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Lessons-learned are appreciated

I am accustomed to driving on the right side of roads for several decades. I will be required drive on the opposite side of the road internationally in two weeks in Jamaica, whose population is characterized as aggressive-reckless drivers. It is expected that the rental car company provide a car that is designed (right-hand drive) for the country

What can I do to prepare myself (ideally practice), to unlearn decades of reflex and minimize the chance of an accident? If you have gone through this (waited several decades before driving on the opposite side of the road), please indicate this in your response?

marked as duplicate by CMaster, Michael Hampton, Willeke, Zach Lipton, Jan Dec 3 '16 at 1:51

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  • Will you be using a locally rented car that is designed for driving on the left? – Patricia Shanahan Dec 2 '16 at 16:28
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    Don't worry too much about it. You still do the same things generally. If you're turning left, you still check your left front/mirror/shoulder. If you're turning right, you do the same, except you're also crossing a road – Belle-Sophie Dec 2 '16 at 16:56
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    Looking forward with some trepidation to a similar situation soon. Added to the concern is driving a manual transmission car (which I have done, but not recently) and having to shift with the opposite hand. Not to mention roundabouts going the 'wrong' way. – Spehro Pefhany Dec 2 '16 at 16:58
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    Perhaps the best preparation would be to become an expert on local bus routes. :-) – WGroleau Dec 2 '16 at 18:14
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    You'll be fine in Jamaica provided you know where you're going, don't trust your GPS too much and avoid getting lost. – Michael Hampton Dec 2 '16 at 19:07
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It really isn't as bad as you might think. Anytime it actually matters (i.e. when there is other traffic) you will be reminded of it because of where they are. I'm currently living in Indonesia since about a year or so. Here they also drive on the left side and I never messed that up in all that time.

I'd be more concerned about a different attitude to road safety in general that you seem to be speaking of.

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I've been in that situation (more than once, in fact) and don't think you should worry too much since most people seem to get along. I can't think of any way to practice before you get there, but I can recommend a few things that help me.

  • It is much easier if your car has the steering wheel on the right. Almost all of my wrong-side-driving issues were in the Bahamas, where they drive on the left but mostly use (and rent) American cars. Having the steering wheel on the correct side for the country reminds you (or, me) of where you are.

  • If there's a choice pick a car with an automatic transmission. It is one less "backwards" thing to have to deal with early on.

  • Try to remember the geometry, that most of the car is on your left, to keep the left wheels off the curb on left turns. This is the thing I personally have to pay closest attention to for my first few days.

Before I began driving in left-side countries regularly it would take about a day to lose the feeling that something was slightly "off" when driving. You might also want to pay attention for your first few minutes of driving after you get home.

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    The hardest part, I think, would be learning how to shift with your left hand. I've also heard tales about tales about windshield wipers coming on when going to make a turn. – user42547 Dec 2 '16 at 20:31
  • @FighterJet This actually varies between RHD cars. Asian manufacturers put the indicator on the right, European and American manufacturers put it on the left. – MJeffryes Dec 2 '16 at 21:20
  • The windshield wiper thing can be a problem even when moving from one right-hand-drive car to another. While most seem to put the turn signal on the right, close to the door, the Toyota I usually drive in the UK instead has it on the left where I expect it. I think the latter is sometimes done to save the manufacturer having to build two different versions of the steering column. – Dennis Dec 2 '16 at 21:20
  • @Dennis pretty much all UK cars have the turn signal on the left side of the steering column, I have yet to find one that doesnt. – Moo Dec 2 '16 at 22:14
  • @Moo, I could swear the last car I rented in the UK (a Vauxhall?) had it on the right, and I know that all the cars I've rented in the Caribbean and the last car I rented in New Zealand had it there too. Since that plus the Toyota is my entire sample it seemed like it is mostly on the right to me. – Dennis Dec 2 '16 at 22:43
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You are never going to lose 100% your learned reflexes even after several years of driving on the opposite side to where you learned to drive.

For example I learned to drive on the left side of the road. Even after 3 years full time driving on the right I was still making mistakes in normal (and not emergency) situations. In one case I went over a hill, did a U-turn to come back and found myself driving on the wrong side of the road as I was about to go over that same hill.

Even after almost 20 years of driving on the right I still feel nervous about cars coming at me from unexpected situations that would only occur if I was driving on the left.

My basic advice is:

  • Follow the cars ahead of you
  • Allow lots of space between you and other cars
  • Don't hit anyone
  • Try not to put your car in a situation where you would be hit.
  • Don't get stressed.
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    Probably best not to start off tired and jet-lagged in the middle of a crowded city filled with crazy and excitable drivers, pedestrians without fear, animals, nested roundabouts, super-narrow streets etc. – Spehro Pefhany Dec 2 '16 at 17:04
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    @SpehroPefhany There's nothing like jumping off a plane after 24 to 30 hours of international travel and into a rental car for an hour or two of driving on the opposite side of the road in a country where you don't speak the language an you don't have GPS navigation! – Peter M Dec 2 '16 at 17:08
  • @PeterM nice job. Fortunately, the flight is a mere 2.5 hours. – gatorback Dec 2 '16 at 19:42
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My advice is orientate yourself to the middle of the road as follows. When driving on the right you are sitting on the left side of the car. Always keep the driver-side door, and yourself next to the middle of the road. So that when you are sitting on the right side of the car, by following the above you will be driving on the left.

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I did this on a three week vacation in Australia and New Zealand where they drive on the left :

  1. Before driving out of a parking lot to turn onto a main road, spend a few seconds to think about the turns that you are going to need to do to get through the next intersection and into the correct lane on a multi-lane roadway.
  2. Remember that the right turns are more dangerous than the left turns, which is the opposite to North America, and use a little more caution.
  3. If you can, try to avoid driving in an area with multiple one way streets when you first start driving in the country. Sydney has several streets that terminate due to a park or major building spanning several blocks, and that, in combination with many one way streets, was a bit confusing, regarding trying to get to the local highway entrance, for a while after I first picked up the rental car to leave the city. I took a shuttle bus from the airport and only rented a car several days later for travel outside Sydney.
  4. Following other drivers can be helpful at first.
  5. Don't stress about it. You will get used to driving fairly quickly. I drove 3000 km on a multi-day one way trip from Sydney to Cairns via the scenic coastal towns, including the Blue Mountains, and after the first few minutes I was fine, even on 2 lane roundabouts (common in small towns instead of stop lights). In my experience, I found the local Australian drivers to be more disciplined (using turn signals, making proper lane changes, merging safely) than many drivers in most places in North America that I have been to. When I flew back to North America and rented a car during the one day stopover, I adjusted very quickly; it only seemed 'weird' for a few minutes.
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Just pay attention to what you're doing. If you're relying on muscle memory to drive, you should not be on the roads in the first place. When I travel to the States and hop in a hire car, I have to start driving on the wrong side immediately and it takes all of minute to confirm with my subconscious which side of the road to use. From then, you just sort of use your brain... Does it feel "natural" and "easy"? No, not really, at least not for a few days. Does it feel problematic or dangerous? Not in the slightest.

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