’d squeeze his waist to let him know he was going the wrong way. “This system worked very well for us,” she says. “I think a back-seat driver is essential when you’re switching to an unfamiliar side of the road.”

The Beckers didn’t almost run over any travel columnists when they were in Bermuda, either. At least not that they can remember.

By the way, I’m not the only one who fears driving on the left. Siobhan Dugan, a records specialist for a federal agency in Washington, tried it once in Ireland and reports that my misgivings are completely justified. She had several close calls, including narrowly avoiding a head-on collision with a truck.

“Our trip south from Dublin to Kilkenny should have taken three or four hours,” she says. “Instead, it was a tense six hours, leaving me frazzled and exhausted. On my next trip, I stuck to buses and trains.”

Come to think of it, it’s a wonder that car rental companies in left-driving countries even rent to Americans. And that’s not just the scaredy-cat in me talking. Tracy Zorpette, a lawyer from Washington, remembers returning her rental in Ireland after a recent trip.

“The attendant asked not whether, but how many accidents we’d had during our trip,” she says. “When we said none, and that the car was just as when we’d rented it, he seemed not to believe us and went to personally inspect the vehicle.”

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(Photo: Daryl Fritz/Flickr)

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at chris@elliott.org. Read more of Christopher's articles here.

  • BlondieDC

    Are you traveling with anyone for this trip?  Have that person be the “back seat driver” and remind you of where you need to be on the road, especially when navigating a roundabout or turn.  My girlfriends helped me drive (and me, them) on a road trip around  Ireland years ago.  Couldn’t have done it without them!

  • Dean Starovasnik

    The USVI are even worse!  Not only do you drive on the left but the cars there are all left hand drive (like in the US).  At least when I drove in Australia, the fact that I was sitting on the right side of the car was a constant reminder that things were different.  In St. Croix there was a five way intersection which passing through left me on the right side of the outbound road.  My wife and two sons yelling “Left!” was my only indication something was wrong but did help me avoid the oncoming semi.  That one break in concentration almost did us all great harm.  Still don’t understand why a US possession would make things so devilishly dangerous!

  • S E Tammela

    I found it interesting that you assumed all your readers usually drive on the right. This is the internet, Chris, we come from all over the place – why would I worry about driving on the wrong side if I travelled to the UK?

    I’m glad you weren’t hurt. Two Canadian tourists were killed by stepping in front of a car in my home suburb. 

  • Wished the Irish rental agency in Galway had given me some tips because I had just walked off an international flight, and was groggy and little disoriented. I drove around the parking lot, saying out loud: He goes this way, I stay on this side. It became my mantra for every intersection that required a turn. It was slow going. To get to the places I wanted to see, I needed a rental. Note to self: Next time, hire a driver for off-the-left-handed path.

  • I’m an American currently living in Ireland and I’ve been here for the past 10 years (but am thankfully moving back to the US later this year).  At first it was hard, especially as the only car I had access to was a stick shift and I’m a automatic girl all the way.  Now I find it just the opposite, when going back home to the US to visit to get used to going back to the right side of the road.

  • Don’t expect the Irish to be too helpful or sympathetic to you Helen.  They don’t like the “yanks” as much as the media likes to say they do.  

  • TAPman

    Glad you are discussing the very real dangers of “Matthew Broderick disease”

  • The story was originally written for the travel section of the Washington Post for syndication in the U.S. (sorry, should have mentioned that somewhere).

  • They still talk about that here sometimes to this day TAPman.

  • I’ve been living in Japan for about 5 years. At first, I didn’t know WHICH way to look. When crossing the street, I think I looked left and right about 5 times before crossing the street. 

    I’m used to it now, but what messes me up the most is when I return home to America. From the rental car parking lot, I already was going down the wrong side of the street. I’m usually home for about a week or so, and then when I return to Japan I have to switch all over again. 

    Drive safely!

  • suzyblew

    As UK based but a frequent driver in the US and continental Europe I am well used to the swap.  However what frequently concerns me on flights back from the US to UK is how many inexperienced drivers are renting a car when they arrive in the UK.  Aside from the dangers already posted coupled with smaller roads and in some cases more traffice (we are a small island!), the strict drink driving laws don’t seem to register.  many times I have seen people knocking back a considerable number of drinks on a 7 hour flight, get a couple of hours sleep and then drive.  Please remember in Europe there are no sobriety tests, so even if feel Ok they can breathlise and potentially charge you.

