23 July 2011

Keep left

Much as I’ve been looking forward to our road trip in New Zealand, there’s been a nagging worry in my mind. Even as a pedestrian, my experiences in countries with left-side driving have always been slightly disorienting, and I’ve been fretting that actually navigating a vehicle down the wrong side of the road might prove to be a complete disaster.

As it’s turned out, my anticipation was worse than the reality. It’s unquestionably weird, but not at all unmanageable. As I expected, simply steering the car down the road in the left lane is pretty simple; making a right-hand turn across oncoming traffic and into the correct (far) lane, a bit more challenging. Roundabouts are relatively easy: they’re truly a mirror image of what I'm used to, and therefore pretty non-threatening.

The real challenges come from unexpected quarters. The turn signal is on the right side of the steering column, and half the time when I try to signal I turn the wipers on instead. It’s surprisingly hard to remember to look up and to the left to glance in the rearview mirror. Similarly, it feels bizarre to reach to my right for my seatbelt – if I were the passenger, that movement would be totally natural, but as driver? It’s strange. Driving in reverse is way trickier than it seems it should be. And frankly, I can’t even get my head around how one would go about parallel parking.

Fortunately, New Zealand roads in mid-winter don’t see a lot of traffic, and all our parking has been nose-in. Drivers are pleasantly patient and courteous, and as long as I pay close attention to what I’m doing, I seem to manage. Now, if we can just get Melissa to move to the LEFT side of the car to get to the passenger seat…

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