Driving on the Right side of the Road! Otherwise known as driving on the WRONG side of the road!! How hard is it to driving on the other side of the road?
This is a question I have often contemplated but never really understood or worried about too much. It was inevitable the day would come when we needed to hire a vehicle in a country that goes about driving in reverse, but until we booked a trip to USA it had never happened.
Driving on the Wrong Side of the Road – What to do Before you leave home
- Check each country you will be visiting to ascertain what side of the road they drive on. Here is a website that shows countries and the side of the road they drive on.
- Check if a current drivers license is all you need to rent a vehicle. You may need an International Drivers License. We usually get an international Drivers License from the NRMA as a precaution. Always bring your current drivers license with the correct residential address.
- Check your travel insurance. A lot of good insurers cover car insurance automatically with your travel insurance. This can be a big saving when you hire a vehicle. Bring proof of coverage with you to the car rental.
- Check your credit card policy, some credit card providers cover car insurance if you pay your car rental on their credit card.
- Check your home insurance policy. Some policies will cover insurance for car rental.
- Consider hiring an automatic vehicle.
- Consider taking public transport from the airport to a quieter town to collect the vehicle.
After a 16 hour, all night flight from Sydney to LAX, and with 2 hours sleep under our belt we were about to discover all the driving nuances of being on the other side of the road.As expected we collected the vehicle smack bang in the middle of peak hour. We made our way to the vehicle where I automatically got into the passenger seat. Only it had a steering wheel!
Oh dear, I had forgotten the drivers seat was swapped about too. This was already feeling unnatural.The differences were even more apparent as I sat in the passenger seat. I felt totally out of control. I was sitting in what would usually be the drivers seat with no controls!
We had decided (I had decided) that it would only be Brett driving on this holiday. My reasoning was that even crossing the road in countries which drove on the wrong side was difficult for me, so me driving did not seem like a good idea.
I remembered back to my first independent trip to Amsterdam as a teenager. I looked left and right before crossing the road and nearly always just missed being hit by a tram or bike. I haven’t improved over the years and still find walking difficult, in countries where people are driving on the opposite side of the road.
My husband is a great driver, he is safe and cautious. He’s a natural controlling anything with wheels. He also seems to have a much better sense of direction and coordination than I do. I was confident putting him in charge of learning this new skill.
When we pulled out of LAX I was quietly gripping my seat for dear life. I felt naked sitting on the right hand side without a steering wheel. We exited the carpark and joined the freeway. We had three lanes of traffic headed in the same direction and three on the opposite side of the road.
We merged with traffic, only we didn’t fully merge! We hadn’t moved fully into our designated lane!
We continued a few hundred meters straddling the breakdown lane and our own lane. Until I finally said as calmly as I could (frantically)!
“Move into our lane!!! ”
“We aren’t in our lane yet!!!”
Brett moved the car further to the left and we crossed over the raised dots on the side of the road and into our own lane fully. Yeah! We were doing it! We were driving on the wrong side of the road!
There were times on the first day of driving that we took up 30cm or so of the breakdown lane. It felt totally unnatural for Brett to position himself any more to the left of our lane. The result of this was me almost sitting on his knee as I tried to avoid merging traffic scraping the side of our vehicle.
Each time Brett started pulling to the right side of the lane I would just say dots, and he would re evaluate his position on the road. It only took him a day or so to master the art of judging his position in the lane. We spoke to our American friends who confirmed they had the same positioning difficulties whilst driving in Australia.
The moral to my story; positioning the vehicle in your lane can be difficult to get used to. It will feel natural to keep pulling over to the right side of the lane.
Our next life lesson was
- “Hire a GPS with the vehicle!”
We haven’t used a GPS since we bought our first smart phone so I nearly declined the hire. Then I remembered we were out of the country and would incur roaming charges. The GPS was invaluable. There can be 6 to 8 lanes of traffic in LA so it pays to have an audible GPS program which allows you to always be in the optimal lane.
When traveling through California we found that signboards tended to show road name exits, rather than label an exit for a town. This meant you needed to know what road name or highway number would lead to your destination.
