6 Tips for Driving a Car on the Opposite Side of the Road without Getting Yourself Killed

  May 9, 2018 travel posts ๐Ÿ•‘ 4 minutes read
how to drive a car on the opposite side of the road

Tip 1: Open up your eyes. Kelli got me mid blink in Opotiki, New Zealand.


Driving a car in a foreign land is quite unlike riding a motorbike guys.


Done the motorbike bit for many years in Southeast Asia. No biggie. Easy really.


But for the past 6 weeks I’ve been driving a car in New Zealand. Different experience. Mainly because for 25 years I did everything in reverse to what I am doing now, driving cars in the United States.


How to Drive a Car on the Opposite Side of the Road


Some differences:


  • in New Zealand I drive on the opposite side of the road
  • the driver’s side is the right hand side in New Zealand
  • the blinker and windshield wiper switches are on opposite sides of the wheel
  • going left on red and making tough right turns totally screwed me up at first; and still does


You may nod and figure I’m some type of driving buffoon unable to adjust quickly to opposite driving in foreign lands but I drove hundreds of thousands of miles in the US. Not kidding. I can drive. But driving on the opposite side of the road in foreign lands can throw off even an experienced, confident driver like me. So I want to help you avoid accidents by sharing a few tips for driving safely in international countries where you do everything in reverse, driving-wise.


1: Practice Driving During Low Traffic Periods


I drove the dogs to the beach at 7 AM in Opotiki, a tiny little town on the North Island of New Zealand. Nobody around. Literally…NOBODY on the road.


Hitting the streets solo helped me practice driving without stressors like….other cars whizzing by me or riding my ass.


Practice driving during early or late hours, or whenever traffic is light. Gain confidence. Get comfortable driving in foreign lands before you dive into higher traffic conditions.


2: Talk to Yourself While Driving


While making turns I say to myself “Up-Left, Down-Right” to remind myself that signaling a left blinker requires an uptick and signaling a right blinker requires a downtick. I also note right side for blinker and left side for windshield wipers.


Talking to yourself reminds yourself of driving differences and reprograms your mind through the simple tactic of listening to verbal cues.


3: Forgive Yourself for Screwing Up


Last night I nearly missed my turn here in Christchurch so I speedily – and mistakenly – ticked the windshield wiper and made a sharp turn without signaling. This has happened 3 or 4 times when I nearly miss turns. I go back to thinking I’m driving in the US and tick the wrong side. 25 years of driving habits die hard.


For a few seconds I feel dumb or outright flustered but avoid holding grudges or punishing myself for being human, forgiving myself of inevitable driving screw ups. Never carry anger, frustration or shame with you; this leads to potential accidents or increased screw ups.


You will screw up a few times riding on the opposite side of the road in a car with the steering wheel sitting on the opposite side of the car. Be gentle with yourself. Laugh off driving errors. Let go mistakes. Learn from boo boo’s. No sense beating yourself up for being human.


4: Slow Down in Urban Centers


Opotiki driving was a piece of cake. Timaru pretty easy too. But I am challenged here in Christchurch by:


  • more traffic
  • narrow roads
  • tight, confusing, frequent roundabouts
  • big hills
  • blind spots around tight corners on big hills (this one is super challenging)


I quickly learned to slow down, to calm down and to take it easy. If I’m backing out of a driveway onto a mountain with a tight curve blind spot 20 meters away – and I do at least 1-2 times daily at the AirBnB – I patiently take my time even if someone comes flying around the curve at a high rate of speed. Ditto for anybody riding my tail in circles or going uphill.


Never allow another driver’s impatience to affect your vibe. Take a deep breath. Slow down. Calm down. Stay safe.


5: Map Out Routes Before Driving


Even though I use GPS I map out routes before driving to know where I’m headed and how to get there. This leads to fewer sharp turns and other hairy situations if the GPS lags in offering directions.


Google Map your journey before hopping into the car. Jot down a rough draft of the directions on a piece of paper for backup insurance. Knowing where you’re headed before driving helps you embrace the stresses of cruising on the opposite side of the road in your hometown.


6: Avoid Hugging the Shoulder


Driving on the opposite side of the road feels intimidating. Especially as oncoming traffic barrels toward you from an alien direction.


Avoid the common tendency of hugging the shoulder to position yourself well away from the center line. Large trucks and speeding cars may scare the bejesus out of you but if you’re not careful you will drive off the road. Especially here in New Zealand. Folks love to hug the middle line at a high rate of speed in NZ. Hair pin curve or straightaway. Doesn’t matter.


Stay in the middle of your lane. Soon enough you become comfortable with seeing traffic head your way from a different direction.


Your Turn


Have you ever driven on the opposite side of the road in a foreign land?


What tips can you add to this list?


Did you make the transition smoothly? Or did it take you a while to get adjusted?

  1. Andrew Foss says:
    at 6:31 am

    I have never had the experience, but I do remember when I visited England in the mid 80’s and how odd it even felt in buses on the opposite side of the road.

