As a motorist based in the UK, you will of course be accustomed to driving on the left. You may have perhaps had experience of driving on the right-hand side of the road if you went on holiday and hired a car out for example.
If so, it will have likely been a right-hand drive car. You may of had no experience at driving on the right at all and for those that this applies to, nipping over the English Channel in your left-hand drive car in particular will provide challenges aplenty.
There’s not much you can do in the UK to practically prepare yourself for driving on the right. Preparing yourself with road knowledge that frequently catches us left-hand drivers out will certainly help to prepare you for the ordeal that is driving on the right.
The best preparation in terms of safety that can be done before taking to the foreign right-hand roads is to ensure your driving skills are up to date in your own country, let alone taking on the challenge of a foreign one.
Key areas are observational (a lack of that is the result of many accidents) and correct use of signals. Browse the driving test tutorial section, in particular tutorials on changing lanes, dual carriageways, motorways and anticipation and planning. Although the various traffic systems will be used differently in other countries when compared to the UK, the use of correct and safe driving observation is paramount in any country.
Keep to the right
The first thing to remember is to keep to the right. As obvious as it sounds, you’ll be driving in a new country with different rules and trying to navigate to a destination. It’s surprisingly easy to revert back to the old habit of driving on the left, especially if there are no oncoming vehicles on the opposite carriageway to help remind you to keep to the right.
To keep this in check, keep repeating to yourself ‘keep to the right’ until it becomes a little more second nature. Taking a passenger along is also beneficial as you can ask them to keep a keen eye on your road positioning.
Other than simply remembering to drive on the right, try not to over complicate things too much and just generally go with the flow of traffic. Other vehicles will on the most part show you what to do. Getting too stressed may make matter worse as you may begin to panic. If you do feel that stress is increasing, pull over at the next available safe place.
Focus also initially on getting to grips with unfamiliar road systems and road positioning rather than navigation. If you take a wrong turn or exit, don’t worry as you can easily get back on track. Sat-navs do this all for you anyway.
Right-hand drive car, right side of the road
If arriving in France in your own right-hand drive car, you’ll notice that by driving on the right leaves you with little view of the road ahead. You’ll have a better view of pavements and the verge more than the road. As your view of the road ahead is more restricted, keep a greater following distance from vehicles in front to allow you more time to react. Overtaking is also far more dangerous than usual due to a lack of view up ahead. Avoid overtaking if possible, but if essential, ask a passenger to tell you when it is safe to do so.
Roundabouts can be confusing at the best of times, even the UK roundabouts that we are accustomed to. Traffic on UK roundabouts rotate in a clockwise direction, countries that drive on the right have roundabouts that traffic rotates in a counter-clockwise direction, meaning we must give way to the left. Trying to remember who to give way to and from which direction can be a little confusing when you’re in the thick of it, so try to keep it simple.
Approach roundabouts slower than usual to give yourself more time to observe traffic flow, signs and lanes. Your co drivers task should be to not only help you navigate, but to also help remind you of the basic rules on approach, such as giving way to the left, at least until you become a little more proficient and confident. Generally just keep relaxed and go with the flow of the traffic. If you miss your exit, simply continue round again to locate the correct exit. Try to avoid panicking and making dangerous manoeuvres to reach your exit.
Countries that drive on the left will approach a T-junction and prioritise their observations to the right, especially if making a left turn at the junction. In countries that drive on the right, the opposite applies and oncoming traffic is seen coming from the left.
Motorways and dual carriageways
On motorways and dual carriageways, we’re used to joining them in the left lane and using the middle or right lane as overtaking lanes, or ‘fast lanes’. Again, the opposite applies and takes a little getting used to. If joining via a slip-road, you’ll merge into the right hand lane, which is the slow lane. Faster vehicles will overtake you on the left. If possible, remain in the right lane, or slow lane for as long as possible until you become acclimatised to the differences. If planning to overtake, before entering the middle or left lane, remember to check the left car blind spot before doing so.
Quiet roads such as country roads or driving at night when roads are quiet are where you may initially find yourself most vulnerable. It’s the busy roads that allows you to safely follow the flow of traffic and firmly places you on the right hand side of the road.
Roads with little traffic often leave the driver feeling more relaxed but also more likely to resort to old habits, such as driving on the left. A common example may be exiting a T-junction into the left lane, or making a left or right turn and taking up the wrong side of the road when entering the new road. Although you’re likely to notice your error quickly and take immediate action, it only takes a moment for an accident to occur.
Left-hand drive cars
If you are traveling to a country where motorists drive on the right hand side of the road, the vehicles will be left-hand drive. If you are hiring a car, it’s advisable to take a little time familiarising yourself where the various controls are located such as indicators and lights. If driving a manual or stick shift as they are also known, getting used to the gears may take some practice.
For starters, you will be sitting on the left side of the car and operating the gears with the right hand. This may initially be confusing. It may also be potentially dangerous as it’s quite easy to select the incorrect gear by mistake. Before moving off, spend a little time running up and down the gears, and before setting off onto public roads, practice some more round the car park.
Driving on the right tips
Many accidents occur each year due to motorists driving on the incorrect side of the road. Follow some simple driving on the right tips to ensure you keep as safe as possible.
- Brush up on your driving skills and observational skills before going. See ‘Preparation’.
- Research road signs that may be unique to a particular country.
- Take along a co-driver to aid in navigation, lane discipline (helping you to remember to keep to the right) and observational aid such as road signs.