  • I’ve done it one time, and that might have been enough for me. I was stressed out the entire experience, couldn’t figure out where I should be looking when I turn, etc. Driving is such a mindless activity, it was different having to think through every little thing…

  • jerryatric

    Drove over 6000kms. in Australia. 1 word comes to mind – CONCENTRATE. Hardest part to deal with – roundabouts.
    Only made 1 error, in a roundabout, facing a slew of traffic. BUT nicest drivers/people are in Australia. Very polite, very very helpful. The people helped make the drive more relaxing & comfortable, but you have to always be alert.

  • LostinTravel

    I was grateful in India that the clutch, brake and gas pedals were in the same places I expected them to be in the US.  It was interesting enough to remind myself to stay left without having to rethink the muscle memory in my feet to work the clutch and the all important brake!  I did try to change gears with the door handle a few times, but it all worked out. 
    The horn is used extensively as a signal so that took a bit of getting used to – not used in distress after the fact, but used in advance, especially on curves, or when passing stopped buses.  A good tootle means, “I am coming, beware of me!” and not tootling means giving way to the other driver.  Very important to tootle on narrow curvy roads, so the oncoming, and as yet unseen driver, knows you are there.  And do not drive as night – no street lights.

  • liladavis

    When I have travel to a place I’ll need to drive on the left, I try to arrive on Saturday, stay the night in a near the airport hotel, then rent my car on Sunday morning.  I am refreshed and there is much less traffic until I readjust to the left side of the road.

  • S E Tammela

    It took me at least a year in Finland to look in the correct direction while walking. I still don’t dare drive here. Staying on the correct side is one thing, but we also look the wrong way automatically at intersections, just like as we cross the road. Not to mention snowy conditions!

  • S E Tammela

    Ah, I see. Well, different audiences, I guess :)

  • S E Tammela

    I would also suggest researching destinations before assuming you’ll need a car. There are some fabulous places where a car just adds unnecessary stress and expense. 

  • MarkieA

    I didn’t really have a hard time adjusting to everything being on the “wrong” side when a took a trip to the UK recently, except for the roundabouts. Not only do you go around the circle in the opposite direction, but the driver entering the circle has the right of way! That screwed me up. And they’re everywhere!

  • TonyA_says

    How about hiring a driver? It helps the local economy.

  • Bill Armstrong

    You know, some people just should not ever drive on the opposite side of the road.  You need to be thinking “left left left” all of the time.  I was very nervous the first couple of times I did it.  However, I did manage to stay on the left side of the road, manage the roundabouts properly, etc. 

    I can now say that I am equally comfortable in a left hand drive or right had drive country but this is after thousands of km of driving on the “other” (not wrong) side of the road.

    Driving is an activity where you always have to think, and it is particularly so when you are on a different side of the road.

    In case anyone is wondering, I had automatic transmissions the first many times I was driving on the left.  I asked for manual transmission vehicles after awhile, but they always “upgraded” me.  I’ve now had manual transmissions twice,and the adjustment was very minor after having adjusted to the side of the road thing.

    I can even parallel park (I have pictures to prove it).

    The thing is, driving on the left is not the only thing you will have to contend with.  They have “roundabouts”, some with traffic lights and some not.  They are actually pretty cool once you get used to them.  They also have many “two way” streets that are not much more than one lane.  When you can see a long ways ahead, that’s one thing, but there are also many instances where there is vegetation and you can’t see very far ahead of you.  You have to be ready to pull over in an instant.

    I have also “dared” to drive in the city of London a few times.

    However, this whole left hand thing is not for everyone.  If you do not feel comfortable with it, don’t do it.

    People can and do get killed when there are “side of the road” issues.  Take the train or a bus if you like.

  • Bill Armstrong

    Very good post.  If I am driving, I book a hotel near Heathrow for the first night, then drive the next day.  I also generally have anywhere from 0 to 2 drinks on the plane.

