Some of you may know I spent 10 days in the U.K. last month and six of them with a rental car. This was my first time driving on the left side of the road. During my short trip my friend and I put 720 miles on the Audi A3, so I feel like I got enough miles in to talk about what driving on the opposite side of the road and driving in another country was like.
This was one of the first things I noticed about sitting on the right side of the car, three feet to the right of where I normally sit. At home, I rarely think about where my car is on the road, I just put it in the middle of the lane. Now that I wasn’t where I normally sit, I had to concentrate on it. The first day was stressful, but after a while, I got used to it.
After 13 years of looking up and to the right, it was hard to break that habit and look left and up. If I’m honest, I used the right side mirror as rear view for the first couple of days. I tired to remember to use the other mirrors, but having to constantly think about having to look up and left was too much to remember at first. By the end of the trip I had gotten used to where the mirrors were and was able to use them all, but the first couple days were a struggle.
While it was strange to shift with my left hand, this was never really an issue for me. If anything it was the unfamiliarity with the Audi as opposed to the position of the gear stick. I have to admit, I stalled it once because I tired to start in third because I didn’t all the way over and up. I also only grabbed the door handle twice when I wanted to change gears.
We’ve got some of these in the US and I’ve driven in Germany and France, so these aren’t new. What was new was trying to figure out what lane I needed to be in to make the correct turn. I either didn’t understand the signing or it was poorly signed. Road paint wears away over time and there were some roundabouts where I couldn’t read what was painted on the ground. If anything, that was more frustrating than difficult. I’m sure with some more practice I’d be better at them.
I think I saw three of them in all of the UK. I was amazed when I came across one, I took a picture.
I understood how the speed limits worked, what I did not understand was how the locals treated them. I would in the center lane doing 70 mph while passing a VW Up! doing 50 MPH in the left lane, while a Maserati would come up in the right lane doing 120 MPH. No idea. I didn’t really know where the speed cameras would be, and what the rules on them where, so I just did the speed limit. I wish I had read up on the laws on speed cameras before I went over, I guess next time.
I don’t think I saw anyone undertake, well, apart from myself. You’ve got cameras for speed, not undertaking, and I’ve seen one police car on the road, I’m undertaking. I will say it was refreshing to see people get over as soon as they were done overtaking.
There seemed to be very few laws on parking because I would see cars basically parked in the street facing the wrong way on the road. It was almost as if your car fits there, you can park there. Cool.
While we’re talking about parking, I will say parking the car in a normal space was by far the hardest part about driving. It’s hard to get a feel for where the car is in relation to where you’re sitting. I struggled with this the entire time. I normally found a pull through in the back of the lot.
Going the wrong way
I went the wrong was one time, and that was at the round about at the castle when I wanted to get a picture of the Audi in front of the coach house. Other than, I was good. It was strange to have to think about which way I needed to turn and what lane I needed to turn into. In the US, I don’t think about it, I just do it.
It wasn’t too difficult to drive on the other side of the road. It was a little strange and a little stressful at first. I also found I had to think about driving as opposed to getting into the car and just doing it. I don’t think about where my car is in the lane, I put it in the middle. Oh, I need to check my mirrors? I know where they all are. This was sort of like learning to drive again, but you know how to drive, it’s breaking all the habits that come with sitting on the left side of the car.