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Remember to drive on the left

In one of my very first posts, I noted that adjusting to driving on the left side of the road is not that hard. I am sure anyone who ever rented a car in England would agree. You need some initial buffer time to get used to it, but paying close heed to omnipresent white arrows on blue background and following cars in front of you is all you need. Turning into a road empty of traffic will occasionally trip you, but not for long.

Furthermore, switching to driving on the right, when you go to the continent, and then again to driving on the left, when you return, is a transparent subconscious transition, once you know well how to do both (cursory to that, since most of my continental driving is done in my own car, I drive there on the right behind a right-hand steering wheel, and do not notice much difference either).

But occasionally, your subconscious plays a trick with you.

You can park your car facing either way in England, and when I occasionally drop Kimmy off at school, I cross the road to park on the opposite side without turning around. When I pull out later, my first maneuver is a u-turn. The other day, there were no cars parked opposite of me when I returned to the car, so I was able to do a majestic forward-only 180° turn. There were no cars moving on the road either until a few hundred meters into driving, when I saw a van coming directly at me and flashing its headlights.

Yes, I was driving on the right. Without a reference normally provided by moving cars, and deceived by having had the car parked against the direction of the traffic, my brain decided to kick into the right-side auto-pilot mode…

The combined speed of the two vehicles was low enough to allow me to realize my mistake, gracefully move to the left and even apologetically wave to the driver of the van. I have no doubt that he still aimed his entire reservoir of insults at me as we were passing each other…

Posted in Expat Archive

2 Comments

  1. jason

    I managed to avoid the whole “driving on the wrong side” issue when I previously visited England. I was living like a student at Cambridge and made do with a rented bicycle and shoe leather around town, and the trains when I went into London.

    I understand, however, that a car is a necessity in Scotland, particularly in the Highlands, which is naturally the area The Girlfriend and I are most interested in exploring. I suspect our dream trip, when we get around to taking it, is going to have a few panicky moments… 🙂

  2. Ilya

    Entirely unavoidable, Jason. Despite the fact that public transport is more advanced in Europe than in the US, if you want to wander the roads less travelled, you have to drive. And no matter how natural driving on the other side of the road comes to you, you will catch yourself turning into the upcoming traffic here or there… Which will, I don’t doubt, be something that you will in years be presenting as one of the unforgettable highlights 🙂

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