Learning to drive on the left side of the road | Ten tips to make it easier

Driving on the left hand side of the road, New Zealand

Driving on road #80, New Zealand, near the shore of Lake Pukaki, with Mount Cook on the background

Driving on the left side of the road after you’ve been driving on the right all your life shouldn’t scare you, but you shouldn’t shrug it off either. Besides, most times it is not only a matter of driving on the other side of the road, it also about driving on the other side of the car. Here you can find my ten tips to help you with your first drive-on-left experience.

My first drive-on-the-left experience

My first drive-on-the-left experience occurred in New Zealand and I was pretty nervous about that.

Driving on the left hand side of the road

First car I drove on the left hand side of the road, New Zealand.

Just after I started feeling a little confident, I had my second experience in Australia, and it was even harder than the very first one: I was given a big car (at least much bigger than the city car I used to drive in Europe), it was raining heavy, it was rush hour, I hadn’t slept the night before. But… I coped.

In fact, I coped so well that in the following years I drove an estimated 9,000 km (5500 mi) all on the wrong side of the road (while in Europe I drove on the right side of the road, ah-ah I’m such a comedian).

I have seen other people taking it much easier than me their first time, while others simply refused to seat behind the wheel on that side of the car. Some would not even bother. They will just use public service.

Nevertheless, there are some travel experiences that have a car as preferred mean of transportation. I could not imagine exploring the Australian Outback without a rented car; at least I couldn’t imagine doing that my way. The freedom way.

For anybody expecting to drive on the left for their first time, I used my personal experience to develop the following

10 tips on how to drive stress-free on the left for the first time.

1. AVOID DRIVING ON THE LEFT FOR THE FIRST TIME JUST AFTER A 24-HOUR FLIGHT. As any new thing, do that after you had a good rest. Would you drive under normal conditions while risking falling asleep or when lacking attention? Obviously not. Let alone finding yourself in such a situation the first time you drive on the left. And yet so many people do that after a long flight. It happened to me on my second left-drive experience. I had to do that to reach a motel (3 miles away or so) and I felt pretty uncomfortable. Then I slept all the afternoon. Hope you will be available to avoid those three miles.

2. CHOOSE A SMALL CAR. I can’t overstate this. You want to have a rather small car, in order to make things simpler. Easier parking, more margin of error in traffic. If you like larger cars, you can think of renting one that next time, when you’ll be more accustomed to left-hand-driving. The definition of small car is country-dependent. A small car in Australia can be a medium-size car in Ireland. It is also occupant-dependent. A family with teenager children doesn’t have the same idea of small car as a skinny 20-years-old woman has. Choose the smallest car according to your needs.

3. CHOOSE THE SAME GEAR SYSTEM YOU USE AT HOME. If it is your habit to drive a car endowed with a manual gear, go for it, and vice versa. Automatic gear is for sure simpler to operate, but I’m not sure it is the case when you’re not used to it. In my humble opinion, looking for a clutch pedal all the time (and failing in doing so) will not help your concentration behind the wheel. On the other hand, if you are, say, an American, you sure don’t want an additional new thing like changing gear manually to bother you right the moment you’re driving on the left for the first time.

4. LEARN WHO HAS PRIORITY EVEN BEFORE YOU START DRIVING. When you’re approaching a crossroad, you’d better know whether you should give way to vehicles coming from the right or to the ones from the left. Don’t take it for granted. For instance, most countries in Continental Europe drive on right and give way to those on their right, while in the UK you drive on the left, and yet you give way still on the right.

5. BUILD CONFIDENCE WITH THE CAR OFF-ROAD. That is not always possible of course. But nothing prevents you from prowling in the car rental parking lot for some time.

6. USE GPS NAVIGATION. It’s easier to have something giving you directions, instead of figuring them out yourself while you’re so busy driving on the left.

7. KEEP IN MIND THAT YOU HAVE MUCH LESS DEPTH PERCEPTION FOR CAR’S LEFT SIDE…. than the one you have for its right side when you drive sitting on the left seat. It is very easy to slam the left mirror onto another car, or tires against sidewalks while parking. All people I discussed that with reported this kind of problems from their drive-on-left experience. I got away with scratched left hubcaps a couple of times, one in Canberra and one in Brisbane. That’s another reason why a small car is better.

