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Driving on the Wrong Side of the Road

Driving on the Wrong Side of the Road

Whether you are a Brit relocating to the US or anywhere in North America, South America, Europe, Asia, or Northern Africa, you will need to get used to driving on the opposite side (or, as they call it, the “right” side) of the road.

It’s easier the second time around

You know that saying, “it’s just like riding a bike?” Well, this is nothing like that. Getting used to a car that is built the wrong way and road infrastructure that is backwards (not to mention the weird accent when Americans speak) is not easy. It takes practice and determination, but in most of the US, driving a car is a necessity and you must get used to it. Besides, the good news is, it is much easier the second time around than it was when you were first learning to drive: a jittery teenager behind the wheel.

Much like patients have to “re-learn” to walk after rehabilitative surgery, you will need to “re-learn” how to drive.

Things you will need to get used to

It seems simple, after all, it is easy to walk the other way on a sidewalk, but driving on the wrong side of the door includes some possible pitfalls you may not have considered.

Practice in parking lots until you feel comfortable enough to tackle traffic. Then, try driving in quiet neighborhoods before you take to the busy streets. It will take some time, but you will get used to it.

Some things to keep in mind:

  • The driver enters the car from what has always been the passenger’s door

Though not a dangerous habit, this can prove to be quite embarrassing. A friend of mine, George, upon moving to New York from London, scheduled a driving test at the local DMV a few days after arriving. He walked out to the car with the tester and they both headed for the passenger door! Not a great way to make a first impression (he did pass on his first try, though).

  • Shifting gears with the “wrong” hand

In the US, the gears are shifted with the right hand. For some drivers, this takes getting used to. The good news is: most cars in America are automatic, so you won’t have to get used to doing the full shift pattern with the wrong hand. Just make sure you can go from P to R to D with your right hand and you will be set!

  • Oncoming traffic is now to your left

George tells me that when he first practiced driving, he was on high alert and looked out for traffic on his left. But after a long day at work and Happy Hour with colleagues, driving home was another story. He instinctively looked only to the right for oncoming traffic and narrowly missed a big truck that was hauling Port-o-Potties (hopefully, empty ones!)

  • Turning left requires you to cross oncoming traffic

Right turns may be easier (once you get used to them, of course), but left turns will require some practice until you are comfortable. George’s wife, Emma, admits that a few times, instead of attempting to turn left into their cul-de-sac, she drove around the block and turned right three times to get home without incident.

  • Traffic signs are on the right side

The speed limit and hazard signs you are used to seeing on the left will now be located on the right side of the road. They also have many signs warning of the animals that may cross the road. Deer Xing is quite common, but in some areas in the southeast, you may see a Gator Crossing sign, or in the southwest, a Buffalo Crossing!

  • In traffic circles, you drive counter-clockwise

Another danger lurks in the roundabouts (forevermore referred to now as traffic circles), where you will need to circle counterclockwise and exit from the right side. Just be on high alert when navigating them, and you will be fine!

One day, the wrong side will feel right

They say it takes 21 days to get used to new habits. People use this method to change eating habits, drinking habits, and smoking habits; surly, driving habits are no exception. Try to drive, at least a little bit, on each day of your first three weeks.

Who knows? Maybe by the time you visit the UK, you will be so used to driving on the wrong side that you will need 21 days to get used to driving on the left side again!


Einat Mazafi is the owner of NY International Shipping, an International Shipping and moving company based in New York. She is also a specialist in providing the best relocation solutions to clients worldwide.