I recently returned from a trip to Scotland, which involved driving over 1,000 miles on the other side of the road, starting at the Edinburgh airport. I’m not going to lie when I say I was having pre-trip nightmares about driving on the other side. I’m happy to report that driving on the left was easier than expected and I only scared my husband a couple of times.
If you want to rent a car in the UK, Ireland, Australia or a number of other countries, you’ll need to adjust to driving on the left side. In Scotland in particular, renting a car gives you the most flexibility to visit the highlands, islands and other rural areas.
Here are a few helpful tips for driving on the other side of the road:
Don’t plan on driving as soon as you arrive at your destination. You’ll likely be jet-lagged and the last thing you want to do is drive in an unfamiliar place with different road rules. Wait until you’re well-rested to pick up your car and begin your driving journey.
Don’t drive in big cities. City roads in the UK can be very confusing, with multi-lane roundabouts and one-way roads. For those of us used to roads laid out in a grid, their curvy roads don’t make a lot of sense. It’s also expensive to park in big cities. Wait until you’re leaving the city to pick up your car, preferably at an airport. The Edinburgh airport, for example, is located several miles outside of the city and located right next to a highway.
Rent a GPS. Sure, it costs extra to rent a GPS but you don’t want to be fumbling with road maps while you’re concentrating on the road. You also don’t want to rely on using your cell phone for navigation since downloading the maps will eat into your international data plan and you can’t rely on cell phone service in rural destinations. I rarely had cell phone service on the Isle of Mull and Isle of Skye and was very thankful that I paid the extra $15 per day for the GPS.
Keep left. It sounds simple but when you’re tired and there aren’t any other drivers on the road at night, it’s easy to veer back to the right, especially when turning at an intersection. Do whatever it takes to stay on the left, even if it means putting a post it note on the left side of the windshield that says ‘keep left.’
Avoid distractions. For the first few times you head out on the road, you may want to drive with the radio off and ask other passengers to keep quiet. You’ll get the hang of driving soon enough but you’ll want to stay focused until you get the hang of driving on the other side. You may also need to tell your passenger to stop freaking out every time they see an oncoming car (in the case of my husband).
Automatic vs. manual. Most cars in the UK and Ireland available for hire are manual transmission. If you’re not confident in your ability to drive a manual car, pay the extra rental fee and get an automatic.
Remember to look both ways. It’s really easy to forget which direction you need to look before turning onto a road. To be safe, check both sides of the road before turning.
Have you driven on the other side of the road? If so, share your favorite tips in the comments section.
In 2013, I travelled to South Africa. I had been in cars on the other side of the road, just not driving myself. I landed in JNB and drove to Durban the day I landed. I recommend if you are able to, drive for a long distance on highways first to get your feet wet. It helped me establish the rules before I was on backroads or busy city streets. I rented a manual and that actually helped too, provided you drive a stick already and are comfortable shifting with your left hand…… I have found that driving a manual causes you to focus on driving vs the sites, a gps or other distractions…. happy left hand driving!!!!
Dean K says
Glance out of the drivers window, if you have the middle of the road yellow line on your side you are on the right (correct) side of the road
My husband and I have traveled the British Isles and Ireland for over 26 years, always renting a car and going as we pleased. I just remember to keep myself (the driver) in the center area of the road. Take care when turning right and at the roundabouts. We have never had a problem, even on the “green line roads” (the ones in the rural areas that have grass growing in the center of the tire tracks.)Too bad we, the elderly, are discriminated against by the rental agencies refusing to rent to those over 70. With a spotless 26 years of driving there it seems very unfair!!
greg johnston says
I just returned from Scotland. Landed Heathrow and immediately drove to Bristol – after flying overnight.
Adaption to left was quick and easy. I mentally drove on the left for a couple of weeks ahead. The round-abouts were the worst. Edinborough at rush hour on the way to Dundee was not pleasant, but we made it.
When road signs say -“oncoming traffic over the center of the road”, believe it! This was in the curves.
I downloaded the GPS Maps for Scotland and England on my personal GPS before we left. $60 versus $125 for the rental GPS, plus have it set for the next trip.
In England, Cornwall roads are the worst! Narrow and with cement curbs. I had a blowout from a curb when a truck came into my lane on a corner and there was no choice but to hit the curb.
Re the rental car – take the time to have the rental company go over all the controls and gauges for the rental vehicle.
When approaching roundabouts choose the lane that directs you to the place where you want to leave the roundabout..if you miss the lane you want go round again rather than try to get off.
Yes remember also number one rule driver should always be next to center line on road when looking out drivers window then you are driving on the correct side of the road. from an expat Scotland Jim
It is not too bad to drive on the left when you have a right hand drive. You need to remember that the driver has to be on the outside. It is harder when you drive a left hand drive automobile on the left side of the road, for example, when you come from Europe to Britain. Then, the driver ends up on the inside. Just take your time to get used to it. Don’t just hire the car and hit the city. And try to avoid driving at night. It can be nightmare.