There’s a problem with stating that you need to learn how to drive on “the wrong side of the road” when you are a visitor in Australia, Great Britain, India, Indonesia and in many other nations. The main issue is that for the residents of these countries, it is the right side of the road — meaning correct — despite the fact it’s the left side of the road.
However, even if you state correctly that you are learning to drive on the left side of the road — it feels wrong. Very, very wrong.
My first attempt at driving on the left side of the road in Adelaide, Australia, was when my family needed groceries. We had no food except for Vegemite and crackers. That is a motivating factor in giving driving on the left side a go.
Backing out of a garage was bewildering. I had to have my husband Kurt do that since I kept looking the wrong way and moving the steering wheel in the wrong direction. The next confusion came when preparing to turn on to a main street. I moved my left hand to hit the turn signal. Wwwwipe…wipe…wipe (actually it was more like a sssscccrrrape since there was no rain to lube up the windshield wipers.) Turning on the windshield wipers instead of the turn signal would plague me up until about five months into our stay in Adelaide.
Driving on a fairly busy street was completely terrifying. The hardest part is that your spatial judgment is off kilter. It feels like you have this behemoth metal growth on your left side. Consequently, sideswiping everything on the left with the minivan seemed inevitable. Also, when driving on a curve, I had this irrational need to lean to the right because it felt like we would tip (as if my effort, alone, would stabilize the van anyway.)
Turning was also a massive adrenalin rush because you have to fight your instincts. Telling yourself to do the opposite may work for your brain, but for your reflexes — not so much. Then, of course, there is the turn signal issue.
Approaching a roundabout is the same as what I imagine it is like to walk to the edge of a bungee jumping platform. Many times on a roundabout, I took us in the wrong direction because I just wanted to get the hell out of the direction of death.
Kurt was patient to a degree. He cracked when we were on a winding, narrow road that ran through groves of eucalyptus trees. “Why the hell would these Australians think it’s okay to drive 80 km’s through this area. This is completely insane!”
Then, I saw my first yellow traffic warning sign for a koala crossing, which normally would have made my day. All I could think was that if any cuddly, cute koala dared to cross the street, it would be instantly pancaked by the careening minivan that I was driving. I expressed my concern, and then, Kurt lost it.
“Steph, quit freaking out and crying and pull this car over, NOW!”
I was more than happy to do that, actually, but I didn’t appreciate that he said I was crying.
“I am NOT crying; I am whimpering. Go ahead, Mr. MISTER and see how hard this is!” We traded places and I looked at my hands, which looked curled and gnarled because I had been white knuckle driving the entire time.
More stressful than my impatient husband, however, was being with the other drivers on the road. Aussies are NOT “no worries” about driving. They honked, gave dirty looks and passed with hostile moves that, if I wasn’t giving them the benefit of the doubt, I would say were meant to cut me off.
To alleviate this stress, I drew inspiration from the yellow caution koala crossing sign. From yellow paper, I cut out a diamond shape and then with a think black marker wrote, “YANK DRIVING.” I never had another problem after I displayed the sign in the rear window.