I faced this prospect pretty soon after arriving in Austria because my German lessons were a 45 minute drive away. Thomas took me out to practice the first weekend so I would be comfortable.
It was not comfortable. It was one of the most frightening things I’d done in a while. Though I knew that in a matter of weeks everything would become automatic, the learning process was very scary.
Driving on the other side of the road itself is not so bad. The roads are set up that way, obviously, so it would be pretty hard to drive the wrong way around a roundabout, and you’re physically on the other side of the vehicle so while it feels backward, it still seems quite natural. And though intersections are tricky, as long as you concentrate and think about it, it’s pretty easy to look the right way for traffic.
These are the things I found the hardest:
I have no idea where the right hand side of my car is
The streets around town are pretty narrow, and often two cars have to pass one another going in different directions. It took me a few months before I was confident of exactly where the right hand side of the car was and where the right hand wheels sat on the road. Which is pretty scary when another car is flying toward you on a really narrow laneway!
Oh, the car’s manual, where’s the gearstick?
That’s right, the gear stick is on the other side. So in the beginning, I would naturally reach down to my left and whack my hand on the door handle, before hurriedly switching hands and changing gears. It’s one of the things I still do sometimes when I’m stressed out.
Windscreen wipers & indicators
This is definitely the thing I get wrong the most. Even though I’ve driven a number of European cars in Australia, I still sometimes mess it up, especially if I’ve got a lot to think about (other cars, rain, snow etc). I turn the windscreen wipers on when I turn a corner and turn the indicators on when it’s raining.
Constantly going to the wrong side of the car
And finally, something that doesn’t hurt anyone, but happens a little too frequently for my liking. I just trot up to the passenger side when I’m driving, sometimes I even get in the car before I realise the steering wheel is not in front of me. I also sometimes follow Thomas around to the driver’s side when he’s driving, which he finds hilarious. Though he did the same thing is Scotland so I was able to laugh back at him!
But I’m happy to say that now I’m officially ambidextrous at driving!