Traveling the UK way—Stay Left!
By: Dr. Bissell
I slowly made my way to the exit gate of the Hertz Car Rental-London Heathrow station and edged my way closer to Northern Perimeter Road. Look right, stay left. I repeated this to myself several times. Watch the turn radius on the left. And look right again. Just once more. I edged out onto the road and said a short prayer that I would not immediately be hit from a side of the road I had forgotten to look at.
Renting a car when traveling internationally can seem overwhelming and daunting for sure, especially when the rules of the road dictate you drive on the opposite side of where you are used to driving. But, renting a car can give you the freedom and flexibility to see some of the off-the-beaten-path sights that are mostly inaccessible via public transportation.
The United Kingdom has an amazing public transportation system not only in the larger cities but also in just getting around the country. With that being said, some sights throughout the country just aren’t easy to reach without a car. Here’s the truth: the thought of driving on the opposite side of the road and having every function of the car be in reverse is kind of daunting. Or maybe exceptionally daunting because driving a car is very instinctual, and once you learn to drive, most of what we do behind the wheels just becomes a habit.
When I thought about the differences I might encounter—shifting (a manual transmission car) with the left hand, looking right instead of left before pulling out onto a road, or learning the rules of the more than 10,000 roundabouts seemingly every 100 yards when driving in the UK—I was a little intimidated. While I tried very hard not to live up to the stereotype related to bad American drivers and driving, admittedly, I circled several roundabouts more than once in order to figure out where I needed to go. I also pretended that some of the honks on the highway were not directed at me but rather at some other American tourist trying to navigate the rules of keeping left.
Driving in the UK required complete focus and attention so that I didn’t fall back into my habits of pulling out on the incorrect side of the road or waiting patiently until I had a green light to start accelerating—the UK uses a super fancy red, yellow, green light system to improve efficiency and maintain good traffic flow. If your future plans involve a trip to the UK or some other country that drives on the opposite side of the road, consider some of these tips:
1. Have a navigator: Having a navigator, and not just the GPS variety, is certainly key if it all possible because it allows the driver the chance to stay completely focused on driving while the navigator can let you know what’s on the horizon with roundabouts, turns, and exits.
2. Avoid big city driving early on: if you can leave the car rental location and not have to do too much big city driving, all the better. You want to familiarize yourself with lane changes, turns, roundabouts, without the pressure of also being in a big city. Get your bearings and then drive into the city if you have to.
3. Practice reverse: While you might think that reverse is reverse, it is more challenging for American drivers to back out in a left-oriented car. So, practice before leaving the car rental facility, and if you are driving a manual transmission car, definitely make sure you know how to get into reverse before you leave. Again, what may seem natural and instinctual may be very different when in another country.
4. Keep left: Be careful with keeping left because drivers tend to stay too close to the left-hand side of the lane, which can cause issues with rental car tires.
5. And keep left Part Deux: Just keeping telling yourself, stay left!
Our group successfully navigated the highways, the roundabouts and the single and dual-carriage smaller roads, albeit with some stress involved. However, if he had not, we would have missed visiting the About Time house in St. Austell, and we certainly would have missed the drive down to and along the Jurassic Coast. No regrets. Just stay left.