Driving on the “Other Side”
When I booked a car rental for Ireland, I did some research on what it’s like to drive on the other side of the road. Nothing could have prepared me for what it was REALLY like. Here’s what we wish we had known….
#1. Request an automatic. You will need to do this in ADVANCE – when you book it. Do not wait until you arrive to request one because it may not be available. If you get a stick shift, you’ll be shifting with your left hand instead. The pedals were the same as they are in America, so that was a small blessing.
#2. Driver’s console. You aren’t just driving on the other side of the road. You’ll also have to get used to being on the other side of the car. This means that your sense of spatial distance on the left side of the car will be way off. You may find yourself getting way too close to the cars parked on the road. Driving will feel like a jousting match.
#3. Yeah; you need the insurance. There is too much at risk to not have it. We scratched up our car pretty nicely because the roads were so narrow that we were constantly hugging the scratchy bushes lining the streets. It felt like learning how to drive all over again, everything felt new and awkward and weird. The stress was intense and every day felt pregnant for an accident.
#4. Car size: You might be tempted to get the smallest, cheapest car you can get which is a great choice if you’d like to die in a tin can destroyed by an oncoming tour bus. If the area you are visiting has tiny, narrow roads, you’ll be grateful for having a tiny car. If you want some peace of mind, go midsize. It helped.
#5. Road markings: Look them up and learn them before your trip. The road markings made no sense to us whatsoever. We never did figure out what some markings and signs meant.
In the US, a double yellow line is usually the center divider and dashed white lines separate lanes of traffic going in the same direction. In Scotland, the yellow line was right next to the curb and the dashed white line was the center divider.
#6: Road Signs. In Ireland, all road signs were in both English and Gaelic/Irish. That meant I had to do a lot of reading every time we came to a sign. GPS alone wasn’t always sufficient or very helpful. Freeway signs were the same; the only difference was we were speeding by them too fast to interpret the sign and figure out what was relevant to us and what wasn’t.
#7. Narrow Roads: While driving the Ring of Kerry, we found ourselves on “two lane” roads that were as wide as two American bike lanes. It was slightly terrifying to have oncoming buses and local drivers zooming toward us at 50 mph. They are used to this. We weren’t.
#8. Visual Cues. Don’t rely on visual cues such as which way cars are facing parked along the street. In some cases, people park facing either direction. This will mess with your head when trying to figure out which side of the street you should be on. If you get nervous, just stay behind a car in front of you even if it means going slower than you’d like.
#9. Roundabouts: Learn the etiquette for roundabouts BEFORE you get on the road. If you are taking the first exit on the roundabout, stay in the outside lane. If you are taking any other exit, take the inside lane and merge over to the exit when you approach it. This took us an entire week to get comfortable with even though we were doing them constantly.
#10. You need a navigator: For us, driving was definitely a two person job. As the navigator, I had to ensure Michael stayed on the correct side of the road by directing him on which lane to be in (this wasn’t always obvious!) along with when and where to turn.
I also served as a second set of eyes, helping him merge, watching for oncoming traffic, pedestrians, cyclists and livestock wandering onto the road. Since his focus was on survival, I had to quickly interpret street signs and GPS and provide direction on what to do next. Unless you are driving 5 miles an hour, everything happens extremely fast. It can be a lot of information to process and act upon at once.
We quickly figured out that we needed specific keywords to convey commands. I kept commands short. When Michael was about to sideswipe cars on my side, I would say, “Center” to tell him to get into the center of his lane. Apparently, “OH MY GOD MOVE OVER YOU ARE GOING TO HIT THAT CAR!” didn’t work very well.
And when you freak out… You will default to what you know. Which is to drive like you do at home. And trust me, you will freak out many times because cars will come out of nowhere, drivers will get mad at you, and you’ll feel pressure to make quick decisions. You might want to avoid driving during intense times of day like rush hour or night. In general, the best thing we did was just focus on the car in front of us and follow them. You can always turn around once you find a clear place to do so.
It was definitely an adventure. It also added a lot of extra stress to the trip since we spent 6 days driving all over the southern half of Ireland and didn’t figure out how roundabouts worked until day 3.
Overall, we were glad we did it and would have done it again. It gave us freedom to explore (we saw amazing things that tour buses couldn’t get to). But be forewarned; it was far scarier than I had expected. If you just want to relax on your trip, do a tour bus or hire a driver.
But if you want a good travel adventure, I guarantee this will be a bonding experience and a source of many great stories.
Safe travels – however you may go!
Posted on October 1, 2016, in Travel and tagged Driving, dublin, ireland, left side, london, narrow roads, other side, rental cars, ring of kerry, roundabouts, scotland, united kingdom. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.