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Fear of driving on the left

How feasible is it to see Ireland without renting a car? We aren't keen to drive. Would we miss a lot taking buses and/or trains?

Posted by
235 posts

Yes. Ireland is WAY better by car. Very limited taking buses or trains on your own. If you can't drive best get on an organized tour. I have driven many times in Ireland and after about 15 minutes driving on the left is no different. Just always remember the driver is always in the middle of the road.

Posted by
3696 posts

You will see a different view of Ireland if you do not have a car... not to say you can't, but most people will suggest you get a car. Listen to the above post... it does become second nature much more quickly than you imagine. Just rent an automatic and there is less to stress about. There just is not a ton of traffic to deal with in most places.... just sheep and some narrow roads, but mostly just nice roads that will allow you to travel about on your own schedule.

Posted by
10263 posts

"Fear" is probably not the most apt term. A legitimate safety concern might be a more apt term.
A number of travelers here, over the years, have reported that they had unanticipated difficulty driving on the left side for the first time, especially with manual shift cars, which is the only kind of car you'll get unless you specifically request an automatic.

It would be easy to under-estimate the safety and stress factors involved in driving sitting on the right side, shifting gears with the left hand, and turning in intersections in towns and cities.

It is a factor to consider in deciding whether to drive or use public transportation.

Unfortunately, there are places in Ireland where there are not good alternatives to driving.

This is when being fully insured makes for peace of mind.

Posted by
507 posts

My husband (DH) & I drove in & around London for 3 wks in a car w/automatic transmission in 1973. One gets used to looking to the left for the rear view mirror. I pulled out of a gas station & DH said, "You are in the right lane." My reply was "OK". Then he said, "You are in the WRONG lane" at which time I moved over to the left lane. (Oops!)

I had an accident. The lanes in the town I was traveling through were wide enough for 2 cars & I was driving close to the center line on a hill. As I went over the top of the hill I was surprised to see a car coming towards me in my lane as that driver was passing on the hill.

I swerved & side swiped a parked car. We stopped & found the owners to give them our information. Our next stop was the town's police station to file a report. The sgt on duty asked if I was on drugs or was drinking, & if I reported the matter to the owner. That was the police involvement. When we took the rental back to Avis, we were told by the customer rep (with a grin), "Don't worry about it. We are used to you Yanks banging up our cars."

Now when I was the passenger I would find myself looking up to my right for the rear view mirror since my seat in the States would be the driver's. I also found myself "applying the brakes."

The only challenge I found was trying to get out of a roundabout. I think the most times I went around a roundabout was five times before I mustered the courage to break into the lane to the left & exit. That was 40 years ago.

NOTE: In 1973 it was against the law to pass on the left. Avis said that was a big no-no.

Get a car, take the agency 's insurance, & enjoy your trip! You have more freedom as to where you go when you drive VS a bus tour. Like another poster said, remember the driver is closer to the center of the road.

Bon Voyage!

Posted by
1994 posts

I think the crucial question is whether you are willing to tailor your trip around what you can reach by public transportation, and how that balances against your concerns about driving.

I also was concerned about driving on the left, having not done it in decades. I agree that I got used to that within an hour or two, but it still sometimes got confusing when I was making a turn against traffic on an undivided road. However, I was surprised at what I found more challenging – very fast speeds, on narrow roads, with no shoulders and very few places to pull off and get out of the way of faster drivers. And I'm not a particularly timid driver – every month I drive California's Big Sur coast, with narrow, winding, cliff-top roads, and I've gotten an occasional ticket for speeding there.

So I think in making the decision, you need to factor in your comfort with driving in challenging settings. If you're a nervous driver, or live someplace where you don't drive much, you may enjoy the trip more on public transportation. If you drive, definitely get an automatic. GPS is helpful, but also get a good map – there were a number of places that the GPS wanted to take us down little alleyways, when there was a good quality road a few miles away.

Finally, on the scenic drive around the Dingle Peninsula, we hired a driver/guide so that we could actually enjoy the scenery. That was a great decision; were I driving, I doubt I would've seen much.

Posted by
3 posts

Thank you all for your responses. I think I knew the answer to the question even as I asked it. I think I will drum up the confidence to rent a car at least for part of the trip.

