how to drive on the left

7 tips for how to drive on the left side of the road

by Michael on May 21, 2013

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With a little planning it’s easy to drive on the left side of the road. On our around-the-world journey we spent more time driving on the left side of the road than we did on the right; doing so in Ireland, the UK, Australia, New Zealand and Africa. Many North Americans call it driving on the “wrong” side of the road but we’ve never embraced this terminology. That just makes it harder to get used to.  Here are a few tips we learned in the UK for driving on the left:

1)  Go left, young man

Think left. And then think left again. Some car companies put a sticker on the dashboard that says, “Left alive. Dead right.” That’s it in a nutshell. When you’re not sure where to go, just go left.

2)  Avoid a sticky situation

Most rental vehicles in the UK and Europe are manual transmission. For the first time you drive on the left, consider paying extra for an automatic transmission. If you don’t drive a manual transmission at home, this is not the time to learn. However, if you are used to a stick at home, you will find, as we did, that the adjustment to shifting with the left hand is relatively easy.

3)  Remote possibilities

Pick up your rental car in a more remote location. For our road trip in Scotland we started out in Edinburgh. However, instead of picking up our car in that crowded city, we took the train to a suburban location and picked up our car there. With fewer cars on the road it was an easier adjustment to make.

how to drive on the left

With the freedom of a car hire, me met some new friends in the English countryside.

4)  Curb your enthusiasm

Practice driving around the parking lot where you pick up the car and get used to the bulk of the car being on your left rather than the right. Also try parallel parking it against a curb a few times.

5)  Making adjustments

The adjustment to driving on the left is a bit easier to make since the driver sits on the right, opposite to where they are used to. Right away the driver is aware something is different, which makes it easier to adapt. Also, in the UK many country roads where you will go exploring are single-lane, so driving is a breeze.

6)  Do you get my drift?

If you are traveling with a companion, enlist their help to make sure you are not drifting over the center line of the road. That can happen a bit at first. Driving on the left is harder for the front seat passenger as they continually press the phantom brake pedal that they don’t have. At least Larissa does.

7)  Going around in circles

The UK and Ireland are chock full of traffic circles, something Americans are not used to. Visualize ahead of time what you will do in a circle. What’s that? Correct, go left.

Follow these tips and driving on the left will be a breeze. You will also get to see more of the countryside, wandering around at your own pace. And don’t forget, in North America we call it car rental, but it’s called a car hire in the UK.

Just remember when you return home to get back on the right. We drove on the left so much on our journey that it became second-nature. When we got into a taxi after our arrival in New York, I wondered why the driver was sitting on the “wrong” side of the car.

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Seven tips for driving on the left

Buy maps of England and Ireland to prepare for your journey.

28581550060_131210d7e7_mLarissa and Michael are your typical middle-aged couple from Philadelphia who’ve been traveling the world full-time since 2011, seeking off-beat, historic and tasty sights. To receive monthly updates and valuable travel tips subscribe here.

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{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

Kate May 21, 2013 at 12:10 pm

For driving on the right hand side, I use the reminder “tight right, large left.”

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Michael May 21, 2013 at 2:02 pm

That’s great advice Kate.

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Steve May 23, 2013 at 8:14 am

Great tips. I’ve driven in England and it really wasn’t too hard once you got used to it. I put a Post-it on the dashboard reminding me to stay on the left and that helped.

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Michael November 15, 2013 at 12:01 pm

That’s a good idea. Does the Post-It stay there?

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Stan June 5, 2013 at 12:54 pm

I drove on the left in Australia and was surprised that using a stick wasn’t too hard. It probably helped that I was on wide open roads in the Outback.

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Michael November 15, 2013 at 12:02 pm

Wide open roads are a great place to start.

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Justin @ True Nomads June 7, 2013 at 11:36 pm

yep… I could of used these in South Africa on my scooter tour to Durban

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Michael November 15, 2013 at 12:03 pm

I’d think driving a scooter adds an element of excitement to driving on the other side of the road.

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Lib Rook January 27, 2014 at 7:12 am

Best advice I was given was to keep the steering wheel in the centre of the road. Im from Australia and have done a lot of driving in the US and it saved me over and over, especially when chatting with your passengers your subconscious thoughts will take you back to your country of origin every time.

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Michael January 27, 2014 at 10:52 am

Thanks Lib, that’s good advice.

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Steve Walters March 18, 2014 at 12:42 am

I came across your blog whilst dealing with my business emails. 1 hour later, and i’m hooked. i will read more later, but for now it’s back to work.

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Michael March 18, 2014 at 1:36 am

Ah, skip work today and plan your next holiday.

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Leanne July 22, 2014 at 7:39 am

I will be assisting friends in Rotterdam drive to Austria. A fellow work colleague advised ‘tight right long left’ similar to comment above.

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Michael July 22, 2014 at 11:18 am

Thanks for the tip.

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Daniel February 22, 2015 at 9:38 am

Thanks for the advice, it is going to be exiting to drive on the opposite way!

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Michael February 22, 2015 at 10:17 am

Thanks. Good luck.

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Motena May 10, 2015 at 12:52 pm

This post was particularly most interesting for me to read because back home(Lesotho) we drive on the left too and the driver sits on the right. I have never had to try the opposite and living in China, nor do i even have the desire to try, Traffic is insane here and drivers even crazier, a friend explained that when driving in china there is only one thing to keep in mind, “follow the flow of the river”, nothing stops, no one stops, even at a pedestrian crossing, so its just that flow, which would drive me insane, together with the hooting…

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Frank November 11, 2015 at 7:02 am

I had to read this – I’ll be doing a lot of driving in South Africa and a little nervous about it. Even at home I was an occasional driver so driving for the first time in a while (after 16 months of travel) and having it on the left side will take some adjusting. Haven’t seen many traffic circles around here yet but saw so many in Romania that I know the rules.

And yes, we’ll go to Cape Town airport for the car. Get used to it before thinking of finding our way around the roads of downtown.
Frank (bbqboy)

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Hank May 5, 2016 at 9:01 pm

Thank God the gas-brake-clutch are still the same

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Michael May 5, 2016 at 9:11 pm

Hi Hank,

Good point. You know if the pedals were switched that might make it impossible.

Cheers,

Michael

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