By Laura Arroyave
Different International Driving Styles & How to Prepare
While many travellers utilize tour services or public transportation while abroad, some choose a slightly different route. Several companies offer travellers the option to rent private vehicles to navigate the region instead. Renting a car can be a great way to explore the area like a local, provided you appreciate the different international driving styles that prevail. Driving abroad also provides the added benefit of a little privacy and freedom to set the pace.
When it comes to driving in foreign countries, it’s important to be mindful of unique driving styles and attitudes. In some areas of the world, even the steering wheel sits on a different side of the vehicle. Each country has its own approach to enforcement of traffic laws as well, and understanding different international driving styles will help you navigate the streets with ease. Knowing what to expect before you get behind the wheel (whichever side of the car it’s on), is the key to having a safe and positive driving experience during your trip.
Driving on the Other Side of the Road
Driving on the opposite side of the road is often the first different style that comes to mind. In most countries, drivers must operate their vehicles on the right side of the road while on two-way streets. This is known as right-hand traffic. However certain places like Great Britain and Australia stick to the left side of the road while driving. Referred to as left-hand traffic, this style of driving is even utilized in specific cities. For example, in Hong Kong drivers use the left side of the road, while drivers in the mainland of China use the right.
The thought of driving on the opposite side of the road in a foreign country can be intimidating and may cause you to reconsider your transportation plans. The hardest part of learning this driving style is simply remembering to stay on the correct side of the street. Luckily, there are usually plenty of other cars on the road to follow. If you pay attention to the cars around you and practice safe driving skills, you can learn to drive anywhere with relative ease.
Driving on the Other Side of the Car
The side of the road that drivers use often affects the cars they drive as well. Countries that rely on left-hand traffic generally have vehicles that correspond with this driving style. Rather than sitting on the left, drivers in left-hand traffic countries sit on the right side to operate a vehicle. As a result, the gear shift is located to the left of the steering wheel. This can be confusing if you are used to driving on the other side of the car.
Luckily, you don’t have to pay much attention to the gear shift if you rent a car with an automatic transmission. The most important aspect of this driving style is learning the dimensions of the car from a different perspective. You can easily practice this at home in your driveway by sitting in the passenger seat and familiarizing yourself with the new position. On the other hand, learning to drive a vehicle with a manual transmission this way may require more effort.
Automatic transmissions have become the norm in places like the United States, but this is not the case everywhere. Some countries still rely heavily on vehicles with manual transmissions, otherwise known as “stick shifts.” This is important to keep in mind if you plan to drive on your trip for several reasons.
First, driving a manual transmission takes more effort than an automatic. If you have never driven a stick shift before, it’s not a good idea to start while you’re on vacation. You will need to practice thoroughly beforehand to ensure your safety while driving abroad. Second, you may face difficulties if you have to drive on the opposite side of the car even if you have prior experience with stick shifts. This will also take getting used to with some practice.
Fortunately, there is an easy way to prepare for these driving conditions. Many private companies offer classes where you learn how to drive a stick shift with the help of an instructor. Sign up for a course and give yourself plenty of time to practice before you hit the road.
Traffic laws are different in every country, as are the levels of enforcement. In general, it’s important to follow driving laws no matter where you are, to stay safe and avoid tickets. However, some countries are stricter about driving laws than others. While you might be able to get away with going a few miles over the speed limit at home, that is not always the case when you are driving abroad.
This seems to be especially true in countries that rely more heavily on other forms of transportation, as there are fewer vehicles on the road. To avoid facing penalties while on your trip, make sure to familiarize yourself with the traffic laws in the countries you are travelling to. Research the local policies on topics like:
- Road signs.
- Basic road rules.
- Speed limits.
- Use of headlights.
- Cellphone use.
You can contact the DMV or the embassy to find out about more about international driving practices. That way, you can gain the knowledge you need before getting behind the wheel in a foreign country.
This is a key thing to consider with different international driving styles. The driving culture among motorists tends to vary based on the country, and this can massively affect your driving experiences. In some places, enforcement of traffic laws is much more lax than others. You may find that the driving laws you researched are sometimes ignored by the drivers around you. At the same time, attitudes towards other drivers may be more aggressive than you are used to. This is usually true in areas with a large population and frequent traffic congestion.
With all this in mind, it’s important to research the driving culture as well as the traffic laws for wherever you plan to drive. That way, you know what to expect from other drivers and can react accordingly. Knowing what to watch out for is an important part of becoming a safe driver, no matter where you travel.