We're looking to visit the Cotswolds next month as part of a trip to England. I've never driven in a country that drives on the left side. How difficult is it to make the transition to left-side driving? What has been your experiences with this?
When I moved to England, I had to begin driving to work my 2nd day in the country. Driving on the "correct" side wasn't difficult. Roundabouts didn't even trip me up.
I did have to take extra caution pulling out of parking lots onto city streets and making sure I was turning into the "correct" lane. I had the same problem when I returned home after living there a few years. I really had to think about which lane to pull into from a parking lot.
Well, that and I kept heading toward the driver's side of my British boyfriend's car and he would inquire, jokingly, if I was driving :-)
Thanks for the feedback. I was in Australia a few years ago & my son drove. Pulling out of a parking lot struck me as particularly risky, especially if there was no nearby traffic.
The big problem is that in an emergency/panic situation, you tend to fall back on old habits and that will be wrong in England. It is OK in light traffic when you have plenty of time to thing about what you are doing.
In reverse, I have never had any issues switching to driving on the right when I drive in Europe or the USA. The issues arise more when we take our UK car into mainland Europe, which isn’t an issue that will concern you.
I would add two recommendations - reserve an automatic so that you don't have to worry about shifting with the your left hand and choose as small a vehicle as you can based on the number of people traveling in your party. Many of the roads, particularly in the countryside areas, are very narrow and some are single track with laybys you can pull into when a car is coming the opposite direction. These are much easier to negotiate with a small car. If you have time, read the Highway Code and watch some youtube videos that show how to negotiate round - abouts and demonstrate the rules about right of way. Also have whoever will be your navigator watch these with you so that he/she can (gently) remind you when you are turning onto a road as to which is the appropriate lane to turn into.
I adapted quickly. I also had no problem with a standard transmission. I only got tripped up twice, the first day we were there and the day we drove from Skye to St. Andrews.
I agree with getting the smallest car possible. We spent a lot of time in the wilds of Scotland on single track roads more narrow than our driveway!
Driving on the "wrong side" was on my very short list of too-scared-to-dos until last year in the Cotswolds when I realized my driving friend (who had lived and driven in Ireland years ago) was slowly but certainly melting under the pressure. I looked up into the sky for any ominous sign this was a bad idea, then said "Let's swap places. I can do this." I was surprised how quickly I adjusted after the first stretch where I overcompensated and drove with the left wheels almost in the ditch.
What was most helpful was an automatic transmission and a calm friend riding shotgun to navigate. Didn't find roundabouts too difficult, but needed someone else to watch the Navigate and count exits. I will admit I never attempted to parallel park. And I did return the car without refilling the tank because crossing three+ lanes of traffic on the ring road around Oxford just felt too daunting. That's also where I missed the correct roundabout exit and had to drive through the center of the city.
All in all, it was easier than I thought, but I didn't enjoy a lot of scenery because I was so totally focused on staying on the correct side of the road all the time.
Although I’ve driven there many times, I still opt for an automatic, rather than a standard transmission. The only things I had to keep in mind were which is the fast lane on the highways, don’t linger in the fast lanes, and which lane to be in at which time, in roundabouts. Adjusting to driving on the other side is relatively easy and surprisingly quick.
I find the transition to driivng on the right seamless and pretty much second nature now. I drive on the right several times a year, either within Europe or in the US. In the US the vehicle is always an automatic which certainly helps and within Europe I tend to opt for the larger German cars which invariably come as automatic. My recent holiday to Montenegro was booked via a travel agency and I had no say in the vehicle and ended up with a manual Skoda. This was no problem apart from remembering to depress the clutch when stopping and when the lunatic drivers on the single lane coastal road came careering round blind bends at speed towards you and you had to make rapid gear changes in order to brake and accelerate away. There's one thing that will always get me and it usually happens when returning to the car in a car park where I invariably go to the passenger door.
A review I've come across on the web:
Get and automatic and make sure you have navigation system or gps for Great Britain.
We did a 4 week drive tour of Wales and England and it was one of our favorite trips ever.
Here is my detailed review:
28 days in Britain and Celebrity Eclipse home
Hello from Wisconsin,
Yes, exiting a parking lot is a good time to ask for help from your passenger. As is a right hand turn at an intersection. It is far lane to far lane. Oh, and in some places they park on either side of the street. So if you park on a street you can't rely on the cars near you facing the correct way for the lane they should be using.
The foot pedals are the same as at home. Left is the clutch if you have one, next is brake, then the gas pedal on the right.
Roads in the country side are narrow, so you drive slowly. It is no big deal. Remember when they drive they share the road.
I find the mechanics of steering (w/ steering wheel on the right) the same as when driving in the US. I agree with the recommendation that you rent an automatic (even though that's more expensive) and be especially careful when exiting a parking lot. Many parking spaces in the UK are quite narrow. I recommend that whenever possible, you park in a space next to at least 1 open parking space.
