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Tony2phones Jul 13th, 2012 12:33 AM

Driving on the Left...Easy Transition or Real Nightmare??
There is a greatly perceived fear factor when it comes to driving on the opposite side of the road. This fear factor seems to be mainly with US drivers. Europeans seem less terrified by the prospect?

I would not advocate driving mindless miles straight off a red eye (although some "Travel Experts" do!) but what are the stories from those who have actually made the transition and lived to talk about it..

hetismij2 Jul 13th, 2012 12:51 AM

I grew up in Britain. I passed my driving test in Britain aged 17.
I have lived in the Netherlands now for nearly 30 years. Only twice since then have a driven a RHD car in Britain or Ireland. The first time was only a couple of years after moving here. I kept trying to change gear with the door handle, but otherwise found it no problem.
The second time was just a couple of years ago in Ireland. Not only did I struggle with gear changing with the "wrong hand" but also with road positioning. After a couple of hours I had the road positioning down pat, though I had to really think about it every morning again, but the gear changing took a couple of days to get over.
But then I still try to change gear when I drive my husbands automatic here so that is probably just me ;).
I may have found the road positioning more difficult than most as I am used to driving a LHD car in the UK when I visit.

Cowboy1968 Jul 13th, 2012 12:58 AM

As a European, I am not terrified but try to avoid it as much as possible. It's simply a PITA and I have no intention to get used to something that you don't need in the civilized world.

Yet, and much more important, the scenic 7 day road trip across Great Britain or Ireland is a far far far less popular vacation for people from the Continent (why should you spend money to get where the weather is even worse than at home?) than for Americans.
Most European tourists going there will be either business travelers going to one of the major conurbations, or people on shopping trips going to London. Neither group will want or rent a car.
A small number will do the Ireland loop drive.
So you don't read much complaining or worrying as it is a very unusual type of vacation which only very few Europeans will even consider In the first place (compared with going to Spain, Italy, Greece, Turkey, France, Florida, California, Maledives, or South Sudan).

But you will have very experienced drivers who adjust very hard to the wrong side of the road. And drivers who get lost in a mall parking lot at home, but cope with the left side and right hand steering surprisingly well. It's easier when you travel with someone who can scream at you when you try to get the right side of the road.

Kate Jul 13th, 2012 01:19 AM

I drive frequently on mainland Europe (from the UK) and have no problems switching – the main issue is getting used to road positioning, but for me it's a pretty minor consideration.

It comes down to how confident a driver you are. My partner hates driving in Europe and I have no problem.

hetismij2 Jul 13th, 2012 01:28 AM

Kate - do you drive a RHD or LHD car when in Europe? If you are in your own car it is a lot easier to drive on the other side in my experience.

Most Europeans who do go to Britain take their own car, so it isn't so bad. I have no problem with being in my own car in Britain. Never have trouble with road positioning or accidentally driving on the wrong side of the road. It's getting used to sitting on the wrong side of the car and driving, with everything the other way round which I find tough.

Reading54 Jul 13th, 2012 02:05 AM

I agree with hetismij, driving on the wrong side of the road is easy to adjust, but switching from a LHD car to a RHD car is a nightmare. One totally lost the sense of how much clearance you have between your car and the car parked on the left hand side to you on the street.

flanneruk Jul 13th, 2012 02:31 AM

The problem isn't which side you drive, or which side your steering wheel's on.

It's that, for Europeans, changing sides in Europe still means pretty much the same kinds of road conditions. For them, changing sides outside Europe usually means doing so in a much emptier country (North America for the British, Australasia or South Africa for the Continentals).

For English-speaking non-Europeans, though, driving in Europe inevitably means narrower, slower, more congested roads. Almost inevitably tougher than at home (New Yorkers just don't drive, and Sydneysiders do so rarely) - and switching sides adds to the problem.

It makes absolutely no difference to my perception of distance or clearance whether I'm driving my (RHD) car or a hired (LHD) car in Italy, because Italian roads aren't that different from those at home. I suspect it's a much bigger shock to someone navigating, say, Orvieto who's used mainly to trips to a Walmart carpark somewhere in suburban Nebraska.

indy_dad Jul 13th, 2012 02:44 AM

American with now 16 months in the UK. Flanner's made some key points.

Some issues with going from US to UK (and LHD to RHD):

a) road positioning
b) road conditions (narrower, cars parked in road, hedges, walls, etc.)
c) different road signs (and sign locations)
d) unfamiliarity with area
e) congestion (when dealing with above)
f) non-directional (North, south, etc.) "directions"
g) etc.

One can get over the positioning fairly quickly and having a GPS/Sat Nav also helps. However, the level of concentration required is much higher. It was a month before I could have much of a conversation in the car and months before I turned on the radio. :)

I good chunk of that would apply for US to Europe but the added bit of swapping sides adds to the stress.

indy_dad Jul 13th, 2012 02:45 AM

. . . a good chunk

mjdh1957 Jul 13th, 2012 03:08 AM

I live in the UK so drive on the left but have driven a fair bit in the US and Europe.

It's easier in an automatic to adjust to the steering being on the wrong side of the car. I've driven manual gear cars in Spain and find the adjustment to changing gear with the wrong hand quite hard at first.

If you have a passenger, get them to remind you which side of the road to drive on every time you set off. It's easy to get confused setting off from petrol stations or supermarket car parks.

All your instincts are wrong so it takes some time to override them, but if you relax, have a passenger to guide you and don't try and drive straight off an early-morning arrival from the US, it should be fine.

Millions of visitors make this adjustment every year.

easytraveler Jul 13th, 2012 03:15 AM

California driver here.

