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DasFX Jan 25th, 2006 07:24 AM

Driving on the left
I'm 27 and have been driving in North America for about 11 years. I'm exciting to try driving on the "wrong" side of the road when I head down to OZ, but at the same time I'm a little intimidated. How difficult is it to make the switch? I think I would be fine on highways and what not when I simply go straight, but I can just seem myself going into the wrong side when making turns. Also, are the peddles reversed in Australia as well? Do people operate the peddles with their left foot?

Also what is this hook turn I read about, it seems rather complicated!

Jed Jan 25th, 2006 07:29 AM

It takes some getting used to, and complete attention to the driving, meaning no distraction.

I drove on the left in NZ, and fortunately, whenever I made a turn, I had 3 people in the car say, 'look right, drive left'. Even so, there were some times I aimed towards the wrong side, although I had no accidents. Also, some of the driving customs (esp. circles) may be different than those in the US. ((R))

pb_and_j Jan 25th, 2006 07:42 AM

We got used to it pretty quickly. No the pedals aren't reversed, but the wiper/blinker switches are so whenever we didn't have much time to think (like a sudden turn) we'd flip on the wipers instead of turning arrow.
A lot of places had arrows and "keep left" painted at intersections.
Definitely learn the rules for traffic circles too!!

ALF Jan 25th, 2006 09:37 AM

You only have to worry about hook turns in Melbourne. Basically, it is a right-hand turn from the left-most lane, in order to avoid tangling with the streetcar trams that ply the center median.

Here is a Shockwave animation:

Louise Jan 25th, 2006 10:07 AM

When my husband drove in Australia, I had to be really careful to keep my arm in - I almost lost it a couple of times. I would be sure you get an automatic to avoid shifting with the opposite arm. I drove 10 days in England and was really happy to return the car with no dents. A lot of people tend to lose the hubcap or the mirror on the left side. You will be amazed how quickly you get used to everything.

In_From_The_Cold Jan 25th, 2006 10:44 AM

I would recommend three days of stress free driving to begin with, either quiet suburban streets or straight ahead freeway. The stress that goes along with making the switch and concentrating can be so tiring that you might not want to plan much driving for the beginning of your trip.
After a couple of minor errors during the first three days I was error free for the next 2 1/2 months- except for that incident 2 months into the trip when I found myself going 100KH in the wrong lane with a car approaching at 100 meters...You have to take it seriously, there have been serious accidents involving tourists making the switch.

Neil_Oz Jan 25th, 2006 01:50 PM

My wife and I had our first experience of driving on the "wrong side" (the right in our case) when we were both in our 50s, at which time you'd think we'd be more set in our ways and inflexible than when younger. As luck would have it we first had to get from Boston's Logan Airport to Salem Mass. Fortunately both are on the north side of the city and the drive was mostly through pretty familiar-looking suburban territory, but there's no doubt that at the outset it was a somewhat disorienting experience. Over the coming days and weeks it became routine and we could relax and enjoy the views. We did however manage to make the same classic mistake of turning onto an otherwise deserted road and with no other traffic to guide us (except for that old guy in the pickup who's recovering nicely from his near death experience) out of habit going into the LH lane. We each did this once only.

Pay attention and you'll be fine - really, it doesn't rate all that highly on a difficulty scale - but I agree that it's best to learn in a lightly-trafficked area. You'll find that the reversal of the driving position (but not the pedals!) actually helps you to remember where you should be. And yes, rent an automatic.

kodi Jan 25th, 2006 04:32 PM

If you just stay alert, you'll be fine. It does seem weird at first, and it always takes me a day or two to look up to the left to see out the rear view mirror instead of the right.. And I agree about putting on the windshield wipers instead of the signal. YOu can always tell who the tourists are. They are the ones that keep turning on the wipers in dry weather!

I always try to remember ...Driver to the centre of the road. SO, if you are the driver and are against the curb, MOVE over... driver to the centre of the road!
Good luck.

LynAK Jan 25th, 2006 07:24 PM

Concentrate, concentrate! But you'll be fine. I drove from Sydney airport to a southern suburb straight off the plane from the US, jetlagged and everything. My husband didn't think he could do it but I pulled it off and was very proud!

The funny thing for me is when I get back home to the US and I find myself on a small road without any markings. I have to really think about which side to be on for a few days.

jillyf Jan 25th, 2006 08:15 PM

I am Australian and had 8 weeks driving in Europe last year. We all said 'PASSENGER TO THE CURB" when turning. We knew how high the stress levels of the driver was by the number of times the windscreen wipers worked instead of indicators. When this happened the passenger became very quiet.
We didn't enjoy the narrow windy roads and driving on the "wrong side " of the these roads, but took our time and stopped often to look at the beautiful views.

