How to drive on the wrong side of the road – Part 2
We continue our top tips on how to drive on the wrong side of the road, in part two we cover adapting to local driving culture.
In Part 1 we covered the adjustment to the wrong side, for example from a right-hand-drive (RHD) car to left-hand-drive (LHD) car. That’s actually pretty easy, and most people adjust to the different mechanical skills quickly. What’s more of a problem is the local driving culture.
Everyone likes to claim that their country’s drivers are the worst, but define ‘worst’ – some countries have fairly slow-moving traffic with inconsiderate drivers (Australia) whereas others have much higher speed traffic with greater risk-taking but fairer road sharing (Italy) – who’s worst? It’s just a pub argument, but what you must do is behave like a local. Give way where they do, be as considerate as they are, drive the same speed, park the same. Let’s take my pet example, freeway driving in Europe Vs Australia. Where’s that soapbox? Ah, here it is….
In Australia, speed limits are low and strictly enforced. The limit is usually 100km/h, sometimes 110km/h, and most people will be between 97km/h and 103km/h, not daring to go faster. This doesn’t give much opportunity to get past a car you’re trying to overtake, so people end up sitting in the outer lane, slowly overtaking someone. That leads to undertaking (passing a car by driving in the inner lanes), which is dangerous and disconcerting. But it’s what happens, so get used to it.
In the UK speed limits are 70mph (113km/h), and 120 or 130km/h in Europe (on motorways). People drive anywhere from about 100-150km/h. The limits are not strictly enforced – cruising at 80mph in the UK is common, as is 150km/h on the continent. You can stick precisely to the limit if you like, or stay well under, your choice. But what you do have to do is cooperate.
If you’re going to overtake someone you pull out, get past, and get back in. No messing around, no minutes-long overtakes like in Australia. Amazingly, the other traffic will help you do that. You’ll be given space to come back in, and the driver you’re overtaking might even slow slightly to make it easier.
You also need to leave the Aussie ego behind. If you’re overtaking a line of cars, and your rear mirror is suddenly filled with a large BMW with that’s indicating left, what that means is would you please dive into the next available spot on the right so I can pass.
Now the typical Aussie reaction is of course a bit of f…-you, and to stay where you are. That would be stupid. What you should do is duck into the next gap on the right.
Now you might be a bit worried that if you do move right into a slower stream of cars then you’ll end up needing to hit the brakes as you approach the car in front. Don’t be. The BMW that’s indicating is making a contract with you – the driver is saying if you move right, I’ll get by quickly. So you move right, and watch how quick the other driver overtakes, there’ll be no messing around. You’ll be able to move into the gap on the right, and then back out left without losing any speed. You might even get thanked with a left-right tick-tock of the indicators.
That scenario almost never happens in Australia. You can call it right or wrong (I do have an opinion on this) but that’s not the point – what matters is that you behave like a local.
More examples. In southern Europe there are pedestrian crossings, but they’re just pretty markings. In fact, road signs in general are just decorations. You need to be assertive, quick but not aggressive or inconsiderate. Your right of way is dictated more by whether it makes sense for you to have right of way and your ability to assert it than by whether the road laws says you’re in the right. In contrast, places like Germany do live up to their reputation for respect of law and order, so as you can expect roadsigns to be obeyed you too must comply.
Then again, on German autobahns you’ll drive at speeds that you’d only otherwise get to on a racetrack, so behaving like an Aussie there will cause an accident. You also need to get used to speed differences of around 100km/h – you might be doing 140km/h, and find a car overtaking you at 240km/h. That speck you saw in your mirrors before you pulled out? Two seconds later it’s not a speck.
You might also need to adjust to different terrains. In Australia, we just don’t have to deal with snow and ice on streets. About the only time you can drive in snow in Australia is up high in the mountains, on dirt roads and probably in a 4WD. That’s a very different scenario to having your driveway and suburb coated in snow and ice, and nothing can prepare you for it – those that say dirt or sand driving is similar have no idea what they’re talking about.
The final word is that tens of thousands of people drive in different countries in unfamiliar cars, and do just fine. All you have to do is draw on your own experience, do what the locals do and be confident, but not too confident.