When we drove from LA to Vegas (400+ miles) we didn’t see one sign directing us to Las Vegas. We were almost able to see the city before a sign told us we were going the right way. There were however, a lot of billboards in the side of the road advertising casinos that gave us a clue that we were headed in the right direction.
Through out the trip we discovered there were certain situation which required more caution when driving on the other side of the road.
Driving in a car park may seem like cinch but it’s not necessarily the case. Traffic in car parks doesn’t flow and there aren’t other lines of traffic to follow. Cars are doing random things like reversing, parking etc. It’s easy to forget what side of the road to use. Or stop concentrating and lapse into old habits.
Another road situation which caused us a few scary moments was turning at lights and intersections. We found it difficult when we were to be the first car off the mark. It took an extra level of concentration to ensure we ended up on the correct side of the road. More than once we adjusted our path mid intersection as we realized we were approaching head on to a stationary vehicle as it waited for lights to change.
It’s tricky because you naturally want to go back to the side of the road you are accustomed too. Brett got the hang of it quickly, but I had a few more heart stopping moments when I thought he had turned into the wrong side of the road, luckily he was correct and I wasn’t driving.
Until Brett got used to intersection he made it a point to try and keep a vehicle in front at lights if possible. If this wasn’t possible he made a point of watching the line the last vehicle took. It can be daunting when there are six lanes to choose from at an intersection and the three that feel most natural are incorrect.
Other Tips for countries that drive on the RIGHT HAND side of the road.
- The slow lane is the far right lane.
- Fast lane is to the left.
- Transit lanes (x2) are for vehicles carrying two or more people.
- You can turn right on a red light when safe. The idea is not to unduly hold up traffic.
- Remember your handbrake when parking! It’s easy to forget because it’s on the right.
Although we drive a manual vehicle in Australia Brett had chosen to hire a vehicle with automatic transmission for our travel. His reasoning was having the gears positioned on the right would require yet another steep learning curve. It wouldn’t feel natural and would require taking his eyes off the road for each gear change. It would be just another distraction and as a consequence a potential danger.
Traveling around Nevada we discovered another curiosity that had me gripping my seat in apprehension. We noticed a truck traveling with its hazard lights on. It was driving along at roughly the speed limit so I had no idea what was going on? Was he warning us he was changing lanes? Was something wrong? Was there a merge coming up? Nope, it seems hazard lights are sometimes used by trucks, buses and cars in the normal course of driving just to let other drivers know that they will be a slower driver.
So it was nothing to be afraid of after all.
One other difficulty to note when discussing the idiosyncrasies of driving a car in a different country is fuel! Getting petrol can be a challenge!
After trying to pump fuel for the first time in the USA Brett was stumped. He had tried pressing the button on the pump for fuel. No luck! He tried putting a credit card into the pump and selecting fuel. No luck. In exasperation he asked a fellow driver how to use the petrol pump. Immediately the American guy with a strong accent said,
“Hey, are you Aussie or Kiwi? “We love you guys!”
It was such a nice greeting after having been awake for more than 30 hours.
He explained they either use a credit card or pre pay at the shop. Our problem was solved… Or so we thought!
Then we came across the next dilemma! The fuel was expressed in gallons per US$ we had no understanding of the conversion. If we prepaid $US50 would it even fit in the tank??? How many gallons does our car hold. Is a gallon bigger or smaller than a litre. We were in the middle of no where without internet to google the answer!
What if we pre-paid less? We could be more conservative and purchase only $US20, but then would we even make it to the next petrol station??? After all we were traveling 600km in the middle of a barren desert. When would we see another service station?
We purchase $US30 worth of fuel and it almost filled the tank. Problem solved!
When holidaying in the USA hiring a car is nearly essential. There is very little public transport, and the distances between places of interest and towns is huge.
We wouldn’t have been able to cover as much ground, or do nearly as many activities without the use of a vehicle. Even though I have included all the Route 66 signs in this story we didn’t actually drive the famous road. Route 66 ends in Santa Monica and we spent a lot of time in that area so these signs were everywhere.
Driving holidays are great fun, and learning to drive on the opposite side of the road is manageable. So good luck in your travels, I hope these tips help.