7 Tips for driving on the wrong side of the road when abroad

2018-09-11 12:00 - Gabi Zietsman
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Car driving on the road on the righ-hand side

If you've been driving on the left-hand side of the road for most of your life, driving on the right can be a daunting experience. (Photo: iStock)

Road tripping through your own country can be a rewarding, yet sometimes harrowing, experience, especially because of other people. But if you decide to see a country by car abroad, you have the added stress of driving on the wrong side of the road.

SEE: When someone calls shotgun: Car etiquette for road tripping to hell

But why do we drive on different sides of the road?

According to Business Insider, Romans used to steer their carts with their left so that their right hand is free to fight, and this custom persisted throughout the centuries until the British government made it law. The French however preferred the right, as it was an intimidating war tactic, and the two countries' preferences filtered down to their colonies during imperial expansion. The US however just thought it was easier with their carts to be on the right-hand side and also probably wanted to be less like the British after independence.

Unfortunately for South Africans, and other left-handers like Jamaica, India, Australia and Hong Kong, the majority of the world actually drive on the right-hand side of the road (aka the WRONG side), so whenever you're road tripping the highways of the US or discovering quiet Italian villages in the hills, you're going to have to rewire your brain to adjust to this nonsense.

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Here are a few tips to help you adjust, until you're safely back home on the left side (aka the RIGHT side).

Also remember that you need an International Drivers Permit to drive any car abroad, which you can get at an AA office. Read here for more information.

Read up on driving laws on the country you're travelling through

It's a good idea to check if there are any differences in law between SA and your destination, like minimum speed limits, who gets preference at turns and if you have to have your lights on during the day. Getting lost in translation with a traffic officer will probably put a damper on the rest of your trip.

Rent an automatic

While automatic cars are less prolific in SA, they are more common abroad and are very easy to switch to from manual (the other way around is harder). Free up your concentration by renting an automatic so that all your focus can go into not veering to the left when you let your mind wander.

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Put a note on your steering wheel

It might seem a bit primary school, but putting a note on your steering wheel reminding you to drive on the right is a great way to stop you from falling into old habits. You might look like a dork, but at least you're a dork that won't cause accidents.

The pedals are in the same position

Right-hand cars isn't an exact mirror image to their left-hand cars. The one upside is that the pedals at least stay in the same position in both cars, so you don't have to worry about your feet stepping on the wrong pedal.

Drive below the speed limit

If you're not used to driving on both sides of the road, then this is not the time to live out your Need for Speed fantasies on the Autobahn. Drive at a cautious speed, stay in the slow lane (which will be on the RIGHT) and keep more distance between you and the car in front, to give your reflexes more time to react if someone is being a road hog.

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Remember roundabouts go counterclockwise

SA's roundabouts are like traffic cones compared to some circles overseas, and if you manage to find yourself coming up towards a multi-lane monster, just remind yourself that you need to go counterclockwise - otherwise you're going to become THAT tourist in the local newspaper.

Make sure you're checking the right way for oncoming traffic

While you may have the right-hand game down and can do a roundabout in your sleep, you can still end up looking on the wrong side of oncoming traffic when making a turn. Always check both ways a few times and take them slow. Remember other drivers are not going to know you're not from around here, and is something you should also remember back home when honking at a bewildered American.

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