Like it or not, sooner or later, a lover of the road trips will have to confront a chimera: left-hand drive. Or maybe it’s better to call it “Right-hand drive”
I have personally come up against this “ugly beast” that is reverse driving several times. The first time was my trip to Scotland, the last my recent trip to Ireland. Every, and I mean every time I have to plan a trip (Read also How to plan a trip from A to Z) where I will find myself driving on the left, I get this anxiety of incompetence that gives me pause.
Only 5 minutes later, every time I remind myself that there is no need to worry about anything, and secondly, that fortunately I was born in Italy … if I had been born in one of those countries with left-hand drive, do you know how many thoughts every single trip! For “them” almost every trip presents this issue, and from us there is no classic “look right” which would then be “look left” for them.
What are the countries where you drive on the left?
There are fewer countries in the World where you drive on the left than on the right. In the World you can drive s left in the English area.
Countries where you will find yourself driving the opposite way are Britain, Australia, Japan, some Southern African states, Indonesia, Thailand, New Zealand…
Left-hand drive: my 10 tips
The concept is: if you are planning a trip to a right-hand drive country (meaning you in the car are on the right side of the cockpit), don’t worry, because if you follow these short but sensible tips, you will be able to drive in the opposite direction without any problem. Some of these tips, such as points #1-2-3-4 and part of #5 apply only in case you rent a car. If you will be using your own car, skip them outright.
You may also find these other articles I have written helpful:
1 – Choose a small car
I want to include this one for you as my first piece of advice. When you get into a car that you are not familiar with, initially you need to take measurements. Think about whether you will have to rent a vehicle in a left-hand drive country. It will be even more difficult. Also, a small car allows you to be nimble in “reverse” maneuvers.
2 – Figure out where to get in
How trivial, you will say to me…and that is not really the case. It will happen several times that, overthinking, you will go to the left door thinking that you will sit down to drive. It doesn’t. Driving on the left means that the driver gets in on the right. Let’s say this is one of the first tips, a bit soft but if you don’t even know which way to go in, there is no need to read the other tips.
3 – Understand how the car is structured
Good. Once you become aware that with left-hand drive you have to get in on the right, you sit down and you have to understand what is different about the car.
First, the pedals are not reversed, the clutch is always on the left foot, brake and accelerator on the right foot. Think if they were backwards, an unimaginable mess, it would be dangerous to brake with your left foot.
Second, the shifter must be operated with the left hand, and again it is not reversed, or rather, what must be reversed is the way you use it. With a left-hand drive gearbox, you will handle gear 1 the same as right-hand drive gear 5, and you will handle gear 5 the same as 1. I know it sounds like I’m playing with words, but if you pause and think about it, you’ll really understand what I mean.
Third, it will change the way you look at the rearview mirrors, adapting it to the new type of driving.
4 – Choose a car with an automatic transmission
I know. Renting a car with an automatic transmission will definitely cost more than one with a manual transmission. However, I assure you that if you follow this advice of mine, you will come back to this article and thank me.
Left-hand drive, especially in the first few miles, involves a lot of concentration. Having an automatic transmission allows you to:
- forget about the left leg and therefore no clutch
- do not use the gearbox
- not needing to feel the engine revs
- don’t “whizz” and/or have the car turn off at an intersection
This last point sounds like the antithesis of the experienced driver. However, imagine yourself at a stop sign. You need to enter, you need to reason which way to actually enter (and already here you are using almost all of the brain’s available reasoning capacity), you risk playing poorly with your feet and having the driver’s performance drop off, it’s a snap.
All kidding aside: the automatic transmission allows you to cut in half the things you have to think about and concentrate on all those mechanisms that in right-hand drive are automatic, whereas with left-hand drive you have to think about them.
5 – You have to pay attention in the first few KMs
The first few KM are C-R-I-T-I-C-A-L!
Once you get off to a very slow start, if you have rented the car you will have to take it easy. The first few miles are important because you will be getting out of the rental (potentially the one at the airports) and onto roads that are certainly not country roads. A few cars you will find, so the first few miles go slow and discover this new world of left-hand drive.
From my experience, I estimate that it takes about 200 km to become aware of the vehicle and the new rules. However, my experience is from driving on the left with a rented car, which means the driver is on the right. I have never experienced driving with my personal car.
6 – Getting help from the co-driver
You know the rally driver who needs the “human navigator” to support him along the way? Well, your co-driver will have to do the same. You are used to driving with right-hand drive, with left-hand drive you will have to figure out well how to set up a traffic circle, where to look first…whoever will be in the car with you, especially in the first days will have to give you a hand (without making you anxious) by reasoning with you. 4 eyes are better than two.
7 – Use the real navigator
We all have cell phones, we all have maps. Even if you know the road, or you are a fanatic about vertical signs, I recommend that you set the navigator so that you can see the progress of the road and be able to predict some future entry or intersection.
I had also put it to you as a tip in this other interesting article -> Traveling by Car: 9 Great Long Road Trip Tips.
8 – Think mentally about what you will have to do
Based on the previous tip, the navigator will predict where and how soon you will have to turn. Knowing this in advance allows you to mentally think about the turn and arrive prepared at the point where you will have to enter, whether it is a traffic circle or an intersection.
With left-hand drive it is important to drive serenely; thinking ahead of the turn is an important factor in your serenity.
9 – Stay in the…left lane
Especially on freeway stretches and after you have “gotten the hang of it” for a while, you will also tend to stay in the exit lanes. Be careful: the exit lanes are on the opposite side. Remember that the slowest lane is the one with right-hand drive.
10 – Drive on the left with your car
For this last very important point, I asked for support from my friend Monica, a blogger who, with her own Beetle, ably driven by the indefatigable Davide, has repeatedly run into this little problem of having to use her car (set for right-hand drive) in left-hand drive countries.
Here is his advice. “If driving on the left in a rental car can seem complex, driving on the left in your own car is even more difficult. A rental car, rented where you drive on the left, is ‘set up’ for left-hand drive. After a while you become familiar with the car and the reverse controls and can conform to the flow of the road. With your car you don’t.
The first thing that leaves you a bit bewildered is definitely the fact that you always feel on the wrong side. When you’re at traffic lights, when you’re turning, when you’re doing traffic circles you have to stay very focused, because seeing the rest of the “road” world turned inside out destabilizes you a little bit.
But the really difficult thing about driving on the left with your car is overtaking.
Think about it: while you are driving on the left side of the roadway, the centerline is on your right and you are on the opposite side of the centerline strip. In practice, if you are driving alone, it is really difficult to overtake because you cannot see if someone is coming from the opposite side. In my case, I would look into the opposite carriageway and tell my husband when he could launch into overtaking. On one occasion we happened to have a wagon full of hay bales in front of us, so very high so reduced visibility to the right, reduced visibility in front, snail speed. In that case you can just put your heart in your mouth and hope the wagon turns at the first one.”
Driving on the left is, especially at first, problematic. With this article, I did not want to make it look easy for you, but I did want to give an answer to (I imagine) your legitimate concerns. I assure you that if you keep these little tips in mind, you will not have the slightest problem!
Have a good left-hand drive!