I found it much harder than I had expected, maybe because I've driven in the right lane so many years. It helps to have someone next to you to yell "left left left!" whenever you make a turn. I too overcompensated, in fact blew out a tire on a left-side bridge abutment in Wales -- but it led to a wonderful "back door" encounter with very helpful garage people (and the cost of a replacement tire). The automatic shift helped, but it meant a bigger car, so I had less margin of error when I drifted too far left. Luckily we didn't have much in the way of narrow country lanes.
I'd say give it a try, be very careful, you may find it easier than I did. And it does get easier with practice -- even parking. ;-)
Our experience is that it is nice to have a good nav system that you are familiar with. Also to have a copilot who can focus on navigation while the driver focuses on driving. My other experience is that if you are used to driving a stick shift, driving with the other hand is not a big deal.
We rented a car in Bath to drive through the Cotswolds for a few days and then south on the highway to Gatwick to go home. There is some very good advice above and I can't add much to it except that I found driving on the highway to be easiest of all because it was full of cars going in the same direction and less thought was required in terms of being on the proper side of the road. A thought about a GPS, when in England we were advised at the car rental place that the best method to search by address was by Postal Code (Zipcode). We had brought our Tom Tom from home but it does not allow to search by Postal Code, luckily our car had a navigation system that did. Plugging in the Postal Code was definitely a benefit over an address.
We swear by the videos that some UK driving schools put up on Youtube to help you get a feel for how it works over there.
For American and Canadian drivers new to uk roads you will find the advice and tips on the thread below written by Americans who did drive in Britain very interesting and useful.
Note, The OP on that thread mentions. >>The "side" you drive on is the smallest difference between the two countries. <<
Mentioned also is their cars eco stop/start (saves Co2) extremely common now, do cars in the US have this feature?
Some cars in the US have eco stop. I have a hybrid that has it, so I'm used to a car "turning off" at a stop.
The Eco-Stop can be turned off quite easily in all cars, some switches are easier to find than others but are usually indicated with a capital A surrounded by a circle.
I rented a car in Chester, and I found it extremely difficult. Driving in Chester was just awful, and a terrible place to start out. Driving in Wales was easier. The freeway was easy. My teenage daughter helped me navigate, thank goodness. I don't know if I would ever want to do it again. Kudos to everyone who has done it with no problem, but for some it's very difficult and stressful. If you decide to drive in the UK, watch some Youtube videos about it first. I did and it helped a lot.
Your perception will obviously be off a bit so parking and knowing the distance of the line may be a bit difficult for you to realize for a little while. I found the biggest challenge was the road conditions themselves, for example, the many narrow streets that are only large enough for one car yet is meant for 2 way traffic. Also every one parks on the street in England, so again, weaving in and out of parked cars making sure you don't run head first into oncoming traffic is a challenge at times. Took me about a full week to start to feel comfortable....and I believe myself to be a quick learner. Best of luck and be careful!
Everyone says to get an automatic, and I agree unless you normally drive a standard drive car. If you drive standard day in and day out, you will adjust pretty easily to shifting. The feet are the same, it's shifting with your left arm that is a bit challenging at first, but you soon get used to it. Whenever I drive standard my mind is a bit more focused on my driving. I would NEVER drive in London. But I don't drive in NYC either. Both seem like crazy ideas to me. But driving around the Cotswold's sounds delightful. My tip is to be particularly careful when pulling out of car parks and other areas where lanes are ill-defined. You can easily fall back on old habits in those situations. Lastly, don't be dismayed when you see cars parked on the left with their headlights facing you. In the UK they park willy nilly wherever there is a spot.
A few more things:
1) When you drive through those small English villages with the 30 MPH, that means GO 30 MPH. I was pretty careful to drive the speed limit, but in one such village I had a camera take my photo going 35 MPH. The ticket was 40 GBP (or then $51).
2) Parking can be a problem. Take are not to park illegal. Also, carry coins for parking machines and public toilets.
3) British drivers are very polite, but study the rules of the road and make sure that you have the right of way. Take care when entering and exiting roundabouts.
small English villages with the 30 MPH, that means GO 30 MPH
unlike the US when I drove there, where the speed limit means that you are expected to drive at the posted number. neither below or above, the UK speed limits (for a car 30 mph in a built-up area, 70 on a motorway or dual carriageway, 60 just about everywhere else unless clearly posted) are only designed to be maximums and drivers are expected to use common sense, the road, and road conditions as well as the skill of the driver to take into account the most reasonable speed all the time as the road changes width, condition, incline, bend, and general traffic condition.
There are plenty of 60 mph roads that I know of where 60 would be suicidal or murderous. It is up to you and me to understand that. Also any speed over a walking speed passing a horse.
And when the speed limit sign is posted for a village or road works or other restriction that means that the speed you should be doing no more than when you pass the sign. That doesn't mean that it is time to take your foot off the gas. That brake pedal has a purpose in life too.