I suppose there are many other topics about Dublin that could and should take precedence over the driving on the “wrong” side thing. But, as this has been my charge and my obsession this week, I decided to purge my soul of all driving animosity by venting here.
Standing in the car park at Dublin airport, the first thing I noticed was just how easy it is to spot a first time left-side driver. They invariably have this silly-assed smirk on their face that says, “Whoa Yeah. I’m driving on the wrong side. Check me out.” And quite often their passenger will be waving frantically at the road ahead.
As I sat in the right side driver’s seat trying to acquaint myself with the poor unsuspecting Hyundai I’d been given, I convinced myself that I was above all of that. But, as I pulled out, shifted into drive and rolled out on the left lane, I felt the corners of my mouth irresistibly drawn up into “the smirk” as I yelped, “Whoa this is really weird.” and tried to convince Kalpana that I knew where I was going and she could stop waving frantically at the road ahead.
If you plan to drive in a country that does the right-side drive car (driving on the left side of the road) thing, do yourself a favor and spend time in the days beforehand thinking seriously about blind spots, mirrors, intersections, and the like. They will all be different in your new driving environment. Where once you looked left, right and then left again to avoid oncoming right lane traffic when turning left across oncoming traffic, in a left lane driving environment you look right, left, and then right again (the exact opposite) before turning left and merging with traffic and not crossing any lane. It feels a bit funky and takes a day or two to really get comfortable. Sadly the only way to get comfortable is experience. Just do it.
Doubtless the most difficult situation for new left lane drivers is the roundabout. As you merge left going into the roundabout, remember to always look right and yield to traffic already in the roundabout. On my first day driving in Dublin, moving at speed through my third roundabout (by now I was getting cocky), I failed to look right, and, WHAM. First day, first accident.
Fortunately nobody was hurt and only minor damage was done to either car. Even more fortunate was the fact that I’d discovered that MasterCard and other credit cards’ blanket purchase/rental policies don’t cover Ireland, so I’d paid the rental company for full bumper-to-bumper, low deductible insurance independent of my home car insurance.
Though it was clearly my fault, the woman whose car I’d hit was deeply apologetic and proved to be my first experience with the friendly and easygoing Irish temperament. The police and rental car company were equally accommodating, and I was soon on my way, ready to further terrorize the narrow streets of Dublin.
Dublin can be a challenge even for seasoned drivers. Narrow two lane roads (with no center line) are often asked to accommodate one car moving in either direction, and a car parked on each side of the street. Cars often park in either direction on either side of the street. This is fine if they don’t move. Functionally it means that they may pull out in either direction going either way at any time.
Here again, the gentle nature of the Irish people comes into play. Driving in Dublin involves a fair amount of give and take as drivers wait for one another to squeeze through tight spaces. Fortunately speeds seem fairly modest, and it’s easy to make room for one another.
Overall, the improvisational nature of Irish driving customs and traffic regulations requires drivers to employ basic common sense and a finely tuned sense of self-preservation. For example, bus lanes are for buses only, unless you really need to use one to get where you are going (or think you might). Just when you’ve figured out “the rules”, someone will do something different.
One bizarre aspect of left hand driving that I was unprepared for is the turn signal/wiper issue. Our rental car had the wiper on the left and turn signal on the right (the opposite of the U.S.). Because I was moving slow, didn’t know what I was doing, and wanted to make sure I telegraphed my intentions to other drivers, I committed early on to using my signal all the time (far from my usual MO back home). This resulted in our having the cleanest windshield in Dublin. Every 3-4 minutes, right up to the bitter end, I signaled my intention to turn with a swipe of the wiper and a shower of cleaning fluid.
Typical incursions in Dublin traffic run along these lines:
- Swerve into oncoming lane to avoid parked car on your side of the road
- Slam into unexpected speed bump
- Drop into pothole the size of a tank trap
- Decide you have enough room and swerve back into your lane to avoid oncoming traffic
- Realize (too late) that you overestimated the room in your lane.
- Nearly (or fully) shear of your side view mirror by hitting the mirror on a parked car.
Practical Advice for Driving On the Left in Dublin:
- Slow down.
- Before you arrive, think about blind spots, mirrors, wipers, and turn signals.
- Get full coverage, minimum deductible insurance through your rental car company.
- Rent the GPS (don’t bring your own). The rental company’s will be programmed for the country you are in and help you (verbally) know which way to turn.
- Plan ahead so you are not running late, and be patient in traffic.
All of this is to say that driving in Dublin on the left side of the road is a challenging and hectic experience that requires you to think on your feet, and not be too selfish, greedy, or hell bent on getting where you are going to neglect safety and common sense.
Things to look forward to in upcoming posts:
- Apartment hunting and tales of Irish landlords
- First impressions of Dublin
Emigration Day: July 12, 2011 (47 Days)