Driving on the “wrong” side


Driving on the “wrong” side

The biggest difference is arguably not on the roads, but inside the car—it is like Opposite World in there.

Not only are you driving on the “wrong” side of the road from what you’re used to, but all the controls are on the wrong side, too. The blinkers are where the light switch should be, the window controls where the radio should be, the mirrors—well, it’s hard even to describe what happens when you look into a rear-view mirror when everything is already backward.

Get an Automatic Transmission

In many parts of the world, the majority of rental cars have a manual transmission (that is to say, a stick shift), and rentals of automatic transmission cars are both harder to find and more costly. Nonetheless, if you’re used to driving an automatic transmission at home, it’s worth making an effort to find an automatic car abroad.

Take It Easy

There is defensive driving, and then there is extra-cautious “I don’t know which side of the road I am supposed to be on” driving; opt for the latter. If your defensive driving habits are generally solid, add another layer of care to your usual approach. If you tend to be an aggressive driver, this is a good time to press “pause” on habits like speeding, tailgating, and weaving in and out of lanes.

Get to Know the Car

It’s always wise to familiarize yourself with the pedals, buttons, and other operations of your rental car before pulling out of the lot, but it’s even more important if these functions are on the opposite side of where you expect them. I’d recommend making the first 10 minutes of your car rental more like 15 or 20 minutes so you feel fully comfortable with the vehicle before getting out on the road.

Be Careful at the Beginning of Each Day

Use caution when heading out first thing in the morning, especially if you haven’t yet had your morning coffee. Taking a walk before you drive might help a bit, as you can reorient yourself to looking for traffic in the opposite direction of what you’re used to.

Allow Extra Time

Even under normal driving conditions, many traffic accidents are caused by people who are in a rush. With your reaction time rendered unreliable by so many changes in variables, you could use a few extra minutes on almost all your drives, even short ones.

Don’t Distract Yourself

Driving while impaired is never a good idea, whether that means being drunk or tired, eating, fiddling with your phone, or keeping an eye on a child in the back seat. Adding such distractions to the already challenging task of driving on the opposite side of the road is just asking for trouble.

Put Your Copilot to Work

On a related note, have fellow passengers take on any tasks not directly related to operating the car, such as reading maps, changing radio stations, checking road signs, and giving reminders at stop signs or traffic lights.

Beware the Roundabout

Known as “traffic circles” in most of the U.S., roundabouts are all over the place in many countries that were formerly part of the British Empire. Anyone who has driven on the opposite side of the road will tell you that circles are the single most confusing thing you will encounter; take these slowly and get your wits about you before entering one.

Be Careful About Pedestrians

The instinct for folks who drive on the right side of the road is to look right for pedestrians stepping into the street very close to the car. While driving on the left side of the road, it is pedestrians on your left who could step in front of your car unexpectedly.

Make Stop Signs and Red Lights Your Friend

At home, traffic lights and stop signs can be annoying roadblocks that slow you down en route to where you’re going, but when driving on the opposite side of the road, they often offer a welcome pause to get your bearings and reorient yourself—a brief breather from the onslaught of reverse stimuli. You might even come to appreciate them.

Use Caution with Mirrors

As mentioned above, getting used to the mirrors may be the trickiest task you will face; everything is reverse of reverse. It can be jarring to look out the left-side mirror and see parked cars whizzing by.  When in doubt, turn around and look out the back window to get a direct, unmediated view of what’s actually happening.

Accept That You’ll Make Mistakes

You should assume you are going to make a mistake of some kind at some point, and try to anticipate what you might do in that case. Freaking out, compounding the problem with another error, and succumbing to road rage are generally not your best options when you do. Instead, get yourself into a safe spot, and then figure out how to get yourself back on the correct side of the road.

Buy the Insurance

Even if you normally don’t purchase insurance when renting a car, it’s not a bad idea when you are driving in Opposite World—if only to give you extra peace of mind. To learn more about your options, see General Terms & Conditions, chapter 3.

Let Someone Else Drive at First

Navigating out of a strange airport is hard enough without it being your first time on the other side of the car and the other side of the road. Add travel fatigue and jet lag to the mix, and it’s not a good state to tackle the equivalent of writing with your non-dominant hand. You might consider taking a taxi or car share for your first ride from the airport. Especially if you sit in the front seat, this can also help you adjust to the flow of traffic by experiencing it first as a passenger.