Right or left, left or right? Nobody likes driving on the wrong side of the road, especially when off abroad in a foreign country. Today, most countries which were once British colonies drive on the left-hand side of the road, including India, Australia, and South Africa. Others include Japan, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Channel Islands, Hong Kong, Ireland, Malaysia, Jamaica, Kenya, Singapore, Thailand, Cyprus, and the Caribbean.
The reasons for road distinctions such as these are often historical, as British horseback riders used to ride on the left-hand side of the road in order to keep their right arms free to greet passerbyers. Wherever in the world you find yourself driving, it’s always important to make sure you know what side of the road to drive on before actual taking on any trip.
There’s nothing like the freedom of the open road, and many a times, traveling by auto can be a wonderful adventure. Just don’t be that person on the incorrect lane with traffic coming at you from unexpected directions. To help make the foreign driving experience easier, smoother, and much less daunting, here are five tips for driving on the other side of the road.
5 Tips For Safe Driving On The Left-Hand Side Of The Road
1. Study all road rules beforehand and be prepared.
Before embarking on the road for any dreamland vacation, do a little—or better yet—a lot of homework (i.e. not just a few second scan of an intro of How-To’s you Googled before heading out the door). Nobody wants to be a traffic statistic, especially in another country like the UK, where there are still some single-track roads, single lane bridges, and tons of roundabouts that’ll have you scratching your heads on how exactly to properly navigate them.
It’s essential to research all traffic laws that are specific to the country you plan to drive and holiday in before taking off. For example, did you know that in many European countries, you are required to have your headlights on at all times, even in daylight hours? Or that reflective jackets and other safety equipment are must-carry items and that some right turns can actually be illegal? Basically, study up, folks, to be prepped and ready in any driver’s seat.
Equally important is to be prepared and able to take on potential hazards that come your way. Always book in advance and use quote aggregators like Auto Europe to find the best prices. Make sure also to bring your own AUX cables and to come ready with a phone that’s pre-loaded with your favorite tunes. There’s no guarantee that you’ll be able to find a good radio station in the area and a silent car is no fun at all! Last but not least, be sure to have a GPS or a smartphone with a local SIM card for navigating. Making wrong turns may be inevitable when it comes to foreign driving, but it helps to have some sort of tool to help get you from point A to point B without any worries. It’s also useful to spend a few minutes beforehand looking over the route to your destination.
2. When in doubt, go left!
Sure, it might seem super obvious, but it’s also something that’s often forgotten when in the actual moment of driving in another country—especially because you’re so used to something else.
Let’s say you turn a corner onto an empty street in Hong Kong. You’ll likely be forced to remember to turn to the left-hand side of the new street instead of the right. It seems very easy, like an almost instinctive action, but when there are no visual clues to remind you, people often forget and end up on the right (but wrong!) side of the road. Similar situations can also occur in other circumstances, such as when driving in and out of car parks, merging onto surface streets, or leaving the freeways. So a nice thing to always remember is to simply copy what all the other drivers are doing. Piece of cake, right?
3. Don’t go manual. Ever.
Unless you absolutely adore driving a stick shift, it is highly recommended to go automatic—always—even if it means paying a little extra money rental-wise since most cars in Europe are made manual. Sure, the type of transmission of any vehicle might not matter much at home, but like it or not, cars vary in each country no matter how similar they might look.
So go for the automatic —even if it’s a slight bruise to that ego of yours. As a tourist, there’s already enough on your mind to think about without having to train or retrain those driving skills to cater to a left-handed shift.
4. Insurance Check.
Even before heading out, check with your insurance and credit card companies to see what insurance coverage you may already have, as it is always important to be properly insured in order to protect yourself if and when a sudden accident occurs. Most rental companies in Europe provide basic liability insurance and a Collision or Loss Damage Waiver (CDW or LDW) that protects against damage and theft.
Still, even with any rental company's CDW or LDW in place, drivers may still be liable to pay an excess -- so read the fine print carefully. Sometimes, an accident behind the wheel of a rental car can cost thousands of unfriendly pounds regardless of whether or not you are at fault. It’s often a good idea to opt for purchasing excess waiver insurance (EWI) as well, which works by reimbursing the full amount of excess charged once a successful claim has been submitted.
5. Steer clear of cities.
No one needs to remind us that cities are one of-- if not the most-- stressful places to drive. If you can, take your car far away from the city to ease into any foreign driving experience without hassle or worry. Plus, in most European cities, public transport is sufficient enough to get you to where you need to be anyways.
Simply put, it’s a universal fact that city streets can be more than intimidating, especially when driving on the left side of the road. So why not just park the car and avoid urban driving altogether? If that option is utterly unavoidable, however, be sure to familiarize yourself fully with your hire vehicle before pulling away. Get in, check the seats, open all windows, locate the gearstick, find the windscreen wiper (as well as necessary others) so that you won’t fall into the trap of having to look for all of them for the first time in the moment you actually need them mid-journey.
This article was written by Pamela Chan.