Are you visiting a country that drives on the left side of the road? Wondering if you can/should do it? Woohoo!! I salute you, and share my 10 best tips for driving left side below.
My first time driving on the left side was in a manual transmission on a road trip through the United Kingdom with my husband. We left London’s suburbs for Scotland and Ireland, counting and comparing our curb hits as we went. (I won!) But I’m happy to report: no accidents!
If I can do it, you can do it.
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10 BEST Tips for Driving Left Side: How To Prepare for the Left-Hand Drive
The best thing you can do when preparing for the left-hand drive is to arm yourself with helpful tips and tricks. And psych yourself up for expending extra mental energy each time you get behind the wheel.
Here are 10 tips we learned first-hand when driving on the left side of the road.
1. Limit city driving.
One of the most intimidating parts of driving on the left side of the road for us newbies is city driving. (The other is round-abouts, which we tackle below.)
Do yourself a big favor and book your car rental on the outside of the city. Traffic is lighter and lanes are wider, and more forgiving.
You can also limit city driving at cities you visit along your drive. Consider parking at an outer park-and-ride and taking the bus or commuter train in. Or, drive directly to your accommodations and then take transit or walk.
2. Get an automatic transmission. Maybe.
An automatic transmission will definitely make your life easier as you get comfortable driving on the left side of the road. It’s just one less thing you have to think about.
But sometimes an automatic transmission isn’t available. If you find yourself in a manual, give yourself time to get to know your car and practice in the rental lot.
Now, as strange as it felt to use my left hand to shift gears, I think it helped remind me to look left (more on this below). It can be a mental trigger for your eyes to follow your shifting hand as you watch for cars and pedestrians.
Plus, a manual transmission is typically cheaper. So, if you can drive manually, you might want to.
3. Get a GPS.
Driving in any new place can be intimidating, especially when streets are narrow and road signs are missing. Even in the United Kingdom, SO many roads just didn’t have a sign. And cell coverage was spotty in the countryside.
So, while getting a GPS is a good idea for most road trips, it’s also extra helpful with complicated round-abouts. Of which there are MANY in Europe.
A GPS will give you a warning as you near a round-about and tell you which lane to get into. As you drive through it, it’ll remind you which exit to use.
I can’t say enough of how helpful our Garmin GPS was on our UK road trip. We still say that it saved our marriage. You can check reviews and prices on Amazon.
4. Check out your new wheels.
As with driving any new vehicle you’ve rented, take a few minutes to locate everything.
How do you signal? Wipe the windows? Where are the headlight controls, and how do you change the beams? Can you quickly turn the radio off and your hazard lights on?
If you have a manual transmission, try out the gear shift. Get comfortable with the movements between gears.
Set your seat to the right height and distance from the foot pedals. Adjust your steering wheel angle. Your side and rear-view mirrors.
5. Set up before you drive.
Now that you’re feeling good about your car, get everything else set up for driving on the left side of the road.
Program your driving route into your GPS and review it in detail. Check the overview AND each turn, so you know what to expect. Set it up where you can easily see it, without blocking your view of other critical things.
Put your drinks and food where you want them. Clear your windows so you can easily check blind spots. And take that sweater off so you’re slightly cool as you drive.
6. Remember: Look left.
It took a LOT of practice (and co-pilot reminders) to look left at every intersection and round-about. My husband and I got into the habit of the co-pilot pointing left as we got close, just as an extra reminder.
Consider bringing a small arrow sticker to put inside your window to draw your attention left.
7. Beware of pedestrians.
Possibly the scariest part we found getting used to driving on the left side of the road was pedestrians.
As with the last point, instead of looking at the sidewalk to your right, you must look left.
I still remember how my heart skipped a beat when another tourist stepped out into our driving lane. She walked out between parked cars, looking left as she went (for cars driving on the right-hand side). We slammed on our breaks, and her eyes were huge when she finally saw our very-near bumper.
Beware of pedestrians.
8. Minimize those distractions.
What helps you focus? What distracts you? Use this for driving on the left side of the road.
For me, silence is incredibly helpful. I’m really not sure how I’d have done with my kids in the car. We would’ve started each drive with their mouths full of whatever candy they wanted and headphones with any technology they wanted!
Tell your companions to keep it quiet while navigating your first few round-abouts. Turn music down (or off) before you go in, and pause the conversations.
9. Start each day like it’s the first.
When you’ve had a break from driving on the left side of the road, start your next leg as though it’s your first time again.
Take a few minutes to mentally prepare for the left-hand drive. Rehearse the steps of putting the car in gear, shoulder-checking, and backing and then driving forward in the left lane. Look to the left for pedestrians and vehicles.
10. Breathe. Take your time.
Remember to give yourself time. Both with getting wherever you’re going and getting comfortable with driving on the left side of the road.
Go slowly at first.
Avoid packing your road trip with tight timelines and late nights.
I know, I know. This is the exact opposite of how I plan my road trips! But, I’ve now learned that it’s not the best way when you’re learning to drive on the left side of the road.
Want this checklist for your trip? Bookmark it on your phone’s browser or use the PRINT button on the right side of this page.
Is It Hard to Drive Left Side?
Yup. My husband and I both found it hard to drive on the left side of the road. It felt like our brains were being re-wired! And I was quite intimidated.
It took mental focus, patience and practice.
But, we both learned it quickly and had lots of fun, too. And so can you.
Which Countries Drive on the Left?
Most countries that were once British colonies are still driving on the left-hand side of the road, plus a few others.
Countries that drive in the left-hand side of the road:
- Caribbean Islands
- Europe: Cyprus, Ireland, Malta and the United Kingdom
- South Africa
It’s a good idea to review the highway code for the country you’re visiting. Their rules can differ on things like right-hand turns on red lights, signals for protected left-hand turns, and pedestrian right-of-ways.
Looking for a good car rental? Search Expedia for the best rates.
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Featured photo credit: Kevin Laminto from Unsplash