Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Driving on the Left in the Right Frame of Mind

This weekend, we met up with my dad's sister, her husband, and their daughter, who is attending a semester abroad program at UC-Cork. My aunt and uncle had flown into Shannon and rented a car. The driving wasn't going as well as their trip to New Zealand a few years ago, when they went to visit their other daughter who was doing a semester abroad over there. It seems that the roads in New Zealand are much wider and less stress-inducing than the roads in County Cork.

I had to smile because my uncle's problems with driving here were my own problems three years ago. Although I first visited Ireland in 1995, I never attempted to drive here until 2004, when I rented a car to collect various relations at the airport for our big exciting wedding.

Now, I'm an old pro, here's my top seven tips for driving on the left in Ireland.

1. Prepare to drive a manual transmission car.
I know you paid an extra 20 euro a day for the privilege of renting a sub-compact automatic transmission car. The odds are that when you arrive at the car rental counter, they won't have any automatics left. They will give you a "complimentary upgrade" to a sedan or a minivan. Then they will throw the keys at you and run away, leaving you to discover for yourself that your shiny ugrade is a manual transmission. Be ready for this possibility - brush up on driving a manual if it's been a few years (or never) since you've driven one.

2. If forced to drive the manual transmission "upgrade," try to remain calm.
Really, driving a manual is a lot like riding a bike. If you did it once, you can do it again. Don't worry about the idea that you're shifting with the "wrong" hand. The less you think about it, the easier and more natural it will be. And remember - it's a rental car - it's not like you have to worry about replacing the clutch.

3. Keep yourself in the middle.
This is the easiest way to remember to stay on the left, as long as you haven't imported your car from continental Europe. I should hasten to point out that I don't mean drive right up the middle of the road. I mean keep your side of the car closest to the middle of the road. Think about it - it's what you do when you drive on the right. I also spent weeks before I came over visualising what driving on the left would look like - especially thinking about how left turns would be the "easy" close turns and right turns would be the "difficult" far turns, against traffic. (My uncle told us he was calling left turns "happy turns.")

4. Brush up on round-about rules.
I created a simple song to remind me how to drive in round-abouts. It goes to the tune of "Camptown Races." (And by "rounders" I mean traffic already in the round-about.)
Rounders have the right-of-way.
Doo-dah. Doo-dah.
Let them pass then drive away.

5. Blow everyone away by using your blinkers correctly in a round-about situation.
When you drive up to the entrance of a roundabout, put on your right blinker. Leave it on as you enter the roundabout and keep it on while you're in the roundabout UNTIL you approach the exit you want to take. Then change the blinker so it's the left blinker that's flashing. Make your turn off the roundabout at your desired exit and, if necessary, turn off your blinker. Easy peasy and everyone will be so impressed.

6. When possible, get out of the way.
You're going to be poking around, trying to get used to your driving experience or attempting to navigate the pathetically labeled Irish road system. Whenever possible, get out of people's way. If you've noticed traffic building up behind you on a one-lane-in-each-direction road, look for a safe spot in the hard shoulder to pull over and let traffic pass you. (I'll give you a hint, a thin verge in the middle of a hairpin curve is not the place to pull over.)

7. Think about the new dimensions of your car.
This is a tricky one and it's something I never thought about until I was actually in the car, driving on the left. When you drive on the right, the "rest" of the car is on your right and you learn to judge the distance between where you are and where the distant edge of your car is. When you drive on the left, you have all sorts of car space to the left of you that you've never thought about before. I am spatially challenged to begin with. I still, even after 2 years, end up hitting the curb with my left-side tires all too frequently.

So, those are my tips. Why only seven? Because it's my lucky number. (And I'm tired.) Anyone have any tips to add?


At 11 April 2007 at 07:45, Anonymous Primal Sneeze said...

Careful with the roundabouts, Ann. On approach, no indicator/blinker if going straight ahead. Only indicate (left) when about to exit.

Indicate left on approach, if going left.

Full rules available here. This might be very helpful for intending visitors. In fact, I would say, essential.

Or check out my tongue-in-cheek rules for driving in Ireland. Eh, so tongue-in-cheek that my tongue was coming out my ear.

At 11 April 2007 at 12:23, Blogger laurie said...

you know, the first few times i drove in ireland i didn't worry about it at all. i came back to minnesota and had acclimated so well that when i tried to downshift in my little toyota i kept reaching for the gear shift with my left hand.

the traffic has gotten worse since then, and i've gotten more aware. i'm more nervous each time, rather than less nervous.

and i hate hate hate roundabouts. i could not have navigated them without my husband at my side (my left side, oddly enough) telling me exactly what to do. the worst was getting into galway city, where there were no fewer than seven roundabouts in a row before we got to our exit.

what the HELL is wrong with a simple stop sign, i ask you?

At 11 April 2007 at 16:24, Blogger Col said...

When we moved to Cambridge (Massachusetts), our house was a couple of blocks from a set of two major rotaries (roundabouts, as you call them). I had to go through them every day to get to work. I got pretty good after a couple of weeks. But still, making a left turn in a rotary leaves me white-knuckled. I have the right-of-way, but will the oncoming traffic stop like they are supposed to?!?

At 11 April 2007 at 20:13, Blogger -Ann said...

PM - Thanks for the tip. You may have saved me in my driving test. If I ever have the fecking thing - been on the waiting list since last August.

Laurie - No one here knows how to do a 4-way stop. It would be anarchy.

Col - I don't blame you. Everyone in Mass drives like a maniac. At least over here, we only drive like eejits. Eejits are much more predictable (and therefore, safer) than maniacs.


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