I live in the U.S, so, drive on the ‘right’ side of the road. I’m going to be in the UK in the spring for several housesits and am considering renting a car for a few days while there.
I’m comfortable driving a manual and have driven in many places over the world - all through Europe, Greece, Jordan. The most harrowing was in Milan Italy.
However, I’ve never driven on the left and find myself quite intimidated by the idea. I’m thinking that although more expensive, it would make sense to rent an automatic so I could focus on learning one part of the experience at a time.
Just how hard is it to adapt? Any advice or tips that you might share?
I was brought up driving on the ‘left’ side, and having driven a bit in Europe on the ‘right’ side, I still initially get nervous and really have to have my wits about me.
I really think if you can get an automatic, this will eliminate a lot of stress. The areas where I find I really have to concentrate are the roundabouts, and the turns left and right, as my previous muscle memory really kicks in! What I have found is that after two days, things feel much easier, and my advice is to just ignore impatient drivers around you. Usually the car rental stickers help too.
It takes me about a minute to get the other side.
As you note, if you rent a manual trans, you will be shifting with your left arm. That is the bigger change for me. But in the UK, auto trans can be a lot more expensive. But compared to 30 years ago, all of the manual trans cars I rented have a visual prompt reminding you to shift.
Yes, an automatic will make things easier. One tip we have learned: if you wear your watch on your left wrist, just keep thinking that watch should be to the curb.
It takes me a day or two to really get used to it, that’s all. If you’re comfortable driving a manual, stick with it as an auto will cost more. You’ll have to shift with your left arm but the good news is the pedals are in the same place!
We went to New-Zealand four years ago. Being from Canada and driving on the right I was a bit apprehensive with the driving on the left experience. We rented an automatic to limit the adjustment needed. It took me about 5 minutes to get used to driving on the left. The thing that I struggled with the most were the wipers and the flashers; on the steering wheel they were on the opposite side to those I’m used to. I mixed the two several times but fortunately we had almost no rain while we were there. It led to a hilarious moment when my wife drove for the first time. After a stop at a restaurant for lunch she decided to give it a go but I forgot to set the GPS to our next destination so it gave indications to go back to the restaurant making my wife turn several times on a short distance and every time she started the wipers with me laughing.
I should say that the roundabouts were a bit stressful for a while as well. There are many of them in New-Zealand and we don’t have much of those in Canada. Having to navigate them while entering on the opposite side takes some getting used to.
I (from US) drove in UK for about a month, I selected an automatic out of the same concerns you voiced, which was helpful, I think, but I can’t compare to a manual. Here are some additional observations on driving in UK from US driver perspective:
- I had the hardest time sticking to the left when the roads were empty (e.g. Sunday morning),
- I used a mantra when I drove “stay on the left, stay on the left, …” … that helped, it also helps to remember that the driver is always toward the center of the road.
- Definitely bring or rent a GPS (satnav in UK-speak), and know the postcode of the destination … the postcode is like a zip code but much more precise than a5 digit zip code.
- In town roads can be very narrow when parked on both sides, learn the feature that allows you to pull in the mirrors, and use it when parking or passing down a narrow lane (don’t ask how I know this!)
- Learn the speed limit signs, some don’t have any numbers and might mean something like “resume national speed limit” which is fine if you know what that actually means.
- Learn the right of way/etiquette for roundabouts, and realize that roundabouts are as small as a traffic cone. Satnavs are great at displaying roundabout exit points.
- Don’t underestimate the time required to go even short distances in urban settings … the traffic levels (higher) and road capacities (lower) are different than US especially in urban settings.
I switch back and forth, between manual and automatic transmission and left and right-hand drive, when I move from my US automatic car and use my sister’s manual transmission in Ireland. It amazes me how quickly my mind can adjust to driving on the “wrong” side and to using a gear stick.
It takes a lot longer to adjust to getting into the car on the other side, and I frequently head to the passenger side to drive!
It’s very important to observe the speed limits in the UK. Big Brother aka traffic cameras are watching you everywhere. You must allow plenty of time to get to where you’re going because you cannot speed. The speed limit is painted on the road with a circle around it and it only changes from one road to the next when you see a new speed limit marking. Otherwise maintain the same speed limit on the new road.
Thanks for the tip about pulling the mirrors in @BruceT. The roads can be very narrow and you often find yourself driving down the center of the road. You have to look for gaps where you’ll be able to pull if a driver is coming in the other direction.
I took a couple of driving lessons when I was there that were helpful.
Thanks everyone, I appreciate all the advice. I plan to get to the sit via public transportation and assess whether or not that will suffice for the two weeks I’m there, or, if a car might enhance the experience. I’ll play it by ear.
