Learning to drive on the wrong side of the road

After riding on the train called The Ghan through the Australian Outback from Adelaide to Darwin I arrived at my hotel called “the Vibe” and received my itinerary for the next couple of days that the Northern Territory tourism board had put together for me. First item on the schedule was having dinner with them that night at an awesome Thai restaurant called “Hanuman” and the second starting early the next day, “Have breakfast then grab a taxi to Thrifty Car Rental to pick up your rental vehicle“.

My jaw dropped.

Rental vehicle?

Then the memory came flashing back, they had asked me before my trip if I could drive and if I had my license and without thinking about it I ticked the box yes. Not once did I think about how Australians drive on the opposite side of the road from Canadians and now the next 4 days of my trip was dependant on me driving myself from point A to point B.

I like to think that I am always up for a challenge, but this would be a difficult one that could be dangerous. I like to think I am a good driver, I can even drive a standard (stick shift) and this was an automatic, this couldn’t be too hard right?

My fancy ride

My learning curve for driving on the “wrong side” of the road was a quick one. I showed up at the rental place, they handed me the keys and I jumped in the car. 

My first manoeuvre was to get out of a tight parking lot and of course then make a right hand turn across traffic on one of the city’s busiest streets. I took a few deep breaths and turned on my blinker.

“Woosh, woosh” go the wipers instead of the “tink tink, tink tink” of the blinker. 

Lesson number 1:

On many models of cars with the driving wheel on the right side of the car the blinker is on the right and the windshield wipers are on the left, the exact opposite to a North American car. I may or may not of then turned my wipers on a billion more times during the rest of my journey. Only twice did I remember and get it right, for some reason my brain had just learned that the blinker was on the left without even thinking about it, so it was hard to re-teach it the opposite.

Lesson number 2:

The seat belt is over your right shoulder, not your left. This one was weird to me, every time I sit in the passenger seat of a car or on the right side in the back, the seatbelt is over my right shoulder, so why did I constantly reach for it on the left? My brain saw the steering wheel in front of me and automatically went “seatbelt on the left, seatbelt on the left” and there I was every time I got in the car grasping air over my left shoulder with my left hand looking for the seatbelt.

Lesson 3:

Pay attention when turning corners. Darwin was full of boulevards and medians and it was my worst nightmare to turn a corner and end up on the wrong side of one going the wrong way. Thankfully that did not happen. Remember to keep the middle of the road on the right of the car and if all else fails follow the car in front of you.

Also note that there may be different driving rules in countries outside your own. In Darwin you can’t actually turn left on a red light (the equivalent of turning right on red in North America) unless there was a sign saying you could do so.

Lesson 4:

Get in the “right” side of the car. Obvious right? This one wasn’t to hard to remember, however… there was one time that I opened the left side door and almost sat down before I realized what I was doing.

Lesson 5:

Get familiar with your blind spots and mirrors as everything is different and opposite. I almost repeatedly smashed my head into the window looking over my left shoulder first instead of my right.

I am proud to say that I survived my few days of driving on the wrong side of the road from Darwin to Kakadu National Park and back and not once did I drive on the wrong side of the road while driving on the wrong side of the road. Now if only I had had an Australian travel guide on me I might not of made a couple of wrong turns when my un-locked iPhone’s GPS was spinning in circles. Honestly how did anyone travel before this new fan-dangled technology?

Have you ever driven on the opposite of the road from what you are use to? Do you have any other tips to share?

Thanks to Tourism NT for helping me with my trip through the Top End of Australia. Don’t forget to sign up for our monthly newsletter! :)


Photographed and filmed with a Nikon D5100 using a 17-55mm lens.

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  • Reply
    December 6, 2017 at 3:36 am

    I drove in Iceland recently, first time driving in the snow left hand drive and manual (standard). only drove on the wrong side twice. worst was picking the car up from the airport as it was covered in ice and i thought you only needed to clean the windscreen (windshield) and the rest would follow

  • Reply
    James Henson
    February 28, 2017 at 8:54 am

    If your are a proficient driver in your own country then it should take no more than a couple of hours to adapt.

  • Reply
    Lots to think about... | GeoPosted
    May 14, 2012 at 4:03 pm

    […] Major announcement of a partnership by Cailin (Travel Yourself). She also finds out what it’s like to drive on the left side of the road. […]

  • Reply
    Alexa Meisler
    May 10, 2012 at 6:33 pm

    I don’t blame you for being confused. Driving on the opposite side of the car feels like the world’s turned upside down. Thanks for the helpful tips!

    • Reply
      May 13, 2012 at 12:10 pm

      Glad I could help someone with what I learned! :)

  • Reply
    May 10, 2012 at 7:47 am

    Lol – every time I go to the USA (I’m from NZ) my friend always waits for me to try to get in the wrong side of the car and no matter how often I try not to I end up doing it, then he laughs!

    A big warning for those of you who do end up driving on the wrong side of the road – the dangerous time isn’t the first few days, but it is after that when you get comfortable and start to relax when you can drift back into old habits. Also, in an emergency you will tend to go to the wrong side of the road. We have had many bad accidents with people driving on the wrong side of the road. Things seem to have improved a little since they have painted arrows on the open roads. One thingyou can do is make yourself a bright orange arrow pointing to the left (or right) side of the road and stick it at he bottom of your windscreen.

