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Switching sides of the road for driving and hands for shifting--how hard?

Switching sides of the road for driving and hands for shifting--how hard?

Old Apr 9th, 2010, 10:34 AM
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Switching sides of the road for driving and hands for shifting--how hard?

We are from the US, and we own a stick shift car, so we are very used to a manual transmission. We always rent manuals on European trips since the rental rates are so much cheaper than for an automatic.

Now we plan to visit Ireland. Driving is on the left rather than the right. Shifting is done with the left hand rather than the right hand. For those of you who have switched sides of the road for driving and hands for shifting, how hard is this to manage? Do you adjust fairly quickly? I realize that for people from Britain a trip to the continent involves the same type of adjustment that those of the US have to make when visiting Britain. Of course, as usual, the cost of an automatic is about twice that of a manual, so I'd really like to know if we will regret renting our usual manual transmission car.
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Old Apr 9th, 2010, 10:44 AM
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We (okay, the hub) drove in Ireland and GB and it was an easy transition, he said. Our cars at home are manual, as well, but we ordered automatics for the left hand drive. We wanted to minimize the differences. Make sure you ask for that when your order the car!

One thing that spooked me was the dark roads in Northern Ireland at night. Might just have been the area we were in (along the Antrim coast), but the roads are narrow and there were NO streetlights!
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Old Apr 9th, 2010, 10:47 AM
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I am British, and this is something I am faced with literally every time I travel, which is at least twice a year.

In cities I obviously don't have to rent a car, but there have been many occasions when I want to travel around somewhere and renting a car is the only realistic option.

So I book the car - always a manual because it is what I am used to and it is cheaper, then suffer a degree of anxiety worrying about it until I pick up the car at my destination and get into it - on what is the wrong side for me.

Then I put it into gear, think very consciously about which side of the road I should be on, and off I go, and within maybe 10 minutes I AM FINE, and it is like I have always been driving on that side of the road.

OK, sometimes you have to THINK at junctions and roundabouts, many times you will reach for the gearstick with the other hand before realising ooops other side, you may even try to get into the car on the wrong side LOL!!

But you will be fine. The roads are pretty good in Ireland and you should adapt quickly.

Just take care when you get back home as you will have to think 'other side' for a few miles until you readjust to be being back on the 'right side'

Good luck and go for it!
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Old Apr 9th, 2010, 10:57 AM
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And your windshield will always be clean!
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Old Apr 9th, 2010, 11:02 AM
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Sometimes the problem is you arrive in Ireland early in the morning and you are very tired and now you have to learn some new habits/skills. Many roads have no shoulders only stone walls and oncoming traffic likes to drive in the center of the road. It was very scary being a passenger in the summer of 2002. We didn't have GPS so I sat with a map in my lap to know what the next little town was in order to know which direction to go on the roundabouts which seemed to come up every 10 minutes. We drove about 110 miles per day and we got to see many scenic sites but we were totally too wiped out to partake of any night life (which we regret)
Just be careful and try not to learn to drive when you are tired. It is still light at 10 pm so driving in the dark should not be an issue for you.
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Old Apr 9th, 2010, 11:05 AM
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HARD! But then I feel for the Brits who are driving on our FL roads with the bunch of idiots who live here!
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Old Apr 9th, 2010, 11:11 AM
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I found driving a manual of the left more difficult than I thought it would be. I've driven manual shift almost exclusively in the U.S. for over 30 years. Driving on the left, especially at turns requires lots of concentration and I don't think I ever got used to using my left hand for shifting.

Last time we drove in England (drove out of London) we bit the bullet and rented an automatic. It was worth it for us since then we could concentrate on finding our way.

I guess I'd give manual another chance but the automatic was just so much easier, especially on small roads where you would be down shifting and figuring out how far over to the left you can go to avoid the car coming towards you. Good luck!
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Old Apr 9th, 2010, 11:18 AM
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Switching sides of the road isn't bad at all, though I wholeheartedly agree that you don't want to drive far if you're arriving jet lagged.

I don't drive a stick period, so I can't comment on that part. However, it did take more concentration to drive in Ireland, because we Americans are not used to roundabouts and narrow roads without much of a shoulder. So my suggestion is to eliminate as many other distractions as possible and go for the automatic, if you can.
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Old Apr 9th, 2010, 11:20 AM
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I find that driving on the left is no big deal, save for the first day or two when you find yourself holding your breath as cars approach on narrow roads. The biggest problem is the amount of car that is hanging out to the left of you -- just where that hedgerow is flashing past your left mirror. My brain keeps warning me that the mass of my vehicle is sticking out to my right, and will smack the oncoming lorry. Never happens, but I must admit the left hand mirror has taken its share of scratches when I flinch away to the left.

The thing that is hardest for me is the shifting with my left hand. I'm right handed and, even though the shift pattern is the same, the part of my spinal column that controls that left hand automatically, takes a day or so to train. I have to think about it each time I change gears, usually when I should be thinking which way to go around the roundabout.

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Old Apr 9th, 2010, 11:22 AM
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We have driven many times in Ireland, N Ireland, Wales and England. Though we can both drive with a manual transmission we always get the automatic. Everything is backwards to what you are used to - we felt is was safer with an automatic for us and for the other cars on the road.

It is easy to get used to driving on the "wrong" side of the road but still there are those times so that is why the passenger watches the road too and says "keep left".