  • NakinaAce

    When I was first stationed in England as part of the US Air Force I quickly adapted to driving on the left side and it just took concentration. However, many nights after a session at the local pub I would find myself pulling out into the right hand lane. Luckily it was a very rural area and no traffic to speak of except the locals on their bikes. They would good wave and shout at me in a friendly way until I realized and got in the correct lane. Good days and nights in rural Suffolk in the 70’s.

  • Being from the USVI, I can explain.  Like much of the Caribbean, the USVI was unofficially under the rule of Great Britain.  I say unofficially as they just took them from the Danes one day.  Everything was oriented towards driving on the left so that carried over when cars were introduced.  The reason for the left handed driving is because as Americans we get our cars from the States.

  • It has to do with adapability and yes it is a major cause of concern. I am originally from India. For years, I would drive my car to the DFW airport, hop on the flight, land in India and drive my dad’s car home.

  • Used to be I never had a problem driving on the left (and in general, I prefer driving in Europe to driving in the US any day).  But a few years ago, I suddenly lost my nerve.  After driving about three hours from London to a little town near Cardiff, I got out of the car and said to my husband, “That’s it; I can’t do it anymore.”  “Why?” he said. “You did fine.”

    But for whatever reason, I just didn’t feel confident anymore about driving on the left.  So that was that.  (And yes, I drive a stick; I hate automatics.)

  • Ivy_B

    One helpful hint I read a while ago is to remember that the driver is always in the center of the road no matter which side you drive on. For the past six years I have spent three weeks with a friend who lives in a suburb of Cape Town. I think I could drive on the highway, but the shopping center parking lot is where I would have an accident for sure!

  • BrianInPVD

    Spent 6 weeks in South Africa and Namibia as a student, and I was in a rural area with no public transport, so had to have a car.  After the first week, driving on the left became second nature.  Coming back to the US took some more adjustment.

  • carl croom

    I have been driving in Australia and New Zealand on vacations there for the last ten years. As Ivy_B says, keep the center line on your side. The first time driving in Tasmania my first left turn was right into oncoming traffic in Launceston. It only takes once. This April, I’m driving the the south island from Picton to Dunedin and really looking forward to it. And when walking, stop and look both ways before stepping into the street.

  • I’ve done the left side of the road thing twice, once in Australia, once in Ireland.  It wasn’t nearly as difficult to adjust to as I thought, though I made it a point to avoid congested cities like Dublin or Sydney.  Only once in Ireland did I forget and switch over to the right side after making a stop at a historical site in The Burren.  Luckily, it was a Saturday afternoon with little traffic, so no-harm, no-foul before I realized my mistake and switched to the correct side.  Honestly, the hardest part of driving in either country was religiously sticking to the speed limits, even on wide-open roads, because of the prevalence of speed cameras.

    Your biggest danger, though, while driving in some left-side countries is the lack of respect for traffic laws, especially in developing countries.  India is a good (bad?) example.  Not only do you have to deal with driving on the left, you also have to deal with things like rampant red light running, motorcycles driving the wrong way and even on the sidewalk (where they even exist), livestock in the road, mob mentalities in case of an accident, etc.  I lived in India for a little over 2 years, but NEVER dared to drive there because of all this.  You can easily arrange a chauffeur-driven car in a place like India for $20-30 a day; do yourself a favor, save the grief and spend the money!

  • Harry Baxter

    What scares me is that many of the 45% who aren’t afraid have never driven on the left side of the road. I did it for the first time when I was sixty, after getting a license when I was sixteen, and driving on the right side of the road for 44 years. I survived, despite bouncing off a huge number of roundabouts. I wouldn’t do it again on a bet. Just one mistake could be fatal.

  • Harry Baxter

    What do you base this on? I’ve never encountered anything that I’d describe as a slight or dislike in several extended trips to Ireland.

  • Andi N

    I drive on the left side every time I visit India, usually in a manual car, which is almost more than my brain can handle.  I try to practice in a non-populated area before heading out on the road.  Given that traffic signs and signals are more of a suggestion than a rule in most parts of India means that I usually fare pretty well!

