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First trip driving on the left

Hello, My husband and I would like to eventually travel to several countries that drive on the left, including but not limited to, the UK, Ireland, New Zealand and Australia. We prefer traveling independently and having the flexibility of a rental car, but have never experienced left-hand driving. Which country would you suggest would be the best for a first-time left-hand driving experience? We are perhaps Scotland or Ireland, but would appreciate any and all suggestions. Thanks!

Posted by
2081 posts

Ann, Im not an professional driving instructor nor do i play one on tv, but i would do it ASAP. Why? the sooner you get use to it, the sooner you will get into the groove. I had to learn in London, no choice. If you can learn in a smaller town/city, it would probably be easier. just some comments from my experience and your mileage may vary. > from what i understand about the UK, you DONT make Left hand turns at a stop light unless its green(its equal to a right hand turn at a stop light in the US) Im sure if im wrong there will be more than enough people to make teh corrections. > if/when you do drive and have to do some evasive actions, i found that i reverted to my US habbits. IE swerving into oncomming traffic in the UK! > once you figured out how to use the round abouts, you will come to love them. > If you dont drive a manual in the US or never have, make sure you get an auto over there. > the accessories stalks on the steering column can be swapped. IE Turn signal and lights. > im not sure they do this on more recent cars, but my car had a "Power" switch. If you need to pass or need power, this switch need to be activated, if not, the car couldnt pass a grandma on skates. you will have fun driving on the "right side" as my former boss would say. happy trails.

Posted by
1831 posts

I have been driving since I was twelve but I just could not get the hang of driving on the wrong side in Scotland. My wife, on the other hand, does magnificently, so she does all the driving there. All I do is warn her of sheep on the road and where the pull-outs are on single track roads.

Posted by
9110 posts

I've driven a lot in all - - years and years, decades, and decades. As general comments: Disbelieve all the horror stories; e.g., you can't shift with your left hand - - your brain doesn't care which hand you use to shift any more than it cares which hand you use to pick your nose - - it gets the job done. There won't be a problem with being on the left, you'll do what everybody else is doing - - what you might want to do is think just for a second the first couple of times you start off in the morning when there's no traffic to set an example. And, you're going to have to do the same thing when you get home and switch sides. For the specific question, it doesn't matter too much. However, both of the Irelands and Scotland have extremely narrow roads once you get onto the secondary and tertiaries - - think having to find a small bit of shoulder to slip into against a stone wall or even having to back up to let opposing traffic slip past - - it happens dozens of times a day and everybody is very polite, but it's a factor. South Island, New Zealand, has the least traffic (and scenery that will knock your socks off). England has the most dense traffic. Wales is a piece of cake, but has a few skinny roads. None of the countries you mentioned has aggressive drivers, you're not going to be honked to death and startled into doing something dangerous. I'm thinking that I probably started on the left in England........shoot, it doesn't t matter.......pick whatever you want to see first and have at it. You'll breath hard for the first five minutes and within an hour you won't even notice it as long as you don't think about it anymore than you think about driving at home.

Posted by
21648 posts

Ed can make light of it as he does with lot of subjects. But for an inexperienced left hand driver your reaction will be the opposite of what is needed in an emergency. That is the big issue. If all by yourself, that is fine but if you need to do something quick it might not be. So approach it with a lot of care and attention.

Posted by
6513 posts

Ann I would say definitely Australia, because the streets and highways were most similar to US roads, spacious and logical. So you are not having the unfamiliar sometimes narrow road systems on top of the strangeness of driving on the left. I felt comfortsble driving there after a couple of hours. I did not feel comfortable in either Ireland or Scotland.