One time landed in Manchester after a long (one stop) flight from the West Coast and immediately got into a rental car to drive to Wales. Found the roads in Wales a bit of a challenge. There would be a sheer rock cliff on one side, a stone wall on the other and the road would be wide enough only for the oncoming local bus. WHAT THE HECK AM I SUPPOSED TO DO? I found counting the sheep settled my stress level a lot - and there were plenty of sheep in Wales.

Another time had to drive to see good friend in Oxford. Got off the plane, got into a rental car immediately and drove off. Was testing the gear shift and since I'm left-handed, shifting with the left hand is easy for me. However, I couldn't find the reverse and nearly forgot to drive on the wrong side of the street. I was so focused on finding the reverse that I almost creamed a bunch of cars on my right. Drove all the way to Oxford without having to reverse the car - whew! Finally arrived and drove up my friend's long driveway. "Halloo! Halloo!" and she told me to reverse back down to a parking spot further down the driveway. Aw, heck! I don't know how to reverse this car - her husband finally came out and with many incredulous clucks and chuckles got the car into the parking space. I can't remember ever reversing that particular car.

Kate Jul 13th, 2012 03:18 AM

>>Kate - do you drive a RHD or LHD car when in Europe? If you are in your own car it is a lot easier to drive on the other side in my experience.<<

Pretty much always LHD as I hire locally, and find it much easier than driving my British car overseas, where I find visibility at junctions much harder. I have zero problems switching hands on the gear stick, though I do still find myself heading for the wrong car door in the car park.

Kate Jul 13th, 2012 03:20 AM

>>Found the roads in Wales a bit of a challenge. There would be a sheer rock cliff on one side, a stone wall on the other and the road would be wide enough only for the oncoming local bus. WHAT THE HECK AM I SUPPOSED TO DO? I found counting the sheep settled my stress level a lot - and there were plenty of sheep in Wales.<<

Ha ha! easytraveller, we city dwellers ALL feel like that on welsh mountain roads, whichever side of the road we're used to!

Melnq8 Jul 13th, 2012 03:27 AM

Yank here. Forced to learn to drive on the left when we moved to Indonesia, but didn't really experience it fully (as in city driving and traffic) until we moved to Australia. The biggest obstacle was ME, getting over my fear and just getting on with it.

It's a piece of cake now, except for the few days of transition between countries. I have to think instead of just react, but adjustment is pretty quick.

colduphere Jul 13th, 2012 03:30 AM

I will never forget my first time renting a car (a standard) in Glasgow airport (we are Canadian). I say to the rental woman ..."It's our first time driving over here, is it hard to get on the motorway?" Oh it's easy she say, "Pull out of your spot, then it's roundabout, roundabout, roundabout, then under the motorway, then roundabout and then up on the motorway."

Let's just say it took awhile.

Cathinjoetown Jul 13th, 2012 03:31 AM

indy_dad's advice about roadsigns is excellent, many are the same as in the States but not all.

Learn roundabout/rotary etiquette and who has priority.

CarrieAnn40 Jul 13th, 2012 04:10 AM

I agree with mjdh that it is much easier to adjust if you are in an automatic. We drove in California and I found the transition fairly easy. I have never tried a manual car with the gear stick on the wrong side which I guess would be interesting.

What I found surprising in California was the significantly lower use of indicators than I am used to and the fact that many of them were not a distinctly different colour from the brake lights. In the UK brake lights are red and indicators are orange so they are easy to see and we use the indicators the whole time. I found it disconcerting on the freeways with people changing lane around me with no indication. Here we indicate and as you shouldn't undertake generally motorways are fairly predictable. Until it all grinds to a near halt when you should then maintain lane discipline so the different lanes are undertaking and overtaking each other on both sides.

KTtravel Jul 13th, 2012 04:10 AM

I would highly recommend splurging for an automatic rather than dealing with shifting gears. I know an automatic is usually more expensive but you'll have enough to deal with.

The first time my husband and I tried to drive in the UK, I was ready to abandon the car on the side of the road and just pay for it -- I was that traumatized. However, by the second day of driving we were OK. We have taken other trips and the adjustment has never been as bad as that very first time.

I would recommend not trying this alone as it seems to require the concentration of the two of us. My husband usually drives and I'm the navigator assisting him with the roundabouts and reminding him which lane to turn into, etc.

annettafly Jul 13th, 2012 04:15 AM

Detroiter here. I was afraid of it my first time in Ireland, but my friend and I caught on pretty quickly and it became fun. The passenger's job was to navigate and prompt the driver to stay in the correct lane. I was worried that we'd have to pay for damage when we returned the car, but the guy said they generally come back that way and the scratches would buff out. On my second and third trips I looked forward to the challenge. Last time there were four of us so we had a bigger car, which did produce a good amount of screaming. And a lot of laughs as we circled repeatedly on the roundbouts.

Love everything about Ireland. Wish I were there right now---for the weather.

BKP Jul 13th, 2012 05:47 AM

American driving in the UK for 5 years:

Melnq8 says it perfectly -- you must think instead of react. So much of our driving has become instinctual. Looking one way then another at a t junction for example.

I also agree with learning the real rules of a roundabout. I assumed when we first moved here that I could just stay in the outside lane of a roundabout until my exit came up. I thought that was me "staying out of the way" of those that wanted to drive in the inside lanes! Quickly learned my lesson!!

I haven't driven a RHD for two years. When we go back to the states this summer I assume it will take a couple of "Left side! Left side!" shouts from my husband and then it will be smooth driving! We found that once you're on the road it's easy to remember, but turning out of a car park onto a road it's easy to forget which side.

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