    • Reply
      May 13, 2012 at 12:13 pm

      haha that is pretty funny of your friend :)
      Those are good tips as well, I guess I wasn’t driving enough to experience that but I can assume its true!
      Very smart to make yourself your own arrow.

  • Reply
    Brock - Backpack With Brock
    May 6, 2012 at 4:48 pm

    Congrats on figuring it out! I’m glad there were no disasters in the learning process :)

    • Reply
      May 13, 2012 at 12:14 pm

      haha thanks Brock! :)

  • Reply
    Raymond @ Man On The Lam
    May 5, 2012 at 2:51 pm

    You are much braver than I am. :)

    • Reply
      May 13, 2012 at 12:14 pm

      thanks Raymond! i was actually surprised at how easy it was, but I’ll tell you I was really nervous leading up to it!

  • Reply
    Eric @ Trans-Americas Journey
    May 5, 2012 at 1:19 pm

    Glad you survived. I’ve had a few near missed in the UK and Indonesia. Sometimes I just can’t remember which side of the road I’m supposed to be on as I make a turn. Keep repeating “driver in the center”

    • Reply
      May 13, 2012 at 12:15 pm

      That is a great tip to Eric! I can only assume that the Indonsian roads were a lot crazy than the ones in Australia too!

  • Reply
    Nora - The Professional Hobo
    May 4, 2012 at 2:31 pm

    I recently realized I’ve driven on the left-hand side of the road in more countries than I’ve driven on the right-hand side! (Which is a bit of a feat considering there aren’t that many left-hand driving countries).

    So although I’m truly ambidextrous when it comes to driving (I’m comfortable on both sides), I regularly hit the windshield wiper button when reaching for the turn signal, and I often approach the wrong side of the car to get in. (!)

    The strangest left-hand drive country I went to (but thankfully didn’t drive in) was the BVIs: they drive on the left-hand side of the road, but the cars are left-hand drive cars imported from America! So instead of the driver being closest to the centre line (as they should be), they drive awkwardly along, ever hoping they don’t collide with oncoming traffic by misjudging the width/location of the car. Strange!

    • Reply
      May 13, 2012 at 12:16 pm

      haha thats pretty funny Nora!
      That is so weird that the British Virgin Islands have right sided steering wheel cars but drive on the left! You would think that they would just make it the other way around! How confusing!
      Now that sounds like my next driving challenge! haha

  • Reply
    May 4, 2012 at 12:15 pm

    Obviously you mean.. learning to drive on the correct side of the road ;) That aside.. I remember my first go at driving in America. I’d never driven an automatic before, or a four wheel drive, or on the right side of the road. The Hertz guy looked at me like I was nuts when I asked him “how does this work then” before I just pulled out into downtown San Francisco at rush hour in a huge Chevrolet SUV. That was a learning curve ;)

    • Reply
      May 13, 2012 at 12:19 pm

      hahahaha Everyone thinks I shouldn’t call it the wrong side of the road but it is wrong for me! ;)
      It’s funny to me that you had never driven an automatic before, that must of been really weird for you and must of felt too easy. When I drive an automatic that I haven’t in a long time I find I sometimes get bored without having to shift and put in the clutch all the time haha

  • Reply
    May 4, 2012 at 3:33 am

    You’re so brave! Would you believe in all my years of living in Australia I never drove? This was mainly because we lived in Melbourne without a car for most of the time but I always made John drive. Except the golf buggy on Hamilton Island, haha. Well done!

    • Reply
      May 13, 2012 at 12:21 pm

      Thanks Andrea! I was really nervous at first and would of liked to have someone else with me, but I was up for the challenge hand made sure not to mention to the rental car guy that I had no idea what I was doing haha

  • Reply
    Don Faust
    May 3, 2012 at 11:08 pm

    I drove a 24 ft. (7.3 meters) camper van on the “wrong” side of the road in New Zealand. What helped me out was to say out load “stay left” at each intersection. Only once did I attempt to drive on the right side, but that quickly got corrected. After a half day of that, I was set, and after a full day of driving, I was ok. Although you have to think about other things that are popular in cities in New Zealand (and probably Australia too) – circles – so now, you have to trained your mind to not only go left around the circle, but to look RIGHT for right-of-way traffic. I was the big rig on the road, so I just got out there when it was ok, and went slow.

    Another lesson for right-side drivers: don’t rent a manual shift car. You’ve not only complicated the picture by learning how to drive again, but now your shifting hand is backwards. I’ve managed to avoid that so far, and it Europe, you pay extra for automatic cars.

    • Reply
      May 13, 2012 at 12:26 pm

      Oh wow Don! I don’t think I could do that on the correct side of the road even! haha
      The roundabouts were really confusing! There is one here at home that I have driven around my whole life so it felt really wrong going around it the wrong way.
      It is a bummer that you pay extra for automatics but I think it would be really difficult to shift with my left hand! thanks for the great tips! :)

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