I’ve been driving since I was 16 and without giving my age away too much, let’s just say, that is over half of my life. Most of us drivers realize that we get in the car and we get to and from work without giving much thought to having stopped at a certain traffic light or turned left where we usually turn left. Occasionally I've driven on autopilot and ended up on my way to work when I was really going to a friend's house. Have you ever done that?
Driving on the other side of the road from what you're used to takes all the intuitiveness out of driving. No more autopilot! I've driven in different countries before and even had an Israeli driver’s license, passing a driving test in a language I don’t speak a word of but found driving on the left side much more challenging than driving in Jerusalem or even Ramallah which is that much more crazier.
Shortly after moving to New Zealand, my brave friend Judith offered to take me on a driving lesson in her car. She is brave because she had more faith in me then I had in myself. Now I have been riding as a passenger for a couple months and observing traffic patterns at this point but I still felt very disorientated on the roads. Judith and I get in the car and I’m in the driver’s seat (which is on the other side of the car to what I'm used to while being the driver). I reach for the seat belt over my left shoulder but my left shoulder is in the center of the car and we both crack up laughing! Oh no, how am I going to get to the café she has planned for us to go! I pull out of the driveway and I say out loud, “Keep left!” In fact for several months every time I got in the car I would say this to myself and out loud.
I make it to the café and I was quite relieved. We had a few more good laughs along the way –every time I wanted to use my blinker or “indicator” as Judith calls it, I would put on the window wipers. And vice versa, when it was raining I kept putting on my blinker. That happened for months!
I can't really describe how driving on the other side of the road made my brain hurt but it did, especially in the beginning. I had the same sort of “brain ache” when learning how to Scottish country dance and to remember the formations and their sequence. It was doing something so new or opposite that my brain had to work overtime.
The other big challenge in the beginning were the roundabouts or traffic circles, and let's just say there are a lot of them in Wellington and in New Zealand as a whole! For starters you travel around the roundabout in the opposite direction. Secondly there was the whole problem of “indicating” or using my blinkers. I just couldn't get it in the beginning that I needed to use my right blinker to show I was going either straight through or three quarters of the way around the circle even though physically I was driving to the left first. And when Judith said indicate “right” then “left” (to show I was leaving the circle) I was so disorientated being on the other side of the road and car that I didn't know which way was right and which way was left and besides that I did up washing the windows instead of using my blinker. I felt sorry for the person behind me!
There was only one time where I started turning down the wrong side of the road in the middle of Wellington and David yelled out “No don't go here!” Making left and right turns also took me quite a while to figure out and if there wasn't a marking down the center of the road and no one else was coming I had a tendency to drift back to the right side of the road. Parking lots are their own special challenge.
It's been nine months since we bought our own car (Nissan Note hatchback) and I've noticed I don't have to give myself the “keep left” pep talk every time I get in the car. My brain has relaxed as well and it doesn't give me the headache I used to get. Though every once in a while I still have this moment of thinking “Am I on the correct side of the road?”
Here are some of the more nuanced observances I've had about driving on the other side of the road. On the highway or “motorway” as they call it, the fast lane is the slow lane and the slow lane is the fast lane from what I'm used to. I also still have this illusion occasionally that a car is driving itself as in there is no one in the driver seat but that's not true because the driver is on the other side of the car. To watch for pedestrians crossing the road, you have to look on the other side of the road from what you're used to – I've had to slam on the brakes a couple times before I learned that one.
Learning to drive on the other side of the road has been a great brain exercise for me. I'm a firm believer in doing new things for the sake of keeping my brain active and staying young. I'm also very grateful for Judith willing to take me out those first couple times. I'm glad that I've persisted to the point where I'm comfortable driving here. Now just wondering what it's going to be like when I go back home and get in the car and try driving again.
Have you learned to drive on the other side of the road from what you are used to? What are your experiences? What other crazy driving experiences have you found yourself in?