Posted by
16770 posts

Perhaps it took me a whole day to really feel comfortable driving on the left, along with reading new signs, maps, etc., but I was happy I made that choice in Ireland and parts of Britain. Nice to have a second person to help navigate and point out your mistakes. See a few tips at http://www.ricksteves.com/watch-read-listen/read/articles/driving-in-great-britain-and-ireland and at http://www.ricksteves.com/travel-tips/transportation/driving-europe-tips.

Posted by
80 posts

Also if you are right handed, get a car with an automatic transmission. Otherwise not only are you driving on the left but also trying to shift a manual with your opposite hand. Way too much overload.

Paul

Posted by
3279 posts

A couple of anecdotes: Our first experience negotiating roads "on the left" was in Ireland by bicycle. Except for needing to remember to go clockwise in roundabouts, that was pretty easy.

We just got back from a trip to Scotland this month, and drove a good part of the time. Had manual transmission cars, but that's what we drive at home, and we're both left-handed, too -- although downshifting wasn't always smooth (the Ford was better than our later Hyundai). Didn't look up at the rear-view mirror much (not used to looking up and to the left), but the side view mirrors were used a lot!

The biggest issue wasn't being on an unfamiliar side of the road, but how narrow the roads were in western Ireland and in northern Scotland. On bikes, when passing tour buses took up the entire lane, we had some uncomfortable times being passed with inches to spare. One local told us "You must be bold!" and to hold our place along the road and not get run off the side. Of course he said that just earlier in the week a woman had knocked him with her side mirror as he pedaled along.

In Scotland, particularly driving down the west side of Loch Ness and on the Isle of Skye, the combination of rain and lots of traffic made things a bit hairy, especially when the oncoming traffic wasn't staying on their side of the center line. Once on Skye, we realized that a lot of the drivers were fellow tourists, and had driven their left-hand drive cars and motorhomes from France, Belgium, Italy, and Germany, so they were dealing with the left side of the road from the left side of their vehicle! We managed to not hit any cars, people, or sheep, but you may not find big, wide North American-style roadways, and as always, Watch Out for the Other Guy! Ireland probably won't have as many foreign-licensed vehicles, but may still have a lot of drivers facing the same challenges as you.

On couple of stretches on our journey in Ireland, we loaded our bikes onto the bus to cover a long distance in a short time. Bus Eireann buses are great, and feature an Irish Setter (instead of a Greyhound) on the side of the bus!

Posted by
1843 posts

We struggled with the exact same issue (not really wanting to rent a car) when we planned our trip to Ireland last year. I looked at various rental car prices, all the extra insurances (many of which did not include damage to tires (or tyres, as the Irish spell it). I read a few horror stories about people who had to purchase a tire or two. We worried about getting stuck in the far reaches of the Connemara region with a rental car that might have a mechanical issue....we evaluated the hassle factor of having to make arrangements for a cell phone that worked in Ireland...............

.........then I began the process of investigating hiring a driver (with their own car).

We hired a driver, and we could not have been more pleased with our decision. The guy was fantastic, full of personality, very sensitive to picking up on what we liked, very flexible, very punctual, and very courteous. He served as a tour guide to us. For days that we stayed in one place, we did not have the expense (as we did not need a driver). He took care of all his overnights (where needed) and his meals.

In the end, considering we did not have rental car cost, did not have fuel, tolls, parking expense, and we both were able to totally relax, enjoying the scenery, along with having a great tour guide, it was not that much more expensive. And, it saved the likely tension of my constantly telling my husband to be careful, and his yelling at me to be quiet (or drive), while trying to navigate strange roads (signage is often very confusing) while driving on the wrong side of the road (for us). Several times over the last year, when we reflected on that special trip, we would say to each other that hiring Tony was the BEST decision we made.

.....and I also read plenty of reviews from others that even though they may have reserved an automatic transmission vehicle, once they arrived at the rental firm, surprise!!! No automatics left. We did not want that risk.

But, that said, most visitors seem to do just fine renting a car and leave without issues. Just a matter of what works for you and your comfort level. Vacations are vacations, and we each knows what works for us.

