Driving on the Other Side of the Road
The difficulty of
right-hand drive cars is magnified if they also have a stick
shift. Choose an auto transmission.
Keep right! This instinct is
drilled into us from when we first start to drive a car, and
must be temporarily unlearned if in a country that drives on the
other side of the road.
But safely driving on the other side of
the road involves a lot more than just keeping left instead of
This article tells you what you
need to know to most comfortably and safely adjust your driving
to the other side of the road.
Different, but not necessarily
If you can drive a car in
your home country, then of course you can also drive a car on
the other side of the road in Britain or anywhere else. There is
a very obvious thing to remember, but also a more subtle point
to also grasp.
Obvious : Keep Left!
Yes, this might seem
obvious, and the good news is that, most of the time, it is very
difficult to forget. When you are driving on a road with other
cars, it is easy to simply copy what all the other drivers are
If you turn a corner onto an
empty street, you will have to force yourself to remember to
turn to the left hand side of the new street. It is very easy,
when doing an instinctive action such as turning a corner, and
when there are no visual clues to remind you, to forget and end
up on the right (but wrong!) side of the road instead of on the
Similar situations can occur
in other circumstances, such as when driving in and out of car
parks, or leaving the freeway and merging onto surface streets.
Subtle but Vital : Lane
This is very important, and
if you overlook this, you run the risk of mounting the curb,
destroying your suspension, and side-swiping other cars.
This issue has to do with
the fact that not only is the car being driven on the other side
of the road, but you have also changed where you sit in the car
- you are not now driving from the left hand seat but from the
right hand seat.
When you drive a car back
home, on the right hand side of the road, you are driving it
from the left hand seat, and most of the car is to your right.
This means that, instinctively, you position yourself in the
left hand side of your lane, and by keeping yourself slightly to
the left of the center of the lane, the entire car is centered
in the lane.
But when you are driving
from the right hand seat, the opposite situation applies. If you
still instinctively keep yourself on the left of the center of
the lane you are driving in, then instead of this resulting in
the car being nicely centered in the lane, instead the car will
be severely shifted to the left, making it quite likely that the
left side of your car will be outside of the lane (ie wheels
mounting the curb or going off the road surface, and the whole
car potentially side-swiping vehicles that are parked on the
roadside or which are driving in the next lane over.
This is the most important -
and most difficult skill - to master when changing from driving
on the right to driving on the left. It is difficult because it
is an instinctive habit that you probably didn't even know you
Remember that the car is now
off to your left, and so drive in the lane so that your personal
position is to the right of the center of the lane.
If you have any passengers
traveling with you, ask them to please remind you any time they
think you are straying out of position in your lane, or anytime
you end up on the wrong side of the road by mistake.
They'll probably do this
anyway (!) but by encouraging them to do so, no-one needs to
feel embarrassed or awkward if you do momentarily forget
yourself (an amazing number of air accidents occur because one
pilot was too embarrassed to correct the mistake that the other
pilot was making!).
Being a Pedestrian
I find being a pedestrian
even more difficult than being a driver. The key thing to
remember, as a pedestrian, is that the cars are coming to you
from the other direction.
Another habit we've learned
is that, when crossing a road, we look left before stepping off
the curb. When the cars are driving on the other side, you need
to change this habit and now look right (as well as left!)
before stepping off the curb.
The cars will have the
driver's controls on the other side of the vehicle, of course.
But, mercifully, the accelerator and brake pedals will be in the
same order as in your car at home - accelerator on the right and
brake on the left.
If you have the choice, try
and avoid getting a car with a manual stick shift, and choose an
automatic, even if it costs more money to rent. The stick shift
will probably still be in the center of the vehicle, but you'd
be using your left hand to control it, and it can add too much
to the total complexity of mastering a different car, in a
different country, and on the other side of the road!
If you're driving a car with
a stick shift that is mounted on the steering column, this will
be pointing in to the center of the car, so you'll still need to
use your left hand to operate it.
Beware of driving jet
lagged. Try not to take a long flight to your destination and
then immediately get into a rental car at the airport upon
arrival. Give yourself a day or two to adjust to the new time
zone and to recover from the long tiring flight before you start
driving (several clients of mine who ignored this advice had
accidents within minutes of getting in their rental cars!).
With a bit of care and
caution, you'll quickly find that driving on the other side of
the road is easy and enjoyable. Just remember that you'll need
to retrain yourself to drive on the right when you return home
No-one seems to have an
absolute complete list of all countries that drive on the left
or right sides of the road. Here is
one list and here is a
list. For the sake of over-completeness, here's
one more such list.
For More Information About
Driving in Britain
Our Driving in Britain series
has four main pages plus two additional pages about other
important issues to do with driving in Britain.
The pages are :
An Introduction to Driving in
Britain - tells you the basic essentials to do with driving in
Driving Techniques and
Issues - about one lane roads and motorways (freeways), speed
limits and enforcement.
Miscellaneous Considerations when Driving in Britain - All
sorts of other things, ranging from the price of petrol to drink
driving and seatbelt rules.
How to Drive
around Roundabouts - for information about driving around the
roundabouts that are prevalent in Britain (and elsewhere too).
We also have a page about
How to Drive
on the Left (Other) Side of the Road (this is the page you
are currently on) which sets out some
helpful tips and pointers for how to make this as easy as
And, not so much about
driving, but still an important aspect of driving, see also our
page about where and how to park your car
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10 Jan 2003, last update
28 May 2011
You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.