Driving UK Style- how hard is it to learn?

Last week, I managed to win a free vacation in Ireland, through a local pub trivia contest. I’m excited about it, but my one concern is how I’ll manage driving a rental car.

For those who have been tourists in Ireland or the UK… how hard is it to get used to steering from the right side and driving on the left?

Is there any practical way to prepare?

My main concern is that I have 41 years of conditioning to do things a certain way. Even if I KNOW how I’m supposed to do things over there, my instincts (my mental autopilot, so to speak) are liable to lead me to do the wrong thing.

Am I getting worried over nothing? Any driving advice? Fire away (and thanks in advance, for any and all useful suggestions).

I’ve driven a bit in the UK, and I found right-hand drive pretty easy to handle. The hard part is negotiating the roundabouts (we call them traffic circles, in the few places they exist in the US).

Single-track (one-lane) roads can be fun, especially when there’s someone coming the other way :eek:

I’ve driven in Scotland and Ireland, and didn’t have any problems, even driving a stick shift. A point you might want to consider is that automatics are a lot more expensive to rent than manual transmission cars.

In New England they call traffic circles rotaries. The folks in Ireland and the UK are much more civilized about them than Boston drivers.

IANADriver, but from what I’ve heard (and experienced first-hand as a passenger) you might have some difficulties sensing where the left side of the car is.

And you have to look to the left , instead of the right , when you want to see through the rear-view mirror.

I’m from the US and had been driving for about 10 years before I moved to the UK and took the UK drivers license exam. I know you’re not going to do that, but based on my experience, I don’t think you’ll have much problem adapting. I found that driving is driving, no matter what side of the car you are on. Just pay attention and let your co-pilot do the searching for streets, hotels, Loch Ness monsters and so forth. That said, the passenger seat feels like a suicide seat for the non-driver. Hell, you’re supposed to be in control from that side of the car! It’s like being in back on a two-seater bicycle with a maniac at the helm.

The mechanics: The foot pedals are in the same place but the gear shift is reversed. I mean, gear 1-2 is closest to the driver. It feels natural pretty quickly but sometimes seems odd, causing you to ask yourself why the engine suddenly sounds like a Formula one racecar and the rpms needle has blown out of the dash. Wear seatbelts! Accidently going into first gear when you were looking for fifth is fun and exciting, but you should at least be buckled in before it happens. Of course, I have never done that no matter what my girlfriend tries to tell you (she is full of lies, lies, lies! Some of which are unfortunately true).

You are always driving with the driver’s side toward traffic, so while from the other side of the car, you still have the same sense of seeing the ‘right edge’, passing side of your car and if you’re going to sideswipe oncoming traffic (which I would suggest avoiding). Mirrors, sense of car width, length, etc. all come quickly. However, I guarantee you that you will turn the windshield wipers on and off about 100 times a day since the turn signal is on the other side of the steering wheel. Also, they tend to use flashers to indicate a slow-down in traffic, to avoid pile-ups so you may want to remember that if you are on the motorways!

And just so that you don’t feel too comfortable and to remind you to pay attention and you’ll be okay, wasn’t Matthew Broderick involved in a horrible accident in Great Britain because he was driving on the wrong side of the road? How does it go again? Left is right and right is wrong…:confused:

:confused: Not on any cars I’ve seen over here.

A couple years back I took a three week trip to Ireland and England and rented a car. I was nervous about the driving, so tried to mentally prepare.

Here’s my prearation advice, knowing it sounds very stupid, but I think it helped me alot: Practice looking the wrong way at intersections, and visualizing where you would go if turning your car. Do not do this while driving as you’ll probably crash. Walk around a city and do it. Whenever you get to a corner, look right, then left, pretend you’re turning, etc. The mental part is the only difference driving in England. The physical is no problem.

Also, learn how to drive in rotaries (giving away that I too am from New England). Once I got used to rotaries I thought they were the greatest traffic innovation around.

Were you on Car Talk last week by any chance? There was a caller with the exact same question. It think the audio is still on their web site.

I came to Japan after driving in the US for many years. It wasn’t an easy transition for me. Learning to drive on the left is not hard, but at intersections cars come at you from the direction you least expect. I’m actually glad that they made me pass the drivint test before I could drive. I failed it twice! The first time I failed to noticed a semi coming at me from the right at an intersection, and the instructor had to slam his brake.

You also need to get used to driving on narrow roads. This includes watching out for parked cars on the other side of the road. Why? Because oncoming cars will cross into your lane as he overtakes the parked car, and expects you to take evasive maneuvers. You also need to learn to back into a parking space. If you drive into a small parking space head first, you’ll never get out.

If you have to drive, just do it very carefully, I don’t know what else to advise. Are you sure it wouldn’t be more fun to take the bus, train or bicycle?

