5 Tips for Driving on the Left Side of the Road

Your trip is planned and you’re ready to go abroad … but do you know how to drive on the left side of the road?

Tips for driving on the other side of the road

You’ve got your confirmations in order and reservations booked, but you’re visiting a country where you have to drive … on the other side of the road? Truth be told, around 25 percent of the world drives on the left (or “opposite”) side of the road, so you’re bound to bump into this situation at some point.

Now, I’m not much of a driver, but I lived in the United Kingdom for 5 years and took enough road trips that I can give you pretty good advice on the topic. Here are my top 5 tips for driving on the left side of the road.

1. Read up on driving rules before you go

Don’t just scan the 30-word introduction from your Lonely Planet guide that cheerfully tells you to stay to the left. Do a little homework on driving in your vacation dreamland — nobody wants to become a traffic statistic.

For example, did you know that there are still some single track roads in the UK? (Yes. They are not fun.) And would you know what to do on a single lane bridge in New Zealand?

Given today’s era of blogs and online newspapers, you won’t have trouble finding out what you need to know, so do yourself a favor and google it.

2. Don’t get a manual transmission rental car

You might drive a manual transmission at home, but cars are a little different in each country, no matter how similar they might look. Go for the automatic — even if it costs more, even if it’s a slight bruise to your ego. As a tourist, you’ve got enough to think about without having to retrain yourself to shift with your left hand.

3. Do a parking-lot test first

When you get into your rental car for the first time, ask the attendant if there’s somewhere you can sit and get your bearings. If you’ve landed at an airport, space might be at a premium, so look for something like a large airport hotel. You’ll want to take a minute, calm your nerves, and familiarize yourself with your car and where everything is. This also gives you the time to make sure you’ve got your directions sorted so you can focus on the road.

4. Cities are not your friend

It’s a universal fact that cities can be intimidating, especially if you are driving on the left side of the road, so sometimes it’s best to just avoid driving there altogether if you can. Park the car and take public transportation. Or, if it all seems too much, find a tour guide to take you instead. (We won’t judge. Promise.)

5. Slow down and smell those roses

Don’t overschedule the trip. You don’t know how long drives will take or whether you’ll encounter traffic jams. Rushing also leaves you less time to recover from mistakes if your mind wanders, so slow down. Instead, factor in some breathing room to pull off and take a photo or explore a small town that’s begging for attention.

Above all, remember: it’s not a vacation if you’ve spent a week in an adrenaline-fueled road rage. Enjoy the experience of driving on the left and laugh off any goofs as part of the story you can tell when you get home. And please, get home safely!

For more tips, check out our driving abroad page. Or leave your own tip for driving on the left side of the road in the comments below!

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Check out Andy’s website, Plum Deluxe.

6 Responses to “5 Tips for Driving on the Left Side of the Road”

  1. James C. Walker
    April 17, 2013 #

    Having driven in several left rule of the road countries, I STRONGLY disagree with suggestion #2.

    If you can possibly drive a standard transmission vehicle, be SURE to use one, and manual transmission vehicles will be the bulk of the rental fleets. It is quite awkward shifting with your left hand and it keeps you constantly reminded that you are in a different environment. It also somewhat trains you to look left and up for the rear view mirror in the center of the car.

    Add #6. Look RIGHT, turn LEFT driving out of most parking lots. One of the biggest dangers is coming out onto a quiet street at night with no traffic in sight to remind you about the rule of the road.

    Add #7 As a pedestrian, look RIGHT, look LEFT, then look RIGHT again before crossing a street. Cars coming from your right are the closest dangers to you as a pedestrian.

    James C. Walker, a 68 year old driver with 1+ million miles of experience in 21 major countries, many of which are left rule of the road ones including Great Britain, New Zealand, Antiga and several small islands.

  2. Andy Hayes
    April 17, 2013 #

    Thanks for your suggestions, James – always appreciate alternative opinions; guess we can agree to disagree on #2.

    • James C. Walker
      April 17, 2013 #

      And the one that is almost impossible to practice is the emergency move. You are on a quiet 2 lane country road with short sight distances over hills and around curves. Suddenly, a car appears over a hill or around a curve in about the middle of the road and a head-on crash is about to happen.

      You have to go LEFT to avoid the crash, but your natural instinct is to go right. I have done it correctly twice, once in New Zealand almost going nose-up to a Land Rover and once in England to an Audi.

      It helps to not let your driving get sloppy on quiet country roads, by keeping as far left as possible. This takes a bit of practice to watch the left outside mirror to judge how close you are to the edge of the road or the curb and get a feel for the position of your car on the road from the driver's seat.

  3. Michael Brooks
    April 17, 2013 #

    This is a great post, being in the military, so I have been overseas and it is very tough to drive on the opposite side of the road. It is also tough to drive with the steering wheel on the other side of the car. So I had to get use to that.
    Before I left, I had to call my insurance company to make sure they covered me overseas.

  4. Michael
    April 24, 2013 #

    Switching sides with a manual is no deal when you remember your in the middle. The most important thing to remember is that you are in the middle no matter what country. Accept if you take a car from the UK to France, Can't even imagine that manual or auto. Its pretty difficult to get a fuel efficient car in the UK though, so I say stick with manual. I got last summer a crossover Mitsubishi Turbo diesel that got 54 mpg UK I don't know the conversion but its still better than a prius and sat 7.

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