  • Tired_Guy

    7 days in Bahamas 25 years ago resulted in scars and stitches due to “wrong side” driving with a motor scooter where I just messed up.  But 13 days in Ireland last March with a rental (automatic) was the first time I opted for ALL the outrageous extra insurance just to be able to walk away from anything happening.  So Murphy stepped in and with 1500 KM driven during that time (a mix of dual carriageway as well as boreens in Mayo), had a couple of close calls but zero damage.  Part of that I credit with my Garmin satnav having Irish maps, which meant I had audio prompts and didn’t have to try and to process road signs and traffic unaided.  Not that the satnav didn’t try to send me down 1 lane tractor ruts (it did) but in getting around, it really assisted in focusing on being safe as opposed to fearing I was lost. Plus Hertz had yellow arrows on the windscreen that said “stay left” and yes, the dear spouse actually gave clear verbal prompts that helped.  But I credit the satnav for letting me focus on driving without fear of getting lost.   

  • technomage1

    Keep your “hinne on the liney”.  It sounds stupid but it has kept me out of trouble over the years.  Also, what remember what your mother taught you “Stop.  Look both ways.  Cross the street”.

  • rachelle123
  • ClareClare

    I rented a car in Ireland and drove all over the country, trying to decide whether to move there or not.  It was MISERABLE going!  Nothing like trying to calculate your way around a double-roundabout, when you’re not only driving on the “wrong” side of the road, but you’re also sitting inside the car on the “wrong” side too!

    As for Tracy’s experience at the end of the article: the rental-car agency-guy’s reaction may have had a different motive.  Ireland is NOTORIOUS for rental-car-insurance fraud, to the degree that Visa will not provide rental-car coverage in that country (or in N Ireland either!).  My own experience with a Hertz goon in Shannon was that he ran out to inspect my car solely with the aim of finding bogus “damage” that in the end, conveniently totalled EXACTLY the max amount covered by most credit-card insurance.  Driving on the left had NOTHING to do with it…

  • streamerstoo

    If you can think backwards, there is no problem  :)

  • Owassonian

    It’s a matter of practice. I grew up and learnt to drive in a country which had left-hand side driving. I moved to US when I was 21 and have been driving on the right hand side of the road ever since. Anytime I visit UK or similar country with left-hand side driving, it just comes right back without any problems. It’s more like driving a manual car after driving an automatic for many years or riding a bike after years of driving a car. You may need to concentrate a bit more till you get adjusted but it comes to you easily.

  • I’ve thought about renting a car when I was in South Africa.  Then I remembered the problems I had just walking the streets of Joburg without almost killing myself.  Even experienced American drivers who have driven on the left before, that I drove with when I was there, had a tendency to drive on the right side.

  • I suspect the bigger issue for most Americans is not driving on the left but the fact that in nearly all the left-hand drive countries, the default rental car is a stick shift.

  • TAPman

    Funny, I thought the USA paid Denmark cash for the USVI.  When did the Brits get involved?

  • TAPman

    And do not underestimate jet-lag please!

  • scapel

    I don’t think they allow a tourist to rent a car in Bermuda. I would always just hire a car and driver for left side driving.

  •  It still sounds like a horrible situation that should be fixed.  Either import your cars from Japan, Australia, UK, etc, with right-hand drive, or switch to driving on the left – as an island it should be relatively easy to coordinate a switch.  Wouldn’t that reduce accidents massively?

    Here in Australia there are a few left-hand-drive vehicles such as specialized construction, street maintenance, etc.  They have large signs on them saying “left hand drive vehicle” so other drivers are aware.  (The street cleaner vehicles are deliberately left hand drive, so the driver can see the curb to adjust the vaccums.  They also have right hand drive for when they’re just moving the vehicle from place to place.)

  • scapel

    I understand that driving on the left comes from days of old when knights approach each other. Most were right handed and the sword would be in the right hand for striking. If they were on the right side of the road, they have had to strike crossing and be much more difficult to deliver a good blow. I think the joisting is done from the right though. Just wondering what is the correct reason for left side driving and also for right side driving.

  • I live in Australia but frequently travel back to the states, so I’m used to driving on either side.  The “driver in the center of the road” rule is what helps me.  Still, turns across traffic (left turns in the US, right in Australia), especially involving  multilane/divided roads, really makes me think twice when I’ve just arrived in one country or the other.