You can either drive or you can’t! Changing gear manually should be as automatic as, well driving an automatic!! I have, and do both, in the U.K. USA and where I live , France. If I had to give a tip it would be to be very aware that your are now driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road!!!
I’m from the UK and, apart from a fly-drive holiday in the US, I’ve avoided driving on the right side of the road. However, we had an automatic in the US and I quickly got used to it, the speed limits are quite low which helped too. I know if I had a manual car (which I drive in the UK) I’d have been trying to change gear with the door handle!
I think manual gears on the ‘wrong’ side are very easy to get used to and your choice of hire car will be greater and cheaper by going for a manual.
The difficult bit, which applies to both manual and automatic is pulling our of junctions and roundabouts - The secret is to purposely get into the habit of taking a few seconds longer than you would normally do before to give you the opportunity to think carefully about which way you are heading and what side of the road you want to end up on! - It is not as difficult as it sounds but a little bit of extra caution will definitely help.
The best thing about driving in the UK is that the roads are normally busy which means you will always have a car in front to guide you. It is only on the rare occasion that you find yourself as the only car on the road that your mind can play tricks on you so extra concentration is required.
My husband and I drove on the ‘Other’ side of the road for about three months (Mostly in Australia) in 2018 we had a brief intro to it during our honeymoon in NZ in 2015. We found that as soon as we got into the car our mantra so to speak was “left, left, left.” We found it particularly stressful the first couple times especially at turns and round abouts BUT after about a week it clicked for us. It starts to feel more natural but all that being said the first week is jarring but if you can come up with a mantra for yourself I found it really really helpful for the occasion when the driving gets more difficult.
But at least there’s very little traffic in NZ and the roads are easy to drive on, unless of course you’re negotiating Auckland!
Drive on the side where your head is in the middle of the road. Simple and it works in every country. Only exception is where you have a car from another country (eg UK right hand drive in France).
And always TEST out which side of the steering wheel the indicators and windscreen wipers are which in addition to being different for left and right hand drive vehicles are different for some makes as well.
I’m from the UK. Here are some tips about speed limits and generally.
The UK is a crowded country with unpredictable weather. Keep your wits about you and your observation levels high even when it doesn’t seem necessary.
Let other drivers in ahead of you when you can e.g. when you are in a queue. You will be thanked with a wave or flashed lights and the favour will be returned by another motorist sometime soon.
It could be worth buying a cheap Sat Nav (eg a TomTom) since they display the speed limit and take the stress out of navigating on busy roads leading to unfamilar destinations with different types of signs. Some if not most Sat Navs have a speed camera warning facilty.
It’s okay to drive a little above the stated speed limit , since most car speedos overestimate the actual speed and police forces allow a little leeway before prosecuting.
In all areas with street lights, the speed limit is 30 miles per hour (mph) unless a higher or lower limit is indicated. Be careful when passing through villages in the countryside. If a different limit applies, it will be repeated at intervals.
A round sign with a black diagonal triangle means that the national speed limit applies. This is 60 mph on single carriageways (one single lane in each direction) and 70 on dual carriageways (all multi-lane roads with a central reservation). This limit is NOT repeated at intervals. Keep your eyes peeled for lower limits in busy areas even on dual carriageways.
Look out for traffic camera signs. The actual cameras are painted yellow.
Be wary of driving through housing estates at school start and finish times (8.45 -9am and 3 -3.15pm). At those times, it could be worth taking a longer but quieter rout since there will be extra traffic and school crossing patrols operate (they are called ‘lollipop ladies’ - they are usually ladies and they carry sticks like giant popsicles).
Thanks so much everyone! I really appreciate all the detailed advice. I’ll come back in May and let you know how it goes. :
I grew up in the UK, and learned to drive there. I now live in Sweden, but visit RHD countries like the UK and South Africa quite often.
In short, I don’t think it is as intimidating as you fear. The UK is a densely populated country and it is rare to be on the road without much traffic. My only errors (quickly corrected) have been within 24hrs of returning to the UK and driving at night in a rural environment. I turned out of the driveway of a restaurant and instinctively drifted to the right. Luckily another passenger spotted it and corrected me.
A quick tip (from my dad, driving a RHD UK car in Europe in the 1980s) is to buy some masking tape and construct a very simple arrow on the inside of the windscreen, right above the dashboard and in your line of sight.
You will be ok. Your bigger problem (as with all rental cars) will be pulling into petrol stations and remembering which side the fuel filler cap is on.
hI @JamesLivesInSweden , A tip that many people seem not to know is that if you look at the fuel level indicator on the dash, there is always a little arrow to the left or right of the petrol pump symbol. This arrow indicates which side of the car the fuel filler cap is on!