Terrified of Driving

Jun 30th, 2001, 10:11 AM
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Terrified of Driving

We can't help it, we're terrified of driving on the "wrong side"...we visit Scotland several times a year and need to be able to explore the Highlands and Islands but are certain we will cause a ten-car pile up at the first roundabout we encounter. How have others learned to rein in all their driving instincts to adjust to a new system? Should we take a train to the suburbs and rent in a less congested area? Will the rental agencies give you a tutoring lesson in their parking lot? I can drive a standard but is that an added complication? Don't laugh at us, although we must sound like bumbling idiots.
Jun 30th, 2001, 10:29 AM
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It's not the "wrong" side, it's the "other" side.
Jun 30th, 2001, 10:50 AM
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Take a train to the suburbs and rent your car there. It's easier to adjust when there is less traffic. My husband found it a lot easier and less stressful than he thought it would be. We met many other tourists who weren't used to driving on the "other" side of the road and all seemed to be doing just fine. Remember, if you just can't handle it you can return your car.

Jun 30th, 2001, 10:59 AM
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My husband is a very good driver with years of experience but he has had little accidents driving in the U.K. He does all right on the roundabouts but tends to drive to far on the left [once shattering our left mirror on the side of a parked truck]. He once had to back up and did so on the right. Unfortunatly, there was an American driver behind him, on the right side of the driveway. And the really dangerous time was when we pulled out of a driveway onto a two lane road, just missing a car that was whizzing by. I would love to tour a lot of the stately homes but can't find a bus tour that stops at a lot of them. And he drives an automatic in the U.K. Once he forgot his drivers license renewal so we had to cancel our auto rental reservation and take public buses because there is no way that I would ever attempt to drive there myself!!!
Jun 30th, 2001, 11:26 AM
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Dear Mary:
I, for one, wouldn't laugh at you over your driving fears. Our experience (unlike others who, on previous posts, all spoke confidently of driving on the "other" side) really was very negative. If we had it to do over, we would have gone by train & utilized local tours. (E.g., in York there were tours to the Dales and to the Brontes, e.g.)
I once read on this post that in a couple of years, they'll be driving on the right side of the road in Ireland. Hope that's true. Maybe this will come to Scotland too. But maybe it was just a rumor.
Good luck whatever you deside.

there a whole week, then returned to London. So much for exploring the countryside.
If y
Jun 30th, 2001, 11:44 AM
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You can rent an automatic for starters, albeit at a higher price...but this removes the complicator of shifting with ones left hand which is definitely not a good idea if you are already nervous. The advice that you only drive on country roads (perhaps picking up the car at the airport rather than in the city) is also good. There is a definite tendency to veer to the left and come perilously close to parked cars. I believe this is because the driver's mind instinctually wants to place his/her body toward the left of the lane as we are accustomed when sitting on the left side of the car. Therefore, it is very important that the left front passenger alert the driver when he/she starts drifting too close to parked cars on the left and the driver should take the passenger's word for it and adjust immediately. Roundabouts are not nearly as difficult as one would think, but again the passenger should be navigator and announce ahead of time and point to which offshoot road should be taken, even saying, for example, "follow the red car!" That way the driver can remain focused on being in the correct lane. Just remember that when merging into the roundabout those already in it have the right of way. If you overshoot your turn off, don't panic simply go 'round one more time and try to catch it on the second or third attempt. Another very important piece of advice is to always stay alert and concentrate while driving, even saying aloud, for example, when making a left turn, 'stay on this same side of the road' or when making a right turn 'cross over to the other side.' Once you think you've got the hang of it is when you'll be most dangerous because you might get cocky! Even after weeks, you're intincts won't have shifted over. If, after all this advice, you still feel nervous, I'd say opt for a small group tour and relax! Don't do what your gut tells you not to.
Jun 30th, 2001, 01:13 PM
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The first time I drove on the left I was fearless, invulnerable and bullet proof. This was in 1968 and I drove my "navigator's" car. Boy, did she get mad when I passed on the left! Fast forward to 2001 and now I know why. I also realize that I'm no longer invincible and I need to be careful. This time I rented a car at the airport in Paisley (Glasgow) and drove very carefully to our hotel in Uplawmoor. At that point I had only had about two hours sleep in the past 24 hours and jet lag and fatigue made me try to be even more careful. Different navigator this trip, too. The navigator is vital because you'll be concentrating more on driving and you'll need someone to check the maps and watch for signs and lights. Here in the USA the lights and signs tend to be higher and more in-your-face. In the UK they tend to be lower and in many cases the signs are painted on the road with no other sign. As much as you don't want to have an accident, the people around you don't want it either. I think that starting out in Scotland was very beneficial to being a beginner at driving on the left. The traffic was very light outside of the cities and even driving in Glasgow and Edinburgh was not that difficult, although by the time I drove in Glasgow I was better rested and jet lag was gone.
It does take more concentration but if you remember that the road is reversed it isn't that hard. You also take wide right turns and narrow left turns. Take it easy and think about what you're doing while driving and you should be fine. It really isn't that hard. I'm sure there are millions of people who have successfully learned to drive on the "other" side.
Jun 30th, 2001, 01:41 PM
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Mary, I advise that count to ten, take a deep breath, and relax. It's the best thing you can do before starting out, every time you get behind the rule. I've lived in the UK twice, and switched back and forth. No, it's not super easy, but it's not as hard as you might think it would be. Rules you've used all your life still apply--stop at a stop sign. Yield when it's called for. Stop on red, etc. The only thing now is that you'll be doing it on the left. And it CAN be done. Thousands of American GIs do it every year. I've found that you'll be concentrating on your driving so much you'll probably have even LESS chance of having an accident.
A few hints: First, put yourself toward the center of the road. If you do that, you won't be wrong.
Second, DON'T get a stick. As someone said, it's difficult to suddenly shift with your left hand. If you're concentrating on that, you won't be concentrating on the road. Stick to an automatic--it's well worth the extra cost.
Third, as already emphasized, use a navigator--it's almost essential, especially if you don't know exactly where you are going. Then LISTEN to the navigator and believe him/her.
Fourth, learn to laugh as you suddenly turn on your windshield wipers instead of your turn signal. (And you will, probably many times, because those levers are usually reversed in position also. After two years in the UK I still did it occasionally.) Simply turn on the turn signal as quickly as possible, THEN turn off the wipers. Laughing at your mistake will help you be less embarrassed and relieve a lot of your tension, I've found.
Four, please don't let your fear keep you from experiencing rural Scotland. Realize that fear is there and use it to your advantage. The fear will cause adrenalin to be produced and that can be a good thing. Just try to relax your way through it (a deep breath, remember), and you'll be OK. The results (i.e., seeing all the beautiful Scottish countryside) will be worth it and you'll be better and more self-confident for the experience.