Posted by
518 posts

Hello Ann, I have driven in the European countries you mention. England has the best roads and the most dense traffic. The roads in Ireland are small but there is much less traffic, so long as you stay away from the cities. Scotland's driving was easy. You just need to read the rules of "single track roads" before you go. These are one lane, two direction roads that have meeting places. They are easy because they are in areas with little traffic. Driving away from the airport at Inverness, Scotland, or Manchester, England, are the easiest I've found. Oh, Edinburgh airport is easy too. Heathrow is not bad either. So, I would plan my trip however works best and not worry about the driving. Driving on the left is not hard. It just required a couple of hours to get over being nervous. If the driver is accomplished at manual transmission here, I'd get a manual there. They are much more plentiful and cheaper. The shifting pattern is the same. You just use your left hand. If the driver has never driven a manual or is uncomfortable driving a manual here, this is not the time to learn. Get an automatic. To get one, you need to reserve in advance and usually at a larger venue like an airport. The automatics are bigger cars too. By the way, the accelerator, brake, clutch, etc. are all in the same place as you sit in the drivers seat as they are here, just on the right side of the car. Looking in the inside rear view mirror takes some adjustment as does looking over the left shoulder to back. I say drive, take out the maximum insurance, and enjoy. A car gives you a lot of freedom. Enjoy wherever you decide to go.
I visited with a man last trip who was driving on the left for the first time. He had done one of the online drivers ed courses for English people just getting a license. He said it was a great help, especially in mastering the use of roundabouts.

Posted by
6447 posts

My only experience with driving on the left was in NZ. I flew into Christchurch (south island), picked up the car and took off. I was amazed at how quickly I got used to driving on the 'other' side of the road - took about an hour to be comfortable with it. I ended up driving all over both islands, in cities and countryside, and I found the roads very good (not the narrow little village roads like in GB and Ireland) and the traffic quite light so it was a good place to get baptized. I have to say that the biggest problems I had were, 1. parallel parking and 2. coming out of a shop or restaurant and automatically going to the left side door (passenger side) and feeling like an idiot.

Posted by
27428 posts

I drive my British car on the roads on the Continent frequently. This is opposite situation of what you will have. My only foibles come when I am coming into a wide unmarked lane early in the morning before I get to the traffic and the road with the white line in the middle. Sometimes I'm on autopilot and lapse into driving on the left instead of the right because of the lack of visual cues. You soon remember when traffic is coming at you!!! Just something to be aware of for new left side of the road drivers. Think keep Left.

Posted by
31435 posts

Ann, Many people adapt just fine to driving on the "correct side of the road", but it does take some concentration. I'd suggest becoming familiar with the vehicle and the layout of the controls before ever turning a wheel. Do that at the rental lot so that staff will be available to answer any questions. You'll have to adapt to traffic running in the opposite direction to what you're used to, Roundabouts, changes in rules (ie: no left turn on red), different style of signs, narrow roads (some with no shoulders), fuel sold in litres, speed limits which may be in MPH (UK) or kmH (Australia, Ireland), etc. It's important not to become complacent. Be sure to concentrate at all times so that you don't accidentally revert to old habits. On the topic of "traffic running in the opposite direction", you'll also need to be vigilant as a pedestrian. I've almost been hit on a number of occasions when crossing streets in the U.K. as I was looking in the wrong direction. I'd suggest spending some extra money for a good CDW package. Those usually don't include coverage for tires and undercarriage, but IMO it's a good idea to have as much coverage as possible. I've found that a GPS along with a good Map is extremely useful when driving in the U.K., especially in the rural areas. I've also found that planning driving times on MapQuest or other sites only provides at best only an approximation. Trips will ALWAYS take longer than expected. You may find it helpful to have a look at the following websites: www.tripadvisor.ca/Travel-g186216-c9626/United-Kingdom:Driving.Tips.For.Visitors.html www.britainexpress.com/driving.htm www.travelfurther.net/dictionaries/driving.htm Happy travels!

Posted by
4529 posts

I was a bit nervous about driving in the UK at first too, but really it was not an issue at all. Oncoming traffic will always be on your side (the driver's side), so it is very simple to stay in your lane. I did have to think things out as I was backing up out of parking spaces or making turns sometimes, but that was more to keep myself focused. I fully concur with the "get an automatic" suggestion (unless you are very experienced with a manual) and with having a good GPS map and navigator in the passenger seat. Roads in the UK can be very confusing, signage directions are sometimes hard to follow and roundabouts, while great logistically, can be confusing as to which exit to take.

Posted by
8293 posts

My late husband was born and brought up and learned to drive in the UK so he never had a problem quickly adapting to left side driving when we would pick up a car at Heathrow, though I always considered it my job to sit there muttering "Keep left ... keep left ..."

