Ever since humans left horses and carriages behind for the thrills of automobiles, we’ve had to divide ourselves by nations: those who drive on the left, and those who drive on the right. In Canada, we drive on the right, but most of the other Commonwealth countries choose the left lane. Let’s look at some tips for your first time driving on the left side of the road
Get an Automatic
When you choose your rental car, try to get one with an automatic transmission. Not only will this make driving through unfamiliar traffic patterns a breeze, it will make the operation of the car easier. Why? Because, while in North America, we have the steering wheel on the left side of the car, and the gear stick to the right of that, in Australia for example, the steering wheel will be on the right side of the car, and the gear stick will be on the left side of the wheel. While in Canada you’d shift gears with your right hand, Down Under you’ll need to train your left hand to find the way from fourth to fifth.
Luckily, the pedals are all in the same order — so driving an automatic transmission will still feel natural whether you learned to drive on the right or left side of the road.
Practice Before You Drive It Out of the Lot
Even though you may be keen to get to your hotel and unpack your bags or set out on the road to explore the region, spend an extra five or 10 minutes in the parking lot of the rental car company. Make sure you understand the car’s lights, turn signals, gauges and other controls while you’re in a controlled environment. Though most of these items won’t be much different from your car back home, it’s amazing how hard it is to do a familiar action with the other hand. For example, though you probably don’t even think about how to turn on the radio and tune to a station in your car at home, finding your way to the set stations and even operating the power switch on the radio with your left hand may be a challenge — and even more so when you’re figuring out which way to turn on a roundabout. Another point to review before leaving the lot is reversing. It can feel strange to have the weight of the car over your other shoulder when finding your way into a parking space, so do yourself a favour by practicing in the lot.
Be Extra Vigilant at Turns
After you leave the parking lot, you’ll be surprised at how easy driving on the other side of the road is. Going straight ahead, stopping and navigating curves in the road are no problem at all. You’ll wonder what all the fuss is about — and then you’ll come to an intersection where you need to turn, the end of a one-way street or a roundabout. Turning is the hardest part of driving on the other side of the road because it will feel like you’re swinging the car directly into oncoming traffic. In North America, at an intersection where you want to turn right, you’d hug the corner and make a right turn. But if you’re in Ireland making that same turn, you’ll have to turn into the far right lane, crossing traffic in the intersection. Likewise, if you want to make a left turn at an intersection, in Canada we’d pull across traffic and into the far lane. But in Britain, you’d need to hug the corner and stay on the left lane. These may seem like simple, logical examples, but to drive on the other side of the road as effortlessly as you drive on the right side of the road, you’re going to have to go against muscle memory you’ve been building up ever since you started to drive as a teenager.
One good way to make sure the turns don’t get you in trouble is to enlist the help of a passenger to remind you to be careful when turning or to post a sticky note on the dashboard for the same purpose.
Image by Erik Starck from Flickr’s Creative Commons.