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Driving advice

European road safety

The UK has one of the best road safety records in Europe. That means there’s every chance that taking your car across the channel (or to Ireland) increases your risks of being in an accident. Add to this the fact that you are unaccustomed to the culture of the roads, and driving on the opposite side and it’s essential to drive with extra caution at all times.

Tips for staying on the right

One of the most difficult things about driving in Europe is being on the right-hand side of the road. A good tip to make sure you don't forget where you are meant to be is to repeat 'drive on the right' to yourself until you are sure you have got it. Also, assuming you are driving your own left-hand drive car, the verge, rather than the middle of the road, should always be on your right.

If you are driving a right-hand drive car, overtaking on European roads will be difficult and so should be done with extra caution. If you really have to overtake, get someone in the passenger seat to tell you when it is safe to do so. If circumstances allow, in most cases it would be safer to wait until you reach a stretch of dual carriageway.

Moving out from a town parking space can be a perilous manoeuvre too (especially when reversing), as everything is in the 'wrong' place. Again ask a front-seat passenger to help ‘spot’ for you.

Traffic lights and in towns

When you approach a junction with traffic lights, remember to look at the lights on the right. This is important at complex junctions, especially where there are multiple roads merging in from close angles. The green light you see on the left is for the people on the road coming in just to the left of yours, not for you. If you are driving on a narrow country lane, make sure you remember to pull back over to the right-hand side when passing stationary vehicles, for example.

Map reading

If possible get someone else in the car to help you navigate. If you do need to consult a map, pull over. This is good advice in any instance, but particularly when you are driving in a country where you don't know the roads and you are driving on the ‘wrong’ side.

Why do the Continentals drive on the ‘wrong’ side?

Until the late 18th Century the majority of the world travelled on the left side of the road as we do in the UK. This is because society, particularly on the open road, was more lawless then. When people rode horses, they wanted to have their sword hand (generally the right) nearest to any on-coming trouble so they could fight without having to reach across their horse.

Things changed in Continental Europe and the US when people started towing wagons. As drivers initially tended to ride the left-hand of multiple towing horses, they wanted to travel on the right so they could watch their wagons safely past on-coming traffic. An official keep-right rule was introduced in France in 1794 following the Revolution and it spread throughout Europe.

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