Left Hand Driving - How did you go - any tips?
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  1. #1
    1000+ Posts Fordman's Avatar
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    Default Left Hand Driving - How did you go - any tips?

    We are thinking about travelling to Europe/USA in the near future. I am a confident, experienced but fairly cautious driver, but have never driven on the "wrong" side of the road. Europe probably suits mostly public transport, but it may be handy to take a rental car for a while. In USA we are looking at touring the West/Mid-West (ie, Vegas, Grand Canyon, and Northwards to Dakota, Montana, etc), can take bus tours but we are also looking at rental car and hotel/motels to take our time. Possibly motorhome (I do have heavy vehicle licence here). I would not be driving in the big cities in either country.

    What are your experiences the first time driving on the right? Does it become easy after a couple of days, or do you not ever get used to it? Any hints/tips?

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    Veni Vidi Posti 68 404's Avatar
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    It's fine. I have driven in Europe a few times. You are more vigilant but you get the hang of things pretty quickly.

    I found driving in towns was fine, as there were other vehicles around to keep your bearings. The open country roads are a little more challenging, particularly if it's near the end of a long day and your attention slips a bit. You tend to revert to old habits in those situations.

    It helps driving French stuff here, you already have the blinker situation sussed!

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    my feeling is the biggest risk is making left hand turns onto main roads from a sideroad. ie the equivalent of our right hand turn. i found i really had to think consciously about where the danger was coming from. i endeavoured to remind myself that the primary danger is always coming from the driver's side window, whatever side of the road you are driving on, so that is the first and last place to look when entering main roads. ie to the left.

    likewise crossing as a pedestrian.. you have to consciously remind yourself to always look to the left.

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    Roundabouts are a scary thing but, as said before, you soon get used to it.

    It may assist to cut out a big arrow and attach it to the dashboard pointing to the right - that's the side you've got to keep to in any emergency.

    The best thing is to be well prepared with maps so you know where you are going. familiarise yourself with the place names. USA is easy once you get outside the major conurbations.

    Alastair

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    1000+ Posts jo proffi's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Fordman View Post
    ... I am a confident, experienced but fairly cautious driver, but have never driven on the "wrong" side of the road.
    What do you mean?? The way I see it you have been driving on the wrong side of the road for all your life.

    Jo

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    My first experience at left hand driving was driving a hire car with 50km on the clock out of Calgary Airport last year, got to a largish intersection and had to turn left. Luckily there was a red arrow so I could sit there and think to myself how do I do this. All up I suppose I drove about 3000km on both sides of Canada with only one incident due to wet roads and bald tyres on a hire car (from Hertz).

    For what it's worth - the tip that helped me the most was to remember that the driver ALWAYS sits towards the middle of the road - regardless of the side of the road the locals drive on. Every time I got "stuck" I remembered that I was supposed to be sitting closest to the middle of the road and the oncoming traffic. It works, although car parks can be "interesting"!.

    I'd also suggest you take your own GPS (with appropriate maps loaded) as you can preload motels etc where you are staying and are more confident in how it works, and you can understand the voice! Before you buy the maps, try specialist GPS retailers, some will "hire" overseas maps for under half the cost of a purchased one. PM if you want more details.

    Good luck and happy travels. Driving beats sitting on a tour coach (although I was happy to be on the coach on LA Freeways at 6pm!).
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    Most have already proffered advice on the reference points re LHD. But your first roundabout is a brain snapping experience, and we find that helical ramps in carparks also go opposite direction to a RHD country - also a brain snap.

    Before our first trip to Europe I was given these tips:


    • Don't worry too much about what is happening far behind you in towns unless it has sirens attached - of course be aware of those immediately around you or about to be
    • Make a decision and commit to it - if it is safe
    • Watch what others do and try to follow
    • A polite shrug of the shoulders or wave gets you lots more kudos than Aussie style road rage.
    • On the motorways of Europe - if you're not overtaking get to the right lanes - although if a three lane road with lots of trucks most travel in the middle lane as the trucks are limited to 90 km/h and stick right most of the time.


    Other things we have learned:

