Repeat after me: Keep left.
Good. Now a few more words about driving on the left side of the road. Travelers to Ireland and the UK may dread the idea as they plan their vacations, but it doesn’t have to be as scary as it sounds. After all, the driver side of the car is reversed as well. And if you ease into it, it will come more naturally than you fear. As people return from Ireland, the consensus around here is that it wasn’t really that hard.
Here are some tips to help you acclimate and stay safe on your left-driving vacation.
Before you go
Consider renting an automatic. Are you comfortable with manual transmission? You’ll need to be a confident manual driver to conquer it in reverse. Be honest with yourself. If you do not drive stick regularly, you won’t want to relearn it on the left, shifting with your left hand. Spend the extra money and order an automatic.
Get conversant in kilometers, so you’ll know how fast 100 km/hour is. It’s one less thing to distract you when you’re driving over there. Also, study international driving signs, so you will be familiar and comfortable with them from the beginning. The fewer distractions, the better.
Print directions. If you won’t have GPS or data for driving directions, print out directions (on paper or PDF) for any trips you know you will be making. Again, one less distraction when you are over there!
Take extra time at pick-up. When you collect your rental car, spend extra time looking over the car controls and getting comfy with the dash, so you won’t be distracted finding things when you’re on the road. Take a couple loops around the lot to get comfortable before you pull out onto the road.
Practice reverse. People report going in reverse is one of the trickiest things to do in a left-oriented car. Be sure you’re comfy backing up early on. It will only be harder later, when you might need to do it on a rural back road to let another car pass.
Avoid in-town driving early on. Start with highway driving or on smaller roads as you get used to left-side driving. Towns with intersections, traffic, and circles are more complicated.
Follow the leader. Sometimes it is easier to make your turns and navigate towns if you have a car ahead of you and can follow their moves.
Repeat after me: Keep left. Chant this regularly, to yourself and aloud.
Keep left in traffic circles. It is tricky to remember at first.
Take caution when pulling out. This is when instincts can take over or you can be forgetful.
Beware the right turn. It is crossing traffic, as a left turn is here. If pulling out to turn right, ease your car left to make a wide turn.
No sudden moves! Be thoughtful with lane changing and turn offs. If you need to, pass that turn and double back. This is good advice for safe driving in general.
Drive left, pass right on 4-lane highways.
Repeat after me: Keep left.
But not too far left. Some people drift too far left to feel safe and end up with tire punctures from roadside debris. Clipped side mirrors are another common casualty.
The navigator’s job
Trust the passenger next to you. They can keep an eye out for far-left hazards and help you. Be patient as they get used to the reverse perspective too and trust them to keep you on the road.
Fold in mirrors. European roads are narrow, and parked cars in towns can make things tight. The navigator can fold in mirrors for your tight squeezes.
Your front passenger is an extra set of eyes. He or she should be alert to see hazards and remind you to keep left.
Navigators help you avoid distraction. Having your mate mind signs, study maps, and read directions helps you avoid the dangers of distracted driving.
Let your co-pilot watch for pull offs. On narrow rural roads, you may need to back up to let a car pass. Your navigator can scan the roads for escape routes as you mind the oncoming cars.
Now, keep cool. Keep calm. You’ll be just fine. I’ve heard from a number of people heading off to Ireland who were anxious about driving on the left and did just fine. They returned saying it was easier than expected. Safe travels, and have fun on your driving vacation!
Ready to go?! Check out our Ireland Untour in scenic County Kerry for a great place to start.
For more helpful travel tips, sign up here for the Untours blog. Or get our monthly enewsletter, Eurozine.
Happy and safe travels!