By Sasha Oelsner
Published: Friday, September 22, 2023
Only one third of the world’s population drive on the left side of the road, making Australian drivers a minority.
This means if you’re driving overseas, there’s a high chance you’ll have to drive on the right side of the road.
Here are some tips for when your brain is screaming something is not right because you’re, well, on the right.
1. Get an International Driving Permit
Before you leave Australia, get an International Driving Permit (IDP). This permit translates your South Australian driver’s licence into nine different languages so you can drive without taking tests or completing applications. Some countries don’t legally require an IDP but having one will make the car-hire process smoother. Some countries, like Vietnam, won’t allow you to drive even with an International Driving Permit.
Get your permit at an RAA shop or online. The permit is valid for 12 months, and even if you’re not entirely confident of your driving ability in a foreign country, the permit will at least let authorities know you can drive.
Note: You must also carry the physical copy of your domestic card, as digital driver’s licenses are not valid overseas.
2. Buy car hire full coverage excess insurance
Speaking from experience – always get full coverage excess insurance when hiring a car. It may seem like it will blow your budget but try to factor it into your costs.
For that one occasion when something goes wrong and it is – or isn’t – your fault, it’s a huge weight off to know you can simply return the car or call the company for assistance and swap it out for another. No (or maybe a few) questions asked, and at no additional cost.
It’s more affordable than you think. An excess could be thousands of dollars. A few extra dollars a day doesn’t sound so bad, does it? Make sure you read the terms and conditions, and ensure there aren’t any hidden exclusions.
3. Hire a car with automatic transmission
Automatic transmission cars can be a bit more expensive to hire.
However, when driving on the other side of the road, you want to focus less on shifting gears and more on driving. In an automatic vehicle, you can concentrate on turning the steering wheel the correct way (and the old indicator/windscreen wiper fiasco) while remembering which side of the road to be on. In a manual, your brain will also have to process using the gearstick with your other hand. It’s well worth the investment.
Check availability early as autos are in high demand – especially in Europe.
4. Go for a driving lesson
It might be tempting to collect the car straight after a 15-hour flight but if possible, try to leave a day or two before hiring the car. Not only will this give you a chance to recover from jet lag, but it might give you time to go for a quick walk around and observe the driving culture.
If you get the chance, check out the local driving instructors in the city you’re travelling to and book a one-hour lesson. You’ll have someone on hand to slam on the brakes if you’re going the wrong way around a round-about, and to point out what all the road signs mean. You can also research the local motoring club before arriving (their RAA equivalent!) to see if they have any tips and tricks for visiting drivers. They may even have some cool quizzes.
5. Practice somewhere quiet
You’ve collected the keys, opened the door, hopped in and realised you’re not sitting on the driver’s seat. Oops. Out you get.
Try to think back to when you were a learner driver, oh so many years ago. What’s the first thing your responsible driver guardians did? They took you to an abandoned car park for you to practice going around in circles.
Become familiar with the car and which side of the road you need to be on by driving on quieter streets before heading out onto the motorway, freeway or autostrada.
Be aware of different speed limits, and some countries, notably the UK, US and Canada use miles per hour rather than km/h.
6. Put your backseat driver to work
If you have a co-pilot, don’t get upset when they tell you what to do.
Map out the course to your destination before leaving the car park so all the vehicle’s occupants know which direction you’re going. Use a GPS system or another mapping app that will provide verbal directions. This means you can focus on the road instead of worrying that you’re getting lost or missing that vital freeway exit .
While you’re driving, passengers are in charge of the aircon and radio, although we suggest keeping the music off or very low – this is another distraction you don’t need while you’re behind the wheel.
7. Always have your passenger side of the car next to the kerb
Passenger. Kerb. Kerb. Passenger. Say it with me: “keep the passenger side on the kerb side.”
You probably haven’t noticed before, but you can follow this rule in most cars no matter where you’re driving. On multi-lane roads, keep to the right-hand lane unless overtaking – especially on high-speed roads.
So, when you’re turning left from the right-hand side of the road, remember to keep your passengers on the kerb side of the road otherwise you could end up driving towards oncoming traffic. This is particularly important on quieter roads where there may not be other vehicle present to help your orientation.
Lastly, be careful when you return
You’ve rewritten the neural pathways in your brain to drive on the right side of the road.
Now you’re back on the left, and it can take a little bit of adjusting to return to normal life. Make sure you take it easy, go slow and check everything twice.