    • Courtesy in letting people in is common in Europe
    • Around large cities such as Paris it is common and legal for motorbikes and scooters to lane split at speed. Some leave hazard lights on to let you know they're coming. A courteous rider will put a lower leg out not to signal but to thank you for letting them past. Do not try to block a lane splitter.
    • Check the countries you are driving in and ensure you have paid road tax and applied the sticker if applicable (eg Austria, Czech Rep, Switzerland)
    • Have notes of 20Euro or less and 1 and 2 euro coins ready for toll ways.
    • DO NOT lose the tollway ticket between collection point (if there is one) and the exit.
    • Make your passenger the OIC of toll tickets and cash handing - and have a common agreed spot where the ticket is always put.
    • Approach tollgates with caution and ensure you get the right type. In France the attended one/s if any, have the symbol of a hatted man with a hand out the window as if ready to collect your toll.
    • Some toll gates are unattended and you feed notes or coins in - this is where 1 and 2 euro coins come in handy
    • Despite various attempts, we have never been able to get an Aussie or travel type credit card to work in the toll booths
    • However - I did get my ANZ Visa to work in the parking meter outside our hotel in Amsterdam while we checked in and dumped luggage
    • Some towns have no cash parking meters so a card may be your only option
    • Try to NOT buy fuel on the motorways. We found on the recent trip that diesel at shopping centres or in towns was sometimes 15c/l less than on the autoroutes
    • If you come up on a traffic jam on a highway or autoroute, for the period you are tail-end charlie, hit your hazard lights so the approaching traffic can see you.
    • Try to rent automatics/EGS/DSG type cars as in an emergency your impulse may be to grab left for the gearstick and the door handle is not much use for changing down
    • Look out for speed cameras in France in particular as they are everywhere. 132 km/h or so on a 130 km/h autoroute is "safe"
    • Park and Ride stations are common in large cities - Amsterdam is one example where you can park for up to 96 hours in a park and ride and pay about 9 euro per 24 hours INCLUDING return tram tickets to the city and back. Hotel or street parking could cost you 60 euro per 24 hours - if you can get it.
    • International Driver Permits are not worth the paper or the fee - in our experience. We used to get them and even though we have talked to plod a couple of times (never done for speeding but did get done for forgetting to buy our road tax sticker in Austria!) they have never asked for IDP. Even the hire car or lease companies only want your Passport and Aus driver's license.
    • We used to take our TomTom with destinations pre-set but on the last trip the C4, like the DS3 the previous time, had GPS built into the dashboard and in nearly every case had the name of our hotels or tourist destination points built in. They also can be set to english of course. It is one less thing to carry and you don't need to hassle about packing it away out of view.
    • The GPSs in Citroens we have leased have a large dial like a radio volume dial and you can quickly zoom in or out to check your directions
    • HAVE A MAP as well, such as a Michelin guide - so you can check your destination. For example there are many villages/towns in France with similar names and you may blithely set your GPS and head off only to realise you've got 945km to get there and yet you thought it was only 60km away. The GPSs in Europe also mostly work well with post codes instead of or in conjunction with town names
    • AVOID the Paris Peripherique (peri freak) if at all possible. Actually driving within the perimeter of the Peri is not so bad, but the ring road is just a crawling car park with occasional bursts of speed


    I'll probably come up with more later.
    Last edited by UFO; 25th November 2012 at 04:45 PM.
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    I explained to my wife and daughter that when approaching intersections/roundabouts or entering road from service station/shops or private yards I would need to focus on driving and silence would be appreciated until obstacle was negotiated. Worked fine. If I needed to, I reminded the girls when silence was needed (mostly in the first few days).

    I found if I started thinking about what I had to do before I got there and not rely on auto pilot, I was fine. On the other hand, winter snow blizzards is an experience best avoided.

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    Quote Originally Posted by alexander View Post
    my feeling is the biggest risk is making left hand turns onto main roads from a sideroad. ie the equivalent of our right hand turn. i found i really had to think consciously about where the danger was coming from. i endeavoured to remind myself that the primary danger is always coming from the driver's side window, whatever side of the road you are driving on, so that is the first and last place to look when entering main roads. ie to the left.

    likewise crossing as a pedestrian.. you have to consciously remind yourself to always look to the left.
    Had a near death experience making precisely the left hand turn you describe Alex.......compounded by two French motorcycle police watching as I caused a near major pileup.Hard to explain but already nervous....and lost it in that rigorous scenario as I made the turn into oncoming fast traffic......horrible it was.

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    Quote Originally Posted by alexander View Post

    likewise crossing as a pedestrian.. you have to consciously remind yourself to always look to the left.
    Certainly - and also be extra cautious about one way streets that you are not familiar with lest the one way street is coming from your right. Mrs UFO got tapped by a scooter in Paris in 2005! No injuries to anyone other than her pride. Not fun for me to witness though!
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    Try third party rental agencies.

    I have used both economycarrentals.com and carhire3000.com in the states, no problems.

    They work on the basis of refunding you the excess if you are charged damages. Need a police report, so a hassle there.

    bloody cheap though.

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    If you have a platinum VISA card say from ANZ, it includes travel insurance which includes car rental excesses. Of course, check your insurance policy details carefully.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Fordman
    Any hints/tips?
    Maybe practice driving on the other side, locally?

    If nothing else, it would familiarise you with flashes of extreme terror and improve your "pucker" speed.