  2. Umesh Singh says:
    at 7:13 am

    WoW! Ryan I think it would quite fun to run car in opposite direction. However, I don’t know how to drive car but I have experienced with bike and I can tell you it seem like your life is always on risk of getting hit with other vehicles running on the road.

    But for those wants to try driving car in opposite direction for them here are some cool tips.


    • Ryan Biddulph says:
      at 4:22 pm

      Oh I know that feeling well of getting run over by cars while on a motorbike buddy LOL. Thanks for reading and comment Umesh!

  3. Awogor Matthew says:
    at 9:56 am

    Hi Ryan,
    I wish I can become a travel blogger like you. Can you in another post tell us how you became a travel blogger, why you choose that niche and what it cost you to become such?

    • Ryan Biddulph says:
      at 4:21 pm

      Awogor thanks for the ideas bro ๐Ÿ˜‰ I will either find old posts exploring these ideas or write new ones. Appreciate it!

  4. Andrew Foss says:
    at 11:53 am

    Sorry for the short comment, but I had a kid to get on the bus. I was trying to think through this comment. Driving is an example I often think about when discussing the 4 stages of learning – where the final result is Unconscious Competence. It is the perfect example, as there are so many little subtle processes you must follow. And these processes are unconscious. You do not think about the process of pushing the clutch and shifting, you just do it. You do not tell your foot to depress the brake pedal, you just do it.

    And your example of changing the side of the road shows what happens when you change the conditions. Your mind must learn how to do it unconsciously. And that takes time and repetition.

    • Ryan Biddulph says:
      at 4:20 pm

      Andrew this is fabulous. Dead on buddy. The concept applies well to anything we do in life. Thanks for sharing ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. antonette spaan says:
    at 5:51 am

    Haha I had such a hard time when in New Zealand. I traveled solo and the first week was horrible, but after that it became fine. Not having and automatic made it a bit more difficult ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. Derek Freal says:
    at 12:51 pm

    Hahahaha ohhh yeah, everyone always confuses blinkers and windshield wipers the first few times they are learning to drive on the opposite side of the road. Or when you walk up to a car with a buddy or the missus but find yourself at the driver’s door instead of the passenger door (or vice versa) ๐Ÿ˜‚ anyway after ten years bouncing around abroad, driving on the left side of the street (with driver’s seat on the right side of the car) is definitely the more common. Left is law IMO ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Here’s an interesting TRUE story: Back in the 1960’s Sweden decided to switch from driving on the left to the right. They picked a date and called it “Dagen H” (H-day) but rather than do the switch at midnight, as the dates changed, officials waited until just before the morning rush hour out of fear people would wake up and start driving on the wrong side by force of habit. At 4:50am all vehicular traffic nationwide came to a stop and drivers were given 10 minutes to move their car to the opposite side of the road, then stop again and wait until everyone else had done the same. At 5:00am traffic resumed, now on the opposite side. The switch went so smoothly and (at least initially) reduced both accidents and insurance rates, so Iceland followed with their own H-Day the following year.

    • Ryan Biddulph says:
      at 5:20 pm

      Great story Derek! Thanks much for sharing bro ๐Ÿ˜‰ I walked to the opposite side and my wife ditto only twice yesterday LOL.

  7. Rhonda Albom says:
    at 7:26 am

    One big hint that works no matter which country is the driver is in the middle. Remember that the driver is always closest to the centre of the road. Doesn’t matter left hand or right side of the road driving (unless the car is from another country where driving is reversed). In New Zealand, new drivers are taught to drive as close to the shoulder as reasonable. This is opposite of what I was taught in the USA (close to the centre just in case a child runs out from between parked cars or a driver flings their car door open). I think it’s because NZ roads are narrow so drivers may cross the centre line as necessary without warning to get around obstacles. My transition was smooth. It was actually more difficult to return to the USA and driving on holiday.

    • Ryan Biddulph says:
      at 4:55 pm

      Neat Rhonda; they neat to re-teach driving toward the shoulder to most drivers in Opotiki LOL. I cannot stress how many logging trucks and local drivers crossed the middle line when flying around curves. I felt unsettled and Kelli nearly had heart failure LOL. Great tips as always my friend.

  8. travel and treatz says:
    at 3:58 pm

    Very relevant post! I can totally relate! I drive on the left at home! My last trip to the U.S. i accidentally went the wrong way on a round about… But it was late at night with no cars on the road…. So i would recommend at least some traffic ๐Ÿ‘’

  9. Nancy says:
    at 2:33 am

    Very helpful tips – I hope people donโ€™t underestimate the challenges of driving on the opposite of the road for the first timeโ€ฆitโ€™s not that easy!

    We made it a habit of saying โ€œleft side left sideโ€ each time we turned to make sure we were driving in the โ€‹properโ€‹ lane.

  10. Erika Mohssen-Beyk says:
    at 10:22 am

    Hi Ryan
    Years ago, I was driving around in Cyprus. It was a bit strange initially, but I got used to it. But before I dared, I practiced mentally and got the feeling as a passenger. Your tips are good, and driving mindful will help depending on the country and city. In India, I prefer to get a driver ๐Ÿ™‚

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