Posted by
34 posts

Depending on where you are going, train travel is very feasible. Train service along the East (Dublin) coast is very good. We did Belfast to Giant's Causeway (Portrush) back to Dublin to Kilkenny all by train. Getting from Kilkenny to the West coast (Shannon) was not as easy; although there is fairly direct bus service and service to the West coast through Dublin. We rented a car in Shannon to see the Cliffs and Burren. Driving is not hard...just remind yourself as you come to an intersection which lane to turn into. I would suggest a GPS with a navigator telling you what is coming up so you can think about it before the GPS tells you. My daughter was great at saying, "Next is another roundabout. You want the 2nd exit". There are MANY roundabouts but those are easy to navigate if you're even slightly familiar with them. I would strongly suggest buying your deductible to $0 so you don't have to worry if you get a scrape. Especially in towns, people seem to park any old place. It actually seemed weird to drive on the right when I first got home!

Posted by
3 posts

Thanks so much. That's very helpful. I've been the navigator driving in Scotland so I know about roundabouts. I think I will do something like that, part driving and part train.

Posted by
123 posts

My favorite thing when I was first driving in Ireland last year (many, many days of driving) was that my hertz rental car had this little yellow arrow in the window pointing to the left and written below it was stay on the left. It was a helpful reminder, cause on some of those narrow roads you get turned about.

Posted by
8889 posts

There should be a word for this, how about "Sinisterphobia"?
There is a urban myth that a certain number of accidents each year happen just outside Heathrow caused by people who arrive in the UK for the first time, hire a car, do not know that in the UK they drive on the left and somehow miss the info the hire car company gives them. The road out of Heathrow is dual carriageway. They then get to the first junction outside Heathrow and crunch.

P.S. I learnt to drive on the left, but now live in a country where they drive on the "wrong" side of the road.

Posted by
107 posts

We were in Ireland in May for three weeks and relied exclusively on public transportation and our own two feet. We did not feel inconvenienced or shortchanged in any way. We probably also saved about $2,500, but the best part was all the arguments we avoided. It's hard enough driving on the left side without an opinionated (and often wrong) passenger sitting to your right. If that might be a problem for you, let me suggest taking trains, trams and busses.

Posted by
8293 posts

bodo, the opinionated passenger would be on your left, not your right.

Posted by
9110 posts

How could you have saved $2500 in three weeks when a car with cdw would run a max of forty bucks a day or about eight hundred dollars and the cost of fuel would have been much less than the cost of public transportation ?

Posted by
9362 posts

I was wondering the same thing. How could you have saved that much on the cost when it isn't nearly that much?

Posted by
2 posts

I think it is a good idea to spend your first few days, if possible, NOT driving--just getting acclimated to how the left-side driving works from a pedestrian's point of view and also getting rid of jetlag. We spent a week in Dublin (wouldn't drive there) and then took a train (easy and smooth) to Cork where we rented a car. The south coast roads were very well marked, although the street signs in Cork not so much. Still, a few days on foot had us familiar enough with the map so that it didn't matter.

The main key is that the driver needs to always orient him/herself with the center line (just as you do when driving at home on the right), and the passenger should stay alert with regular "stay left" reminders and also reminding the driver to move towards the center, because the common error is actually for the driver to get TOO far to the left. If you are driving a manual transmission, then practice the gears a few times before getting out on the road--second gear was always my problem gear, especially in roundabouts, which provided a lot of hilarity as round and round we went. Using a clock face, the passenger can tell the driver to get off at noon, 3:00, 6:00, 9:00 to make those things a little easier to navigate. Also, know the town names of the general direction you are going, as well as looking for the numbers of the roads. We found the Dundrum Maps Comprehensive Road Atlas to be very helpful.

The roads in the south were fairly quiet in mid-late September, and driving was actually easier than we expected. I'd recommend staying off the roads smaller than the N roads at night, especially if it is raining. They are very narrow and there are no lights (even on N roads in the country). I'd also like to put in a plug for the Hertz Rental in central Cork, near the train station. I was well-prepared for any trouble or extra charging after reading the forums, but it ended up being one of the nicest and easiest rentals I have ever done anywhere, including in the US. We did take the maximum in insurance--it offers great peace of mind! Our only regret was that we had not rented a car for more days than we did.