  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by UFO View Post
    [*]AVOID the Paris Peripherique (peri freak) if at all possible. Actually driving within the perimeter of the Peri is not so bad, but the ring road is just a crawling car park with occasional bursts of speed
    .
    Hah!! My first experience of LHD was picking up an Avis Passat from the edge of La Peripherique in 1999 (with wife & 2 young daughters). I would not call it a crawling car park but a seething sea of vehicles. Like being immersed in a maelstrom. I was on the wrong side of x lanes of traffic when my wife gestured at the Nice turnoff we were after. Basically I just skipped through the lanes in a totally feral way & my fellow drivers parted to facilitate my skewed dart through their midst. Wonderful! I can't imagine Oz drivers being so tolerant. I thought that they must have sensed that I'm 25% French & been kind but that's just the way of things. Feral but functional. Italy was the same.

    I found driving on the right an almost total non-event. The only thing that I kept doing wrong for a while was glancing up to my left for the interior rear vision mirror. I find now that I drive a LHD vehicle in Oz for a good % of my time that I just switch seamlessly. I think that you'll be fine - just be a tad more self-conscious for the first bit.

    cheers! Peter

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    1000+ Posts Bruce H's Avatar
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    In the USA I suppose it won't be an issue, but I second UFO's statement of trying to avoid renting a manual. I've driven all the combinations of rhd and Lhd on the right and on the left side of the road a few times, and even after a couple of days in a car your automatic reaction is to reach for the gear lever with your left hand if you have to do it in a hurry. Having said that, only 1/5 of my Lhd rentals have been auto, and I've probably driven well over 25000 k's Lhd now (about twice what I'd do in a year at home).
    Turning IMO only gets complicated in countries where people typically park facing either way on the street, which can be one distraction too many, or when doing a U-turn (ever noticed a foreigner crossing to the wrong side of the road, doing a u-turn, then crossing back - I've spotted a couple).
    Talk to enough people and you'll hear horror stories of prangs, but then you'll probably also eventually work out that they were drunk, distracted, or have low driving confidence/ ability anyway.
    It's basic, but try to pick up your rental at a quieter time and/ or place if possible. My worst experience was collecting a car in central Paris in cut and thrust peak hour - even though I'd driven there in two previous holidays and had a reasonably good idea where I was going, by a few kilometres and the fourth time I'd missed a gap in the traffic because I kept reaching for the window winder rather than the gears I was ready to get out and walk.
    Hope you enjoy the trip.
    Last edited by Bruce H; 24th November 2012 at 10:59 PM. Reason: Another thought
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    At least when you are driving a car or truck the side of the vehicle you as the driver are sitting on is a good indication of the side of the road on which you should be driving. You don't get this clue when driving a tractor or motorbike. I have driven all four kinds of vehicle in left hand drive countries and the tractor and bike are way scarier becasue the vehicle itself gives you no cues.

    Generally though, in a left hand drive country everything is unfamiliar so you tend to take more care. The trap lies when you get home and everything is familiar again and you get into the right-side driver's seat of your familiar old car and then try to drive on the right hand side of the road. Oops!

    Roger

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    Chris

    Just remember to think RIGHT every time you get in that car, and also take care when executing things you might do instinctively like a U turn on a country Road, as pulling to the left is absolutely the WRONG way and other drivers will wonder what the Hell you are up to!!

    When driving across a wide open car park drive to the right of any oncoming cars as little old ladies will almost faint as you keep moving to the left of their car rather than both drivers veering right, and as alexander and others say if you are making a left hand turn remember to finish up in the right lane...

    It is particularly confusing to drive in a one way street and allow yourself to drift over legally to the left hand side and if you turn sharp left at the next corner, you will find yourself facing a few lanes of drivers coming towards you all wondering what the hell you are doing (brown underpants stuff for everyone in the car too!!) I got in the habit of travelling in the extreme right lane of one way traffic to remind me of the right hand requirements!!

    So be aware at all times and think RIGHT! Other than those instinctive reactions its an easy adaptation, though sometimes traffic lights and signs are not placed in the same locations, heights as here.

    Good luck and enjoy the experience.

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    I have been driving a BMW 645 in rhd around the UK and Europe for the last 9 months with absolutely no problems at all. Just switch the brain on, don't listen to the wife's yells and screams and enjoy the driving. We have done England, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland and Italy.

    The worst experiences were in the UK, the best France. Most European drivers are courteous and polite, merging onto motorways is no problem and driving through towns and cities reasonable providing you have a good GPS and trust and follow it faithfully. Our car is a big car here but still manageable. The biggest problem you will encounter in Europe is the Audi driver, they are a menace of the first magnitude.

    Don't think about it, just do it, you will enjoy the experience....

  19. #19
    JBN
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    My problem with LHD in Europe was taking my UK CX across. Firstly, you are on the wrong side of the car when in Europe. Secondly, your familiar car that you drive on the left in the UK doesn't give you any clues when you drive it on the right hand side in Europe. Nearly cleaned up a cyclist doing turn in a town because I was looking the wrong way.

