For almost 50 years I drove on the right side of the road. You know, “the right” side of the road. When I moved to Thailand and started driving, I had a big problem. My brain was wired to drive on the right side of the road and the transition to driving on the left hand side of the road was hard. I found myself driving at cars on the wrong side of the road, way too many times. Fortunately, I’ve never caused on accident.
The hardest part of the transition to driving on the “wrong side”? Signaling a turn. Why would that be so hard? Because everytime I went to make a turn, I turned on the windshield wipers. I still do it after five years. The controls for the turn signals and wipers also change along with the steering wheel from one side of a car to the other. Try making that mistake a couple of hundred times and see how frustrating it is.
Last month I returned to the United States and rented a car. You wouldn’t think it would be a tough transition back to the lifelong “right” side. I went to signal a turn out of the rental lot and turned on the windshield wipers. This was going to be tougher than I thought.
In found it very difficult to make the change back to the right side of the road. I had to be vigilant in staying on the correct side. In the San Francisco Bay Area, I was often driving on freeways which weren’t a problem. Driving on residential streets and making a turn from a stop sign, that would confuse me.
Driving shouldn’t be this difficult.
It happened up in the Sierra foothills. I was visiting a friend’s winery in a rural area. No, I wasn’t loaded, it was noontime and I had three little sips of wine. I turned left out of the winery and drove down the road a little ways, when suddenly a big SUV comes barreling at me. Yup, I was driving on the wrong side of the road. I didn’t have time to do anything except pull over further left to avoid an accident. The SUV did what I would have done, laid into the horn as they drove by me. I’m sure the driver was swearing at me as I hung my head in shame.
It turns out, it’s not just senility setting in. People have trouble making the transition from driving on the other side of the road. The BBC website recommends Brits driving in other countries, “Repeat the phrase ‘drive on the right’ until you are quite sure that you won’t forget to.” That’s the best they could come up with? The problem is your mind wanders off while driving. You don’t have to think about what side of the road you should be on. It’s ingrained.
I don’t have any good recommendations for this “driving on the wrong side of the road” thing. Just watch out for me out there, will ya?