  • Not at all true in Australia and NZ, almost all rentals are automatic.  In the UK, automatics are getting much more prevelant as well.  Rental car agencies are smart, they don’t want you crashing their cars either so they are mainly eliminating manuals except for the lowest category.  In Australia you typically have to ask specially for a manual and sign a waiver certifying you are experienced with manual transmissions.  (Many Australian drivers aren’t even licensed to drive manuals … if you do your driving test on an automatic, it’s stipulated “automatic only” and you cannot drive manual.)

  • Erin

    Two years ago, my family and I took a trip to Ireland and rented a car.   The best advise we got was from the shuttle driver from the Shannon airport: look right, go left.  Every time we got into the car, after turning it on and shifting into drive, we repeated this important mantra.  We spent 14 days on the Irish roads and even braved the auto ferry to and from Scotland.  After trying to get into the passenger seat to drive a number of times, it became second nature.  Driving on the opposite side of the road may seem daunting at first, but after a while it becomes routine. You also become an expert in traffic circles (or roundabouts as they call them).  I always wondered why some Americans are terrified by them.

  • AgentSteve

    Having lived in England for many years, I had cars that were both left-hand drive and right-hand drive.  It really wasn’t much of a problem to actually get out of one and drive in the other.

    Then there is the Post Office that has the majority of their fleet with right-hand steering wheel.  Those drivers seem to do OK every day and after work, get back into their left-hand steering wheel car. 

    Then you have the craziness of Europe itself, whereby in the United Kingdom, everyone drives on the left side.  But when they go to mainland Europe, they are now the ones driving on the wrong (right) side.  Conversely, when Europeans drive over to the U.K., they have to drive their left-hand steering wheel cars on the left side of the road.

    All in all, I think it’s like most things, whereby we fear the unknown.  If you do rent a car in the U.K., think more about your driving, rather than which side of the road you are on.  As a tourist, your rental car will be a right-hand steering wheel car, which “naturally” will feel correct, on the left side of the road.

    I think there is merit in the one comment where the person said that she just follows (from a distance) the car in front.  Not a bad training exercise, and it will help you relax and enjoy the ride.

  • S363

     I’ve driven on St. Croix on several trips.  I think I know the intersection to which you refer. 

    I actually prefer the left-hand drive vehicles.  This is because, when diving on the left with a right-hand drive car, I have fewer problems driving in traffic properly and staying left than I do positioning in my vehicle in the lane.  On a trip to UK some years ago I broke off a left-side mirror due to being too far over in the lane, but never turned into the wrong lane except once briefly in a Safeway parking lot.  I did learn to shift the manual transmission left-handed, and it didn’t take too long. 

    I recently rented a motorbike for about a week in Thailand, where they drive on the left, and very quickly got the knack, largely by “doing as the Romans do”.  I was happy at the end of one motorbike excursion when I realized I hadn’t thought once about driving on the left, I’d just done it.  I hope this practice serves me in good stead on a soon upcoming trip to Grand Cayman, where, indeed, I will be renting a vehicle.

  • AgentSteve

    Tsk Tsk Gina, that’s a very callous and biased comment.  One of the reasons “yanks” may not be liked is when they behave like a loud-mouth, condescending, self-righteous, better-than thou, smug, braggart!  In all my international travels, I have never found a “yank” to be unwelcomed, unless the “yank” created the animosity.  The best example is to go on a cruise in Europe; you can pick out the “yank” a mile away.  There have been times when I was embarrassed, to be a “yank”.  No matter where you travel, remember one thing: YOU are the guest, so respect the country, its culture and most of all, its people!

  • Brian Lau

    This past November 2011; my family drove all around New Zealand (both islands). We first rented the car in downtown Auckland and it was tense at first since we are from the states and everything is on the right hand side. What surprised us the most was the wiper and turn signals were opposite of each other. So the headlights are on the right instead of left and wipers on the left instead of right. Several times, we accidentally turned on the wipers when we wanted to make a signal. Good thing car manufacturers kept the gas and brake pedal the same. Can you imagine if they were opposite?

    After a few days, we got used to it and we enjoyed driving around New Zealand for the two weeks we were there. Yes there is some stress at first, but if you’re a competent driver who is mindful then you should be fine. Just remember to rent the car with a GPS. No doubt, it saved me many times.