    I spent 4 months driving a LHD VW Kombi manual around Europe with no problems. Contrary to some of the comments above, once I got used to changing the gears using my right hand (with 6 adults and two kids plus camping gear, I had plenty of practice), the unfamiliar vehicle (only time I ever drove a Kombi), unfamiliar gearchange (using right hand), unfamiliar position of the steering wheel (LHD) made driving in an unfamiliar situation seem "normal". Mentally I was carrying very little baggage from RHD days.

    In the US, you can do a U turn at the lights. That threw me a bit, but I've practiced this a few times in Australia and find its not bad unless you get caught. I agree that automatics reduce the mental process to stop or go and prefer them in Sydney traffic for that reason.

    Freeways/motorways/autobahns/autoroutes/autostradas made navigation in the pre GPS days easy, but you didn't get to enjoy the scenery. The scenic roads are invariably the more driver demanding roads and if you were the driver and navigator in pre GPS days, the risk of stuffing up when faced with an instant decision increased dramatically. Too many lanes on a motorway (eg near Antwerp - 5 lanes in each direction or in parts of LA) is not helpful as you forget which side of the road you are driving on. In fact you can't easily determine where the side of the road is. With a single lane road you have no such problem in orientation, only in rate of progress if it is harvest time and you are stuck behind a tractor with a load of hay.

    There was a bad fatal accident today in NSW. A driver decided to drive on the right hand side of the road collecting a ute which was thumped from behind by a following truck. Four killed.

    John

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    UFO
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    In most Euro countries, especially France, the only traffic lights are on the side of the intersection of the approaching traffic - not the double lots we have here. So you have to watch ahead more to ensure you see the lights well before you get to the intersection. And they're generally not as large sets of lights nor the lights themselves that big.

    In places like Amsterdam with thousands of bicycles plus trams it can be a challenge as you have many lanes of varying types of traffic to deal with plus pedestrians.
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    1000+ Posts Fordman's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jo proffi View Post
    What do you mean?? The way I see it you have been driving on the wrong side of the road for all your life.
    Jo
    Metaphorically speaking, Jo, you may be right - that's what my friends and ex-workmates tell me, too.


    Thanks everyone for the good tips, no-one saying "Don't do it!" which is a good sign.

    UFO - lots of points there to work through, I guess common sense reigns.

    Keep 'em coming.

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    UFO
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    Of course if in Europe you are going to need a car for 18 days or longer, talk to Michelle at Euroserve and lease a brand new froggy mobile of your choice. Check it out.
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    One thing that was touched upon but I think deserves being stressed clearly is keep right if not overtaking on freeways. They are not tolerant of people hogging the road, especially on unlimited freeways in Germany. These sections of freeway have COMPULSORY MINIMUM SPEED LIMIT posted overhead. Yes, you read it right. If you're not doing at least that much, don't be in that lane (each lane has its own limit). Drivers will give you a high beam flash to get out of the way, just do it, don't think you're in Oz and nothing will happen or worse still try to "teach them a lesson". You will be wiped out if you don't get out of the way.

    Likewise, if you get honked at or tailgated, it means you're too slow. Don't take it to heart, but be prepared.

    I guess this goes completely against the advice above to not care what happens behind you but I think that is bad advice no matter where yo find yourself. Be careful especially in italian cities, they have a scooter traffic worthy of a SE Asian city. If you don't pay attention behind you, you will wipe some arsehole scooter driver coming from behind and the police takes the position that it is your fault basically because you drive a car and are a foreigner.

    One more thing. Switzerland has cameras everywhere, everything is illegal and they'll find you. Be careful where you scratch your butt or stop for a piss. Very good roads, very polite and patient drivers though.
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    Quote Originally Posted by UFO View Post
    In most Euro countries, especially France, the only traffic lights are on the side of the intersection of the approaching traffic - not the double lots we have here. So you have to watch ahead more to ensure you see the lights well before you get to the intersection. And they're generally not as large sets of lights nor the lights themselves that big.

    In places like Amsterdam with thousands of bicycles plus trams it can be a challenge as you have many lanes of varying types of traffic to deal with plus pedestrians.
    In the US some lights are only on the far side of the intersection,not at the line you need to stop at .Also you come across 4 way stop signs where whoever is first goes first ,after stopping .Also you have to get used to pre paying for petrol before you fill

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    Fordman , all of the above is excellent advice BUT one point to add . Most rental car people insist on an imprint of a credit card being left with them when you collect the car . This is their insurance against being caught out with the "dodgy" "insurance" they sell you. Contrary to what we accept here for comprehensive insurance , in the fine print you will discover that if you are in breach of any driving laws when the rental car is damaged ,you pay through your credit card for the damage .Pays to have good travel insurance .

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