Posted by
1239 posts

The main key is that the driver needs to always orient him/herself with the center line (just as you do when driving at home on the right), and the passenger should stay alert with regular "stay left" reminders and also reminding the driver to move towards the center,

Sat Nag is how we, my household, nickname it when driving on the right, especially in our own car.

It gives the passenger a job, which helps when driver fatigue sets in. The Sat Nag is also useful for reading the signs and passing the driver chocolate.

Posted by
552 posts

So true MC. You can always tell when a driver is in the throes of their 'first day jitters' on Irish roads. They're the ones that are scraping along in the left gutter, instead of hugging the center line like one would at home.

Posted by
1239 posts

So true MC. You can always tell when a driver is in the throes of their 'first day jitters' on Irish roads. They're the ones that are scraping along in the left gutter, instead of hugging the center line like one would at home.

Bill, that is where you need Sat Nag (tm)! The first time I drove on the right in a local spec car, in Italy, I did exactly that. And tried to change the gear several times with the window winder. And tried to drive in a dry stone wall. Plus the natural drift to the left, right for Americans and other Europeans.

Sat Nag (tm) helps with all that.

It was my own car, but first time I took it abroad to France I tied a piece of string around the right 3 o'clock position of the steering wheel. This can help.

So if you can, install Sat Nag (tm). It comes free with any spouse, girlfriend, boyfriend, significant other, friend etc. In Ireland, I recommend the Sat Nag (tm) with Cadbury's Tiffin dairy milk. Really helps the driver. In England, Scotland and Wales, go for Cadbury's Fruit and Nut.

I'll admit now to something I have done, that Sat Nag (tm) has told me off for. In the early hours of the morning, on an industrial estate in France on leaving the hotel, I went around a roundabout clockwise.,. People who drive on the wrong side of the road do it anti-clockwise. Sat Nag (tm) did not let me forget for the rest of the trip. Or the bit on the country lane where I perfectly positioned the car for the UK or Ireland. Unfortunately it was south west France....

My advice is, if you wish to drive on the other side of the road, install Sat Nag (tm). In Ireland Sat Nag (tm) can also be used for conversion between the Republic of Ireland which uses kilometres per hour and Northern Ireland which uses miles per hour.

Sat Nag (tm) is cheaper than a fine and recommended by An Garda Siochana and the various police services of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Posted by
507 posts

They're the ones that are scraping along in the left gutter, instead of hugging the center line like one would at home.

I didn't have that problem the 2 wks I was in London. There was usually a parked car next to the curb.

It was like playing "chicken" when there were three lanes of traffic on one side of a light-controlled intersection - all going straight & they were vying for two lanes after the light b/c someone parked their car at the curb!

Posted by
3279 posts

@MC- maybe this is a "British English" vs. "American English" thing, and you've TradeMarked Sat Nav (tm) and all, but if you market it in North America, we might term it Seat Nag.

And I guess in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, etc. traffic doesn't go around in roundabouts in a different direction than in the northern hemisphere where one drives on the left.

In the French countryside with zero traffic, I suspect you can drive on whatever side of the road you want -- only the Sat Nag (tm) and the cows will know, and the cows don't care (unless they're on the road, too).

So, if the driver does something wrong, does the Sat Nag (tm) get some chocolate?

Posted by
1239 posts

@Cyn, those moments are also when the driver needs the chocolate! As the Sat Nag is in charge of chocolate, they can help themselves, within reason.

Posted by
262 posts

You'd miss a lot if you don't have a car. Some of the most enjoyable parts of our recent trips were between destinations, and having the flexibility to stop or detour at will was a big part of it. I plan trips around having a car, and try to find lodging that is well-located, but is easy to access by car and has parking available. In other parts of Europe that can be a challenge, but in Ireland I did not find it all that difficult.

I didn't find driving on the left to be that hard an adjustment, the narrow roads were probably more trying than the side of the road. As others have noted, if you focus on the center line of the road vice the shoulder, it is a lot easier, i.e. look at where you want to be, not where you don't want to be. If you are at all concerned, pay the exorbitant premiums and get a car with an automatic, unless you are left-handed learning to shift with the left hand is a distraction you don't need. Also be willing to sacrifice comfort and get the smallest car you can reasonably fit in, you will glad you did the first time you meet a tour bus coming around a tight bend.