  • Citizentraveller

    Wikipedia has a long article on LHS/RHS driving (search on “driving side”). As an Australian resident I remember to be careful when in a RHS country. I’ve only driven once on the RHS (in the US) and was extra cautious at the beginning but gradually got used to it. Otherwise I have been a pedestrian several times on trips to the US, Europe and China. The trick is to think carefully which way to look when crossing roads and even which side of the footpath/sidewalk to use. Even those used to RHS need to be careful as pedestrians in China, since zebra crossings and green lights give them no protection from vehicles!

    By the way, when driving in England even I had trouble with some of the roundabouts as many are quite complex with multiple lanes and entrances/exits as well as traffic lights.

  • Shirley00

    Please ignore MarkieA’s comment when he says that people entering a roundabout in the UK/Ireland  have right of way. They do not. The cars coming from the right have right of way.

  • Afraid might be a strong word, but I’m not eager to drive somewhere where they drive on the other side of the road.

  • sffilk

    I drove on the left-hand side back in 2002 when I went to Ireland.  I was just a lot more careful when making turns and stuff.  

  • I lived for a year in England in the 70s and one thing I learnt is to look at both sides of the road before crossing, a habit that stayed with me regardless of which side of the road people are driving. Take no chances.

  • cjr001

    He did say unofficially. And considering that the two parts – US and British – are a short boat ride away, it makes sense for them to be consistent with these things.

    And in this case, they’re consistently driving on wrong side of the road. ;)

  • I used to be terrified of driving on the left side of the road.  But then i had to learn to do it when i had a business trip to the UK that required me to travel somewhere that did not really have public transportation and I needed to drive.  Now for the worst trip on your first driving, there was rain and flooding and they closed down many streets along the way so i had to keep detouring.  It was a bit of a nightmare but I got over it.  I think it helped to at first keep telling myself “left left left”, and after a few days it started becoming normal to drive on the left side of the road.  i think the most difficult part though was not driving on the left, but having the steering wheel on the right side of the car.  It makes it more difficult to judge the edges of the car when you are used to sitting on the other side of the car.  Especially in the UK this is important since a lot of the streets are incredibly narrow. 

    With the windshield wipers and turn signal, I’ve seen that not all cars are switched.  i’ve had a few cars in Australia that had the windshield wipers and turn signals on the same side as the US cars.  I do find frustrasting when they are switched and of course you mean to make a turn signal and end up cleaning your windshield.  Someone once told me this was called the “American Salute”.  its also hard to switch back the thinking when you return to the US.

  • cjr001

    The ability to get a hold of one’s sword seems to be a large part of it, as the practice of riding a horse on the left goes back to ancient Rome and Greece.

  • You can add Cyprus to your list =) Happy travels!

  • pauletteb

    Bermuda is the only place I’ve rented a moped or scooter, and I haven’t had a problem on my nine visits. (I think it’s easier than a car because you’re not dealing with an “out of place” steering wheel and controls.) Of course if I ever rent a scooter in the States, I could be in trouble!

  • pauletteb

    My daughter was stationed in Australia at a joint base in Woomera, SA. She purchased a left-hand drive GEO from a departing US Air Force member for her 2 1/2-year deployment. She didn’t need a sign on her vehicle, but she did need a special permit from the government.

  • pauletteb

    Sounds like you’re the one with the attitude problem!

  • dsliesse

    I might be scared of driving in Ireland, regardless of which side of the road I’m on, but I had no trouble in Australia the one time I had to drive on the left.  Took about 3 minutes to get used to the controls being reversed (fortunately, the pedals weren’t — that would have been another thing entirely!).

  • Citizentraveller

    Australia imports most of its cars and many are originally designed for right side driving, meaning that the controls are not always reversed for left side driving. We had a Nissan that was built in Europe and retained the wiper and light controls in the original position. More than once I turned on the wipers instead of the turn indicator, mostly when I had to do so in a hurry to change lanes, which is probably the worst time to make this mistake.

