Driving in other countries can sound a little scary at first especially when you are driving on the left side. The signs are different, the rules are different, the way the lanes operate, speed limits, or lack thereof! So many things can seem overwhelming at first. Have no fear, I am here to tell you that it’s NOT THAT BAD!
The majority of the world drives on the right side of the road. Save for the UK and Australia/New Zealand. So our trip to New Zealand was the first experience we had with driving on the other side of the road. We were pretty concerned about this, there is so many horror stories about pretty bad accidents with tourists getting confused. After picking up our rental car and sitting in the seats for a few minutes, orienting ourselves with the car we started discussing ways to ensure we wouldn’t have any mishaps. Here are a few things we came up with that helped us and we hope will help you too!
Take your time!
It’s much better to annoy someone driving slow or pausing too long at a stop sign than to hastily react and cause an accident.
Familiarize yourself with your vehicle.
When you first get in the car it will likely feel really strange. For me, it was disorienting to sit in the “driver seat” and have no wheel! We decided to pretend like it was the first time we drove. David pointed out the gas and brake. Once the car was on he turned the indicators and wipers.
While the gas brakes and many other parts of the car remain in the same place no matter what side of the car the wheel is on, this is not the case for the indicator and wipers. We had two cars during our New Zealand trip, the first car was European, and the wipers and indicators were in reverse. Our second car was American and they were the same as they are in the States.
Stay aware of your surroundings at all times!
It’s never a good idea to text/eat/whatever and drive but this is even more important when you are driving on the left side of the road. Further, read all signs and keep your eyes on the road. Larger cities know there are many tourists, so everything is usually very clearly marked with arrows and large text. If you stay aware of the signs and these markings, should you find yourself on the wrong side you should be able to quickly correct it. Unlike here in America where we spell things out, literally, in English on the majority of the signs. Most other countries use symbols and numbers only. They are basically the same shape and colors of the signs here though so it’s easy to quickly ascertain what they mean.
Remember this mantra when Driving on the Left Side!
This is my favorite tip! We came up with this little mantra: “Short left, long right”. It’s to remind you that when you turn left you turn in the closest lane and when you turn right you turn out to the farther lane. Which is the opposite of the states, where we have short rights and long lefts. Anytime we approached an intersection we would say this together right before we made a turn. It helped so so much.
Don’t leave it up to the driver.
This one is to the copilots. Yes, the driver is, well, the one driving. That doesn’t leave you off the hook! It may have been a while since you learned to drive, but try to remember when you were first learning to drive. How many things you had to remember? How overwhelming it was. Driving on the other side of the road first the first time is similar to that. So even though you are not the one behind the wheel it’s important you stay alert and awake and help the driver in any way you can, especially at first.
Familiarize yourself with the rules of the road.
This one is important no matter which side of the road you will be driving on. It’s a great idea to know what you are getting into before driving to other places. Rules of the road are pretty standard but there are small differences that can make a big difference, you can look these up before you go. You can also ask the rental car company when you pick up your car, they have enough experience with tourists that they usually know if there is anything specific you should note when driving in their country.
For example, in Europe the left lane is actually a passing lane, you don’t want to stay driving in that lane, pass a slower vehicle, and get back to the right side.
Another thing you find in Europe is roundabouts. They are more common than stop signs and can be a little weird at first to get used to. They keep traffic moving nicely though, you yield when entering them instead of stopping and waiting like a stop sign intersection. These can be quite large and have many exits so you have to be aware of your exit or you will just be driving in circles.
Know the road conditions.
This is another one that applies no matter what side you drive on. It’s important to know what the roads are like and what the weather will be when you are driving. In some countries, like New Zealand, the weather changes constantly so having a smaller SUV is wise. In Ireland, the roads are very narrow, I mean narrow! You worry about the side mirrors often! So a small vehicle is highly recommended. Iceland has many unfinished roads when you get out of town so an SUV is pretty much required if you will be exploring the ring road.
Wherever you are going it’s important to know what you are getting into so you can properly plan your vehicle choice and brush up on driving tips for weather you may not have much experience with (like snow for us Californians).
Give yourself more time than you think.
The GPS is fairly accurate but since you are new to the area you may drive slower than you think around windy turns, the weather could change, or in some counties, animals may block your path for an undetermined amount of time. This happened to us with sheep in Iceland, New Zealand, and Ireland!
Get Gas Often!
One last helpful tip I will leave you with when it comes to driving in other countries no matter what side of the road you are on, is to GET GAS OFTEN if you are leaving the major cities. Rural parts often have very few gas stations so top it off whenever you can!
Wrap Up for Tips when Driving on the Left Side
The first time we had to drive on the other side of the road it took us a couple hours to adapt but it wasn’t nearly as scary as we thought it would be! we hope these little tips will help you stay safe when driving on the other side of the road! The good news is once to get used to it, it’s fairly easy to switch back and forth in the future!
Any tips or tricks you have found while driving in other countries or places?? Share them in the comments!