|Driving on the Other Side|
The main trouble that most North Americans face when driving in the British Isles is that they must drive on the left side of the road. Not only is the traffic flip-flopped, but the steering wheel is on the other side of the vehicle—and the gear shift is at your left hand instead of your right. (Although the shifting pattern is the same; and the accelerator is still at the right foot, with the brake pedal off to its left.) It's virtually impossible for a North American to practice driving this way before arriving in a country where left-side driving is the norm; the best we North Americans can do is use mental imagery to shed the right-side-of-the-road mindset. Yet the adaptability of the human brain is remarkable. In a matter of days a North American or continental European driving in the British Isles (or, for that matter, a Brit or Aussie or Kiwi driving on the continent) can supplant the mindset he or she assumed over a whole lifetime. |
It reminds me of an experiment in which scientists asked a man to wear a contraption that inverted his vision. He agreed. At first, the upside down world confused the man so that he stumbled around and could hardly feed himself. Within a week, however, he was functioning normally. When the scientists finally took the contraption off the man's head, the rightsideup world seemed upside down to him. Again he stumbled around and could hardly feed himself. This went on for years—no, just kidding; in a couple of days the man readjusted to the conventional world. If the human mind can adapt so quickly to the inversion of the whole world, surely you'll adapt to sitting on the right side of a vehicle, shifting with your left hand, and driving on the left side of the road.
Not only will you quickly adapt, but the benefits of driving will counteract the anxiety you'll experience in the transition period. In the meantime, the right attitude can minimize both this anxiety and the real danger that fuels it. Be cool. Take your time. Most Brits and Irish, experienced in motoring on the continent, empathize with and are thus tolerant of disoriented foreign drivers. When someone does honk at you, open your smile like a jackknife and wave at the irritated bloke like a bloody fool. Who cares? Remember, all will be OK as long as you don't hit anything. Soon you'll be zipping around like Jackie Stewart. The whole experience will make for good stories when you get home, and the you'll feel a genuine and justified pride in your accomplishment.
I must reiterate that it is legal to drive left-hand-drive vehicles (steering wheel on the left, gear shift on your right) in the British Isles and right-hand-drive vehicles on the continent, but it makes it virtually impossible to safely pass other vehicles unless you have an astute and trusted navigator in the passenger seat or unless the driver's seat is high enough to let you see over the majority of vehicles. The headlight beams should be adjusted before you make the switch. Naturally you can buy a headlight conversion kit in Europe. The kits contain specially shaped adhesive black plastic which sticks to the glass and alters the direction of the beam.