  • I’ve driven on the left side of the road in Ireland and Scotland. As advised in the article, it helps to concentrate. It helps to have a navigator. It helps to follow a car in front of you. In rural parts of Ireland and Scotland, it seems most drivers go down the middle of the road anyway, so you can cruise merrily along in the middle of narrow country roads until another vehicle approaches…then remember to go left. Where it gets hair-raising is in the cities (Dublin, Glasgow, Cork, Edinburgh) where there is more traffic. But with care and concentration, it can be done. Where I had the most problems each time was once I returned to the U.S. and WASN’T concentrating any more…and had so conditioned myself to driving on the left on holiday that I would drift or jerk to the left for a few days if something startling happened.

    I did experience a flat tire on the rental car on my most recent trip to Ireland. Luckily it was in a town and not out on the moors somewhere, and the folks that helped me out (at a Ford dealership and a tire store) couldn’t have been nicer. 

  • I’m originally from New Zealand and have been living in the US for 12 years now. Although I am quite comfortable driving on either side of the road, it is a good reminder to concentrate when driving. Even now, when driving on unmarked roads, or in large parking lots, I have to remind myself to keep right as my natural instinct is to drift to the left.

    Navigating road islands can also be a challenge because you usually go by instinct and that is something that is hard to undo after many years driving on the opposite side of the road. During my first several years in the US, I hated interstate on-ramps that had the on and off ramps right next to each other because the off ramps often have “WRONG WAY” signs on both sides of the roadway, meaning one of those signs is between the on ramp and off ramp. At night, I’d often get spooked by one of these signs lighting up as I turned onto an on ramp and I’d be second guessing myself momentarily.

  • betsy514

    A friend of mine gave me the best advice the first time I rented a car in a left-side driving country – get enough insurance so you can bring the car back in a garbarge bag if you need to.

  • If I wanted to drive around in England, I’d hire a university student.  They can use the money and know the area.  Knowing my interest, I’d hire a student reading History!  It’d probably be a LOT cheaper than renting a car and taking your chances with accidents.

  • Jayne Bailey Holland

    I live in the Bahamas, where we drive on the left, but most of our vehicles are from America. I travel often to Florida, and I seem to make the switch without any effort. My husband and I have driven in Ireland, France, England, New Zealand and many other left hand places. You just have to concentrate and pay attention. The worst is when you pull off a two lane road, and forget where you are, and there’s no other car to follow or signs.

  • I go to Japan fairly regularly and drive there.  I’m ok as long as I see other cars in the road. When there are no cars in sight, I have to think twice.

  • I loved driving on the left hand side when I was in New Zealand. It was a great place to “learn” as the traffic is very light compared to other countries. I felt like I was 16 again and learning how to drive. It made me remember little things that had slipped away over the years. So much so that when I came back, I looked in the wrong mirrors and flipped the wrong signals.
    My (slightly older) parents are very scared to drive on the left side. I think it’s easier to adapt when you are younger.

  •  That’s probably because Woomera is completely in the middle of nowhere and there would be very few other cars at all, so it really doesn’t matter what side you drive on!

  • andyeverywhere

    Did you know that all countries/cultures used to “drive” on the left? Even before there were cars, cities were congested, busy places with loads of horses and carts. This is because most people are right-handed… and it’s safer – the UK has the safest roads in all of Europe.


  • I remember my first trip to England with my Father.  I jumped into the drivers seat of the rental car and my Father asked me if I was sure I wanted to drive the first day.  I stated yes, no problem.  I knew you drove on the left side…the first round-a-bout outside Heathrow scared me – I went around and around and could not figure how to exit.  I finally took a wrong way exit – parked on a sidewalk and told my Father to take over.  He lived in the UK for many years and was comfortable with it….he took over, we drove to several Cities on our way to Scotland.  At the border I told Dad I was ready now to drive on the left side.  It was just to scary being in the passenger seat.  I drove 1500 miles in 10 days all over the UK – had a great time – only made one wrong turn in Aberdeen but was able to correct it quickly.  I remember the rental car manager going around and around our car when we check it back in – he was scratching his head – there were no dings or dents on the car.  He stated I was the only American to bring in a dent free car – I looked in the back of his building and saw many wrecked cars…I’ve driven in Austrailia and New Zealand with out problems  though I admit  I was scared at times.  My Father had a saying to me in he UK – hey diddle diddle stay to the middle….it helped. 

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