8. LOOK RIGHT FIRST. Pay particular attention when you enter a street from a parking lot. Our instinct is to look on the left to check for approaching cars on the side we’re coming from. It’s obviously the opposite in left-hand-driving countries when you think about it, but it’s less obvious when you’re on your first left drive and you’re under stress and everything is new and you’re operating a stick with your left hand, and you’ve checked that nobody is coming from the usual side…….. oooops! An angry Briton is honking the horn at you, who were apparently looking at the wrong side. Better repeating to yourself “Now that I’m going to enter traffic, what should I do? Looking to the right first”.

9. DRIVE ON A ROAD WITH MINOR TRAFFIC LEVELS ON YOUR FIRST DAY, IF POSSIBLE. It seems a pretty obvious tip, but it works well. Everything is much simpler if done with few to no other road users around you.

10. KEEP LEFT ON MULTI-LANE ROADS UNLESS YOU’RE OVERTAKING. Right lanes are usually for passing, therefore remember to keep left lane it if you’re slower than others.

Freeway in New South Wales, Australia

Freeway in New South Wales, Australia

Countries that drive on the left side of the road

You can find a good map in Wikipedia.






And you?

What is your experience with driving on the other side? Was it easy, difficult, or an experience to be remembered? You can share your thoughts/experience on that in the comment section.

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18 Thoughts on “Learning to drive on the left side of the road | Ten tips to make it easier

  1. Thank you for these tips. As I’m always distracted between left and right (even in the “normal” system) it’s a mess when I have to drive on the left side. Probably with your tips it’s getting better :-)
    Anita recently posted..Wo man die Seele baumeln lassen kannMy Profile

  2. Grüezi Anita!
    Thank you for the kind words, and welcome.

  3. I don’t think I could handle the pressure :-)
    Stephanie – The Travel Chica recently posted..The best way to learn about history and culture in NYC? … Food!My Profile

  4. Using a mantra helps me. I keep repeating the word “FOCUS” over and over. This helps me to focus on the left side of the road. As soon as I go into mental autopilot, that’s when I find myself drifting over to the right side that’s second nature. :-)
    EarthDrifter recently posted..Jogging: Surface Wisdom and Health BenefitsMy Profile

    • Focusing obsessively on the street is what I did the very first day I drove left, in New Zealand. I was too afraid I could drift to the right if I relaxed too much (I was driving in deserted roads in the South Island).
      That being said, it never happened to me of drifting to the right, except when I am in parking lots or open spaces.

  5. I really don’t know, how would be my reaction while driving. But I’ll feel awkward for sure.
    Susan @ Online Travel Portal recently posted..Top Sizzling Vacation Spots Visited By CelebritiesMy Profile

  6. I have being driving since two weeks ago. It’s quite scary… I don’t know I feel idiot because I do not understand from where other drivers are coming and I get confused! I hope it is just about the start.

    • Hello Daniela, in which country are you driving?
      It will get better and better, and if you drive long enough, it will be driving on the right that will eventually feel odd!

  7. Tara Tompson on April 2, 2014 at 11:31 pm said:

    I’ve been thinking of traveling to England, and have been worried about driving on the other side of the road. I think I could do it but it scares me. I think it’d be great to have that experience and these tips will definitely help!

    Tara | http://www.crossroadsdrivertraining.com

  8. if you drive long enough make sure to take a little rest before driving again. it is important to take a rest for a while if you’re going on a long drive.

  9. take a rest if you’re having a long drive.

  10. I live in British Columbia. As you probably know, we are drive on the right. I bought a Japanese import manual transmission wrx. So I drive on the right side of the road, on the right side of the car. I have a driving simulator that I can set to driving on the left side of the road. I’m pretty confident I’ll be able to successfully drive anything, anywhere, without stress or incident…

    • Where did you find the simulator? I will be traveling to the UK this summer and would LOVE to practice with a simulator.

  11. Maybe you could add one more tip about traffic circles in Ireland and UK.

  12. I would post a sign on my inner windshield to remind myself, when turning at intersections: HARD LEFT or WIDE RIGHT.

  13. I used to drive on the left side but now im in Australia and I should take a driving license. Yesterday I tried to drive for the fist time and it was very stressful.. My brother sitting next to me kept shouting at me because I was driving too close to the left side that he was afraid I would slam the mirror.. I kept telling him that this os because im not used to sit on the right side but he said that this is irrelevant and its a driving skill no matter how you used to drive! Reading your post gave me some self confidence that im not an idiot as he made me feel 😀

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