Have fun in that wonderful country.
Jun 30th, 2001, 02:53 PM
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Just returned from UK. Not our first trip but it was our first time driving there. It wasn't as bad as you might think. You just have to use common sense. First, don't try a long drive immediately after getting there. Rest for a day and get over your jet lag. Second, forget any extra cost and get an automatic, especially if you are generally used to driving one. Third, don't under any circumstances drive in London. As for the rest, driving is not that hard. Roundabouts are easy. In fact, after using them for almost a month, I prefer them to the use of stop signs at just about every intersection in the US. Just remember the person already in the roundabout has the right of way. Simply look to your right, if no one is coming around, proceed into the roundabout exiting onto which ever roadway you want. If you miss your turn, simply go around again. Whenever you get to other intersections where you have to turn left or right, say to yourself "little left, big right". Actually the whole family was saying it by the time we finished our trip. It reminds you to cross the road to make a right turn, but stay on the same side making a left. It also helps to have your passenger assist you by telling you when the road is clear. After driving for years in the US you naturally tend look the "wrong way" to see if the road is clear to make your left or right turn. With two of you doing it, it gets easier. When you are driving, particularly in Scotland, Wales, most cities, and some parts of England, you have to remember that roads tend to be narrower than in the US. For this reason, it means the driver must hug the center line as much as possible. This can be a little nerve racking at first, especially when large trucks are approaching you or on crowded streets with parked cars. If you get nervous, simply slow down. Your passenger can tell you if you are getting too close to the left side. If you get really nervous, just take a break. If you are driving on the major motorways, stay out of the far right lane. Stick to the middle lane(s). People in England tend to drive extremely fast on these roadways and you will only get in their way. Finally, take it slow at first. It is much easier to adjust that way. If a lot of cars get stuck behind you, simply pull over and let them pass. They'll appreciate it and you won't be so stressed. The road signs can be a little confusing at first. You really need your passenger to be the navigator, to look out for road signs and where to turn. You'll be busy enough with doing the driving. After two or three days, you'll both have the hang of it and it gets much easier. It also helps to get detailed driving instructions before you leave. We used the UK Automobile Association web site to get very detailed instructions for driving from place to place. A good UK road Atlas is also very helpful. If you do get lost, don't be afraid to ask. Everyone we asked was very helpful. Have a great trip.
Jun 30th, 2001, 03:02 PM
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If your husband tends to drive to the left too much I think there is a remedy.
Recently I've seen adds of TV for a new type of golf club that helps you drive straighter.
I think the ad is something like a man walking down a hallway and keeps veering to one side. The new clubs really seemed to help him.
Jun 30th, 2001, 04:15 PM
Bob Brown
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I can understand the problem that Mary raises quite well.
I know the times I was in England and Scotland, I would approach a pedestrian crossing and instinctively look left for approaching traffic.
I was there once with my son, who was 16 at the time. He would grab my arm and steer me right. He had no problems with the traffic approaching on the "other side". For me it is definitely the "wrong side".
A funny incident happened when a friend of ours was taking us on a tour of the area around Windsor. I instinctively walked to the "passenger" side of the car and started to get in. Our host laughed when I look surprised to find a steering wheel where I planned to sit. (He had seen that act before.)He said "Oh, do you want to drive?"
On the road, I would be ok going straight, but it is the turns off of a multi lane road that would get me.

