When you drive your car, do you know exactly where your wheels are placed? Near the kerb or too near the centre line? This will depend on your habitual country of residence and whether you drive on the left or right side of the road. And whether you are driving in an unfamiliar country.
About 25% of countries drive on the left hand side of the road with vehicles manufactured with the driver’s seat on the right. These are usually countries which once belonged to either the British or Dutch colonial empires. So Great Britain, Australia, Malaya and Singapore, India and Pakistan, Fiji, New Zealand, Indonesia, Japan, South Africa, Tanzania to name a few, all have vehicles driven on the left hand side of the road.
However the majority of the world’s population have vehicles driving on the right hand side of the road with the driver sitting on the left side of the car such as that in Europe, USA, Russia and China. This allows for maximum vision with the driver being closer to the middle of the road for safer overtaking.
This is fine until you want to drive in an unfamiliar country. Let me illustrate. Recently I was a passenger in a right hand drive car garaged in England but on holiday driving in France, Belgium and the Netherlands. One day we drove through a pretty French village on a narrow road. ‘Hey, watch out. That oncoming car is in the middle of the road. Get over!’ It held its ground and we edged as close as possible to the grassy road edge. It was not enough and both of the side mirrors on each car scraped but with no serious damage. The truck behind us had to climb up the bank to allow the errant car to pass. I suspect it was a tourist unfamiliar with the ‘wrong’ side of the road.
In Australia we drive on the left but I recall many years earlier my first french rental car experience and driving on the right side of the road for the first time. On entering a quiet suburban roundabout, I drove around anti-clockwise but was too near the concrete kerb. To this day I’m not sure how I punctured a tyre with this manoeuvre but it was a no-go situation. Speaking french I willingly accepted assistance from an amused onlooker and saved my embarrassment until later.
It is easier to enter a roundabout when lines are painted on the road and other vehicles are around.
But how about this country one with its choice of entrance and exits?
Sometimes when driving in unfamiliar countries, I have been told, or else have exclaimed loudly to my driver, ‘You’re on the wrong side of the road!’ This is usually when turning into an unlined empty road with no obvious cues.
In my next post I’ll talk about the legal requirements for driving in foreign countries. These will include ID stickers, lights, safety gear and breathalyzer kits. It’s better to be prepared than being stopped by the police and fined. No-one wants a spoiled holiday.