Imagine yourself in one of those big round-abouts and trying to find your lane and having to shift gears at the same time - you will be wishing you had an automatic.
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Old Apr 9th, 2010, 11:27 AM
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I did not think I could make the transition. One of our cars is manual but it is not the one I drive regularly, although we do usually rent manual in Europe.

When we went to Ireland, we requested an automatic but when we went to pick it up, they only had manual transmissions. We could either accept it or wait a day to leave Dublin. We chose to take the manual and try to trade it the next day for an automatic.

I am very directionally challenged and was totally amazed at how easy the shifting was with my left hand! I think I was so focused on driving on the correct side of the road that shifting the car just came naturally. We didn't even bother to try to trade the car for the automatic. We did knock the driver's side mirror a few times but that was not related to the shifting.

Have a great trip!
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Old Apr 9th, 2010, 12:41 PM
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Very, very easy from the other perspective (UK to US). Your brain seems to adjust after around half an hour. However, you may find that ever so often after 3 days wrong hand goes for a gear change.

The hardest part is actually driving a UK car in Europe. We have done this twice and it is easy at junctions to simple fall back into English habits.

I find it difficult to drive automatics in the US simply because you have to do less thinking and end up going into brain "cruise control" resulting in UK habits creeping in.
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Old Apr 9th, 2010, 01:30 PM
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I haven't found it to be a big problem, though driving from a two-lane road onto a dual carraigeway took all my concentration. I'd advise you to plan your drives so that you aren't too tired and you can keep your wits about you.

Many of the roads are very narrow, and I assume that will make you as nervous as it made me at times. Also, either take off the hubcaps or have them wired on. We lost three hubcaps because of the narrowness of the road.

If you don't want to pay for CDW in cash, get a World Mastercard. I got mine from Citibank. It seemed to be the only card that would cover the CDW. Maybe that's changed, but that's how it was in 2007.
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Old Apr 9th, 2010, 01:30 PM
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the conversion never bothered me a piece of cake but then again i drive in rome traffic and enjoy it
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Old Apr 9th, 2010, 01:42 PM
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I don't find it hard to drive a stick (do so at home) or to shift left handed. The times I goofed up would happen no matter if it was automatic and that is when coming out to get into the car I usually go to the wrong side. That seems to wake me up to watch and stay left. I don't find that I have the problem of staying too far left and hitting hedges or stonewalls. As Julia warns, the worst is the first few days after I get home when I have to consciously say, "Stay right." when I am on side streets without a center line (like the ones in my neighborhood).
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Old Apr 9th, 2010, 02:03 PM
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Thanks for the feedback. When I switch to driving our automatic car after a long stint of having driven the car with the stick shift, my left foot seems to automatically try to depress the clutch and my right hand seems to automatically move for the shifter for the first hour or so, so I can imagine that our bodies must in a way be programmed to get to automatically carry out certain motions we've repeated over time.

Gut level I know an automatic would probably be easiest, but I also know that we are typically pretty cheap. So, I guess we'll have to weigh all the alternatives. (My husband, who is the one who typically drives while I navigate, has already gasped at the idea of driving on the left side of the road.)
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Old Apr 9th, 2010, 02:24 PM
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I agree with julia_t and would ask if you are strictly right-handed.

I drove a "stick" in 1969 from Heathrow to downtown London with 3 other friends screaming "EEEK-look left-EEEK look right". I am left-handed but right-sided and found it difficult to adjust but made the transition as did my friends. The shifter was still in the center, but a different side was doing the shifting.

If that hasn't changed, and you have some reservations, I'd suggest renting an automatic if possible. Or have a long talk with your navigator about what he/she should say to make you stop immediately (rather than EEEK).
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Old Apr 9th, 2010, 02:39 PM
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I started visiting Ireland about 5 years ago. I always fly into Shannon on the west coast and rent a car with manual transmission at the airport. I found that by the time I was out of the airport complex shifting left handed was as natural as shifting right handed. Not a problem at all. I would suggest you buy the maximum insurance for your rental and you will still have some liability not covered. Americans and continental Europeans accustomed to driving on the right have a tendency to over correct to the left edge of road when being passed by another car and since there is usually very little berm but lots of stone fences along the edge they tear up the left side of their car. If you look at the rental cars (identified by rear window stickers) in large parking lots you will see a high percentage of them are damaged on the left side. I would also suggest that although you quickly adapt to driving on the left side of the road be very conscious of how you pull out of gas stations and stores etc after stopping to buy something. Also be careful when you make turns at intersections. You will probably have a tendency to move to the right side of the road.

Enjoy Ireland; it is fantastically beautiful.

Larry J
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Old Apr 9th, 2010, 07:28 PM
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Drove stick on four of my five trips to Ireland. No problems; I picked up the left-hand shift easily enough in just a few minutes. Now, I am not bothered by jetlag so that may be a factor. Do practice a bit in the rental car parking lot. On trip #4 we had a 6-speed Fiat Croma with the smallest gearbox in the universe but eventually I figured out where each gear was and we were fine. Never did quite figure out the windscreen wipers but it didn't rain that much....

You just need to be alert to where you are and where you are headed at all times, unlike at home where your vehicle seems to take you where you need to be without much guidance from you (if you are like me and my Jeep).

I probably will go back to manual for 2011 to save the brass. I will have good navigators this time, please God.
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Old Apr 9th, 2010, 07:33 PM
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Not a problem -- just a little re-orientation. My dad picked it up right away, even at 75. It's pretty interesting how our kinesthetic memory works - switches the pattern right over to your left hand.
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