Jun 30th, 2001, 10:04 PM
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You have some valuable advise ..I can just add that I had read somewhere that by wearing your watch on the "wrong" wrist it will jog your memory to stay on the left side of the road..I didnt believe it but it works!!Best advise is to have a calm navigator who can guide you and caution you to stay alert.
Jul 1st, 2001, 06:45 PM
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Hi Mary.....
All the advice you received so far is good. I, too, was afraid of getting behind the wheel in the UK the first time, but it is well worth it to try. The backroads are the best way to see rural parts of the country. I found that sitting on the "wrong side" of the car was a constant reminder to drive on the opposite side of the road. I didn't have any trouble getting used to shifting with my left hand (not bragging, just trying to reassure you). And keep in mind that although Brits are fast drivers they are a very courteous folk and that includes driving. Roundabouts are not to be feared. They are quite practical. When you come to one...STOP first....look right...and proceed when it's clear using the outside lane for the next immediate turn and the inner lane to go round. It's not at all like our traffic circles where it's a free-for-all. Brits tend to actually follow rules and it keeps the chaos and carnage at bay. A warning though...the backroads are very narrow in places and a smaller car may feel more comfortable on the road. Americans tend to like everything bigger, in this case, smaller is better. I also suggest having the attendant at the car rental go over the car in detail to get you familiar with the controls. Good luck!
Jul 1st, 2001, 10:14 PM
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I say listen to your fears. Sure you can do it, but will you be safe? Lots of people drive after a few beers or after staying up for 36 hours.
I drove for a while in Australia, and did very well for 4 days, but almost got nailed when I pulled out from a driveway right in front of a truck. He swerved, the oncoming car swerved, I saw my life flash before me, but luckily we all managed to avoid hitting each other.
I don't recommend it unless you have to.
BTW, country roads are the most dangerous. you have to deal with passing, hidden driveways and other surprises.
Jul 2nd, 2001, 07:22 AM
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I think the title of your posting answers your question. If you are terrified, then you probably don't want to attempt to drive in Scotland.

In my personal experience, driving in Scotland and Britain is relatively easy--I rent automatics, don't drive in major cities if possible, and have an excellent navigator.

Good luck

David White
Jul 5th, 2001, 05:41 AM
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There are a couple of earlier threads on this that cover the subject of driving in the UK pretty thoroughly.

There is lots of good advice on them.

You can probably find them by using the search function above. I'd try the keywords 'driving' and 'UK' to start with.
Jul 5th, 2001, 08:29 AM
J T Kirk
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I think Daphe mentioned that her husband had the problem of staying too far to the left. That's my problem. Is that common (at least, initially)? I found it difficult to make right turns; I'd keep leaning to the left, instead of turing to the right. Is that normal, or is my equilibrium way off base? (I'm actually a great driver - I've driven all over Italy and France with no problems. I had no fear on driving on the "other" side when I got there, but it turned out to be a bit of a problem.)
Jul 5th, 2001, 02:18 PM
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JT, happened to me too in England, driving too close to the left side. Good think my sideview mirror was able to bend, because I swiped something on the left. Must be a common reaction.
Jul 5th, 2001, 06:30 PM
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Yes, it's a common problem. You keep telling yourself to stay left, stay left, and you DO!
Jul 6th, 2001, 07:49 AM
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Am I relieved to find that it wasn't just me with the driving to the left problem. I could not figure out why I had this problem with many years of driving experience.

Some of the best advice I got on this board had to do with me being terrified of driving in England and wanting to explore the Cotswolds. You have gotten excellent advice so I will just reiterate what helped me. If I can do it believe me so can you.

First, but all means rent an automatic. I changed my car reservation based on suggestions from this board and I will thank forever those who gave that advice (this from an excellent manual driver). Secondly, do not get a car any larger than you need. I literally froze when trucks and tour busses passed me on those tiny country roads for awhile. Resign yourself that for awhile it will be stressful and work with your partner on navigating. My husband would literally guide me through the round-abouts which IMO was the hardest part of driving. Once you get the hang of it it gets better. Also have your partner remind you when you are driving to far to the left or compensating by driving to the right. Usually hitting tree branches or curves will remind you on the left. Also, we rented a car at Heathrow instead of the city as suggested. I would have left the car in the middle of the road after two minutes if I had rented in London. The take a deep breath suggestion worked wonders. Just breath deeply, calm yourself and tell yourself you are a big girl. I almost drove back to the airport to return the car after the first couple of round-abouts and that would have been a terrible mistake. Have a wonderful time!

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