How to drive on the ‘wrong’ side of the road
If you learned to drive with the steering wheel on the right and driving in the left-hand lane, swapping over when you go on holiday or go and live overseas for a while can be really challenging because suddenly you’ll realise how much reliance you put on the familiarity of a specific vehicle layout. Fortunately, you don’t need to drive that many kilometres on other ‘wrong’ side of the road before your brain gets used to it, but you will be at a higher risk of having an accident until you acclimatise. Before you set out on the road in a different country, make sure you’ve done the following:
- Checked our guide to hiring a car (and making sure you don’t get ripped off)
- Make sure you know what the main road signs are as well as the speed limits and any other odd rules. For example, there are some unusual European driving rules and you will need to expect different road configurations such as traffic lights on roundabouts.
- Set up your mirrors to reduce your blind spots
- Familiarise yourself with the controls for the indicators and windscreen wipers (sometimes they’ll be reversed)
- Familiarise yourself with the dashboard – if you’re driving in America vs Australia, the speedometer will be in miles per hour versus kilometres per hour.
You’ll notice that the accelerator, brake and clutch (if present) are in the same order with the accelerator on the right.
Once you set off, you’ll have more car on the right-hand side of you than you are used to having, which means you need to be very careful with tight manoeuvring so that you don’t scrape the front of the car or that you don’t take a corner too tight and scrape the side of the car. This is so easy to do as you exit rental vehicle car parks. Roundabouts will be much more confusing as you will be navigating them anti-clockwise and indicating off to the right
The next thing is to orient yourself in the lane. You will almost certainly be positioned far too far to the right in your lane. Look as far ahead as you can as this makes positioning the car a little easier. Pick a point where you can see the front corner of the bonnet and align that with the painted centre line on the road. This is a good start for your general road positioning. You’ll need to be comfortable with aligning yourself in the lane when you first go to overtake another vehicle otherwise you could find yourself very close to them – this is especially important when overtaking cyclists or horses.
Try to get into the habit of looking in the rear view mirror to your right than relying on the wing mirror to see what’s behind you; at first you’ll constantly look to your left.
When you indicate left to pull up at the kerb, it’s easy to misjudge just how close you are and end up scraping your wheels. It’s best to park slightly further away from the kerb, get out and have a look, then adjust your position. Expect to get it wrong pulling up to petrol pumps or any kind of machine where you have to put a ticket or money in (e.g. toll booths, parking buildings, etc). Parallel parking will be a challenge for you as it’s the opposite way around.
The most dangerous scenarios are pulling out of unmarked intersections when there’s very little traffic:
- You’ll have a tendency to forget to expect vehicles on the other side of the road
- When you pull out on the road you’ll have a tendency to drive on the side you are most familiar with if there is no other traffic to remind you
If you have a passenger, ask them to look out for you, too. It’s best to work out what you’d like them to do. For example, when driving recently in a couple of Italian cities we agreed that my passenger would warn me of cars slowing down ahead or coming from the left and right, plus would help with the navigation.
If you know you’re going to be driving overseas in the near future you can always go to a vacant car park on the weekend and practice some manoeuvres.