Neil_Oz Jan 25th, 2006 11:17 PM

We've found the solution to the windscreen wiper problem - I bought a Toyota Camry, which being Japanese-designed and Australian-built has its stalks where you'd expect them to be. My wife bought a European-made Holden (i.e. Opel) Astra, which despite having the driver's position where you want it has its control stalks on the European sides. We swap cars frequently and are now fully bifunctional.

One of the biggest problems we had in the US was when we rented a Ford Explorer and discovered that the auto gearshift was column-mounted. I'd thought that went out with button-up boots, but I had muscle-memory from a Ford Falcon I used to drive in the '60s, and frequently grabbed the first stalk I saw on the LH of the column and yanked it. It was a tribute to Ford that despite my best efforts I never succeeded in tearing off the lights stalk.

We also rented a Dodge Neon which turned out to have a 3-speed auto transmission. No wonder Detroit is on the ropes. The Japanese have pack-raped the US auto industry, and now the Chinese are lining up for their turn.

DasFX Jan 26th, 2006 12:42 PM

Thanks for all the comments. I'm a little more releived and a little bit more apprehensive. My first day driving experience will unfortunately be from downtown Sydney to the Blue Mountains and onto Canberra. It should be interesting! :)

Neil_Oz Jan 26th, 2006 02:11 PM

Just make sure you get explicit and detailed directions for getting onto the M4 motorway to Katoomba. After that it should be plain sailing, so to speak.

johhj_au Jan 26th, 2006 02:19 PM

And take it easy when you hit the dirt between Oberon and Goulburn...and don't stop for a beer at the Taralga pub.

desertduds Jan 27th, 2006 03:30 PM

I've driven several times in the UK, always hit the curb for the first few miles, after that, mostly no problems.........just keep saying to yourself..."left, left, left".......and have the navigator say "correct" when you ask "should I turn left"...if they say "right" you'll end up going right, my husband and I had that battle several times and it wasn't pretty!!! Navigation is the main concern and looking to the car ahead and thinking there is no driver!! Very strange feeling.

fnarf999 Jan 28th, 2006 03:36 PM

Ah, the curb-bouncing. I like to think of myself as a fantastic right-hand-driver; it's just that my wife is such an awful left-hand-passenger. She thinks that driving along with the tires rubbing up against and occasionally up and over the curb the whole way indicates some kind of a problem!

The thing is, if you're an American, you're used to having your body positioned pretty far to the left of your lane, because you're on the left side of the car. Over there, if you position your body on the left of the lane, you're up the curb. I never did get the hang of it completely; I'd straighten out for a while, and then (especially when a bus or truck was coming the other way) I'd start sliding over again.

When I drove in Scotland, the problem disappeared when we ended up driving down single-tracks, where right and left no longer matter....

On our next trip, to Australia, I have been informed in no uncertain terms that I'm not driving, and neither is she.

dave_261 Jan 29th, 2006 02:28 PM

We just got back (24 hrs. ago) and had a car for about 6 days of our trip. Used it to get from Melbourne down the Great Ocean Road, up in the Cairns/Port Douglas area and a 1-day jaunt from Sydney to the Blue Mountains and back.
My first experience in the car was leaving downtown Melbourne during rush hour to get on the GOR, which was probably not the best time. However, once we got going, it was no problem at all. When possible, just follow other cars, and if now, just keep thinking, "stay left". Also, we had no trouble on navigation... the main tourist areas have plenty of signage.
You'll do fine...
PS- One other word of advice- follow the speed limit. They are very aggressive there, with cops shooting radar and speed cameras.

mlgb Jan 29th, 2006 04:03 PM

The tip I find most helpful when making a turn, is to think that the driver's body needs to wind up near the centerline of the road.

The turn signal/wipers thing is so true! I just wind up flipping both of them and turn the wipers off after the turn.

mikemo Jan 29th, 2006 04:23 PM

I have driven man trans all my life and made the transition in driving controls without any problem.
Had trouble entering the driver's side of the car (I always wanted in on the left) and knowing where the left side (of the car) was in "space", which, I think, explains the curb bouncing apexes in corners.

Neil_Oz Jan 29th, 2006 04:41 PM

A former workmate, on his first visit to the US, asked the doorman in his NYC hotel to whistle up a cab. As the cabbie was attending to his bags my friend got into the cab, and out of Australian habit occupied the seat beside the driver (a matter of ingrained politeness). It was only when he became aware that he was sitting behind the steering wheel, and the alarmed cabby started shrieking "Hey, man, whad you DOIN'?" that the penny dropped.

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