Posted by
9363 posts

I adapted to driving on the other side of the road fairly easily. We started out landing in Ireland at Shannon airport, which is small and out in the country - nice opportunity to practice without traffic. Similar to Nigel, my only problems were turning into wide, unmarked driveways, like at a gas station, where my impulse was to stay right. Unlike Ray, I have never seen turn signals and lights, etc., switched. They have always been right where I expected to find them. After driving abroad, it did take me a little time to adjust to driving normally at home for a time or two.

Posted by
2876 posts

The "drive thought" that helps me over there is "the driver is always to the center of the road." I agree with Thomas that learning to look left to check the rear-view mirror takes a little getting used to, as does looking over your left shoulder to back up. I also have a "drive thought" when I play golf, but it hasn't helped.

Posted by
1167 posts

Even if the non-driver is a skilled map reader - and you should be sure you have a good map - you should have a GPS the the non-driver uses. It makes a world of difference to know which of the multiple exits from the roundabout you need to take or which of the poorly or unsigned roads or streets you need to turn on next. The driver has enough to do without having to deal with those things.

Posted by
403 posts

Australia! Huge roads, wide open spaces, lots of margin for error. Ha ha! We did our first left-hand driving in the Red Center and it was perfect because there is hardly anyone at all on the road. Lots of room to practice and no confusing roundabouts.

Posted by
5668 posts

When I rented a car for the first time in the UK I started in York and ended up in Scotland. Since then I've rented cars many times in Scotland and most of the time they are stick. I think that you do catch on fairly quickly. And if you drive for more than a week you'll find that the muscle memory will briefly affect your driving back in the US or Canada. I slammed my left hand into the door pretty hard the first time I drove my car after my trip. :) As mentioned the tricky parts are primarily when there is no other traffic or you are just starting out. I found that I really needed to concentrate when driving out of parking lots for example. I did not have a problem with the small roads of northern England and Scotland. Do get a small car. It's easier. Do get the full insurance as you will bump the wheels on the curb or brush up against hedges. Having a navigator makes a huge difference. The travel signs are not the same as the US. Instead of "A9 north," the sign will say "A9 Perth," or further north "A9 Pitlochry." And that's if you're lucky, It may just say, "Dunkeld" and if you don't know that Dunkeld is just north of Perth you might won't realize that its the A9 North! If you have a GPS that will certainly help, but plot out your trip and look for the names of the towns along the way. When traveling alone without a GPS I would take the time to write them out and have the list at hand for the trip. You'll have a lovely time. If you want to know about some great roads in Scotland, get Iain Banks' book Raw Spirit: In Search of the Perfect Dram. Pam

Posted by
2081 posts

Ann, i forgot something i thought was important at least for me. When i was driving in Southampton, i found out that the street signs were NOT consistent in terms of placement with some exceptions in town. it maybe unique to Southampton, but i get a feeling it isnt. I found out that they would place street signs on anything that was close to the corner. That included, fences, buildings and posts. sometimes the signs were on the building but near the roofline. happy trails and driving.

Posted by
228 posts

ann, we were in england and rented a manual/stick-shift car. at first it was nerve wracking because your hands were 'backwards' from the way your wrote memory has it lined up. but after a very short time (half a day) not only did we get used to it, it actually was better than the standard american driving.... don't ask me to explain this, it just was!

Posted by
5766 posts

Most thing, you will adapt to quickly, but I concur about the "gut" reactions, whether in an emergency or when focus is on one thing and you are doing another. For me it was turns, in watching for traffic, I would instinctively turn into the wrong lane. As mentioned having a navigator helps, my wife would start correcting me at every turn, reminding me that I needed to get into a specific lane.

Posted by
400 posts

I had my first experience driving on the left a few months ago. As long as you keep reminding yourself to stay on the left, especially when making right turns, it's pretty easy to get used to. Shifting is easy with the left hand. The narrowness of the roads was much harder to get used to. However, in a panic situation, you do revert back to instinct. We were trying to catch a ferry, and I made the mistake of following the "flow" of traffic, not once but three times thinking they're all going to the terminal. In my haste, I u-turned onto the right lane and was quickly corrected with a few honks from oncoming cars. Back home, I caught myself making a left turn into the left lane first day driving.