One more thing. I assume that you will get out of the car now and again and take a walkabout. Be very careful to look to the right when you cross a street instead of left. Old habits die hard.

I’ve never been to Great Britain/Ireland (except for passing through Heathrow which doesn’t really count) but my brother has travelled there many times and I asked him the very question in the OP.

As others have suggested he said the driving wasn’t particularly difficult to get used to. What he did say was difficult was stepping off a curb looking to your left and almost getting creamed by a car coming from your right. Your ‘autopilot’ is more engaged while merely walking then when thinking about driving a car and he has said this has happened to him numerous times no matter how hard he tries to remember. He told me (but I don’t know if it is true) that GB has gotten so used to dumbass Americans stepping into traffic looking the wrong way that many places have a sign painted on the street that says, “Look This Way” with an arrow pointing to the right.

Just start getting in the habit of looking both ways at any intersection…even one way streets…and you should be fine (this is a good idea regardless if you are travelling to Ireland).

It’s quite true and a good thing too, especially if you are going to cross a one way street and the trafic comes from your left.

First off the bat, Floater is correct. The scariest things that have happened to me related to left-side driving have had to do with looking the wrong way while on foot.

I am putting in my 2 cents, simply because I am an older dog than you and I had very little problem with making the change. I also worried myself to death beforehand.

Round-abouts are scary, but just remember the car in the round-about has the right-a-way over the car entering. Here in the south we don’t have “rotaries”, but I realized that many county courthouses use the same system and no one has a name for it.

Two other problems.[ul] [li]When turning concentrate on which side to aim for, since this can be confusing if you leave it to your instincts. This may be a personal thing, but if I had to turn around (having missed a turn), I would get confused as to which side was which.[/ul][/li]
Good luck and enjoy!

These signs exist, I’ve seen them on the streets in the tourist areas of Edinburgh. But don’t think this is a peculiarly American phenomenon. In St. Petersburg, Florida, near my hometown, they used to (and may still) host a British Naval vessel every Christmas. And each year it seems at least one young British sailor was killed by stepping out into oncoming traffic. Usually they were too drunk to remember to look the “wrong way”.

I’m in the UK. Driver for over 20 years, huge variety of vehicles, for professional and personal purposes, and many hire cars. Never seen this in any car or vehicle, and never heard of it. Gears tend to always be pretty intuitive for anyone who reads left to right: 1st is top left, down for 2, then 3rd is to the right of 1st, down for 4th, then 5th (if there is one) is to the right of 3rd.

Like you astorian, I was very worried about how I would do when I rented a car in Britian way back in 1995. On the ride to the rental agency I mentioned this to the cabbie. He asked if I knew about roundabouts and I replied (with hesitation) that I was familiar with the concept. He advised me that I must yield to cars already in the roundabout. That was the extent of his advice. I advised him to stay off the nearby roads for about 20 minuites until I got out of town.:stuck_out_tongue:

What I found was that about 30 minutes after taking the wheel the first time, my perception of right vs. left switched. Sort of like reading upside down, after a while your brain compensates and it seems perfectly natural. My navagator (Mom) would say “Take the next left.” I would reply “OK left” and then point to my right. She would say “No, your other left.” So other than some communication problems with the navagator I did perfectly fine. Roundabouts are tricky as once you are in them the exits wiz by quickly and you have only a fraction of a second to decide your route. Also, I found it helpful to have everyone in the car yell “Keep to the left!” whenever I made a turn into another street.

Parking, on the other hand, is a complete bitch in Britian due to the narrow slots and equally narrow lanes in the parking lots.

No problem at all for me. I was worried too, but it was just not an issue at all. However, when approaching a roundabout, I was a little more careful - just to be safe. But I never even had an “Oops!” while driving (~2 weeks in England and Wales).

Before I went, I thought the biggest problem would be instinct - when faced with having to make an instantaneous decision I would revert to the US sides, but I did face a few of those and I came out OK.

Just don’t get too worked up about it and you should be fine. Good luck.

I didn’t really have any problems either, driving in Ireland for about two weeks.

Be ready to have to use your left hand to change gears. That was weird at first, but not too hard to get used to.

When I would turn left, I had to be sure to leave enough room, cause I was used to skirting the curb in the states. I ran over the curb a few times.

Just be ready to pay more attention and stay on top of your game, and it won’t be too hard.

A word of warning, just as you think you’re mastering roundabouts, this appears!

Stop at a auto parts supply and buy learner tags. They’re plastic signs with a big red ‘L’ to warn everybody you’re a dummy. I also put a little American flag in the window.

If you’re confused by a roundabout, just circle around a time or two to get oriented. A wrong exit isn’t the end of the world, but it does add to the problem.

One thing you can do better than the natives is parallel park. They just don’t do it. Unless the slot is big enough to pull in directly, the native will drive on by.