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Choosing Sides

Via Nudge, a small rental-car reminder of road directionality for tourists (the reversion to old norms is an actual risk issue, one that presumably can supplant the heightened sense of awareness due to a new environment).

The comparison here is of course to London’s street warnings to “look right,” etc.; I’ve often wondered about any before-after numbers (though they’ve been in London for many decades, no?) about their effectiveness as, for example, other places with left-side directionality don’t feature the warnings.

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This entry was posted on Saturday, January 9th, 2010 at 8:22 am and is filed under Drivers, Traffic safety. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

6 Responses to “Choosing Sides”

  1. john Says:

    There has to come a point in history where the world will decide to drive on one side only. Any ideaists want to take on how this will happen? I give it less than 200 years. And the word “drive” will still be an action verb. Tom?

  2. townmouse Says:

    When we last rented a car in Ireland, it came with a little arrow which was placed on the front of the dashboard so that it reflected up onto the windscreen like a heads up display, reminding us to drive on the left. I can’t remember which car hire firm it was, but the owner was very proud of it, as it had been his invention

  3. Botswana Meat Commission FC Says:

    I have a friend who’s a fellow motorcyclist who was telling me how he rented a motorcycle a few years back in some left-driving part of Europe. Well he was riding in an extremely rural area with almost no traffic and pulled off the road to take a photograph, but then unwittingly got back onto the right side.

    He drove like that for a few miles and didn’t even notice until he came around a corner and found a car coming straight at him. (He was able to swerve out of the way in time.)

    Stories like that give me a chill up my spine… so I’m all for any effort to shake up peoples’ left/right habits when in foreign lands.

  4. Bossi Says:

    From various trips I’ve come to garner an appreciation for the ped-oriented markings telling which way to look, as when you’re a pedestrian: the environment really hasn’t changed too substantially such that you may inherently think that one must look in a different direction.

    Having just returned from a trip to New Zealand, however, my first day was a white-knuckled trip from the rental agency to the hostel at 8am on a workday in the country’s biggest city. My route included plenty of right-turns and roundabouts… so I figured that by the time I made it to the hostel, I’d have become a pro.

    It actually wasn’t too bad… indeed, heavy traffic may have actually helped. You just do what the guy in front of you does. It was when I left the hostel on Saturday when I had to make my first left-turn — I’d thought it’d be easy, but I found myself looking the wrong way and then pulling out into the left lanes. Fortunately there wasn’t any traffic, but I immediately noticed what I’d done.

    My biggest issue with driving on the other side were two things… my seat position was shifted: until my mind reconfigured that my driving position was now shifted about a meter over, I found my left wheels were consistently in the gutter, skirting the edge of pavement, frightening bicyclists, etc. The second issue (and the one that bothered me the longest) was that my turn signals & windshield wipers were reversed: I got that mixed up for about two weeks, and then but a week later I returned to the USA and had to unlearn it all.

    Remembering to keep left, however, wasn’t often an issue. Only twice did I pull off a side-street onto a way-backcountry road on the wrong side, but quickly readjusted; and perhaps a couple times whilst navigating parking lots. By and large, other traffic & remaining cognizant that your car is itself reversed: that’s far more of an attention-grabber.

  5. John_in_NH Says:

    After spending a semester of study in the UK and having a bicycle through the university for that period, I found it pretty easy to get use to the left side of the road and found it quite natural actually. I appreciated the look right signs on many crossings and found they very useful as well as arrows with direction of traffic. It did take a few days to get settled but no problem.

    I think it would have been much different in a car and much more difficult.

    The problem was when I came back to the US and had to get in a car, I literally did not know which side of the road to be on, and I was saved only by a car coming towards me on the right side showing me which side to drive on, however I relearned the proper side for the US rather quickly.

  6. Dave Says:

    On a recent drive along the Great Ocean Road tourist route in Victoria, Australia, a new innovation has been small reminder signs as you leave each view spot carpark, asking motorists to “Drive on left in Australia”. A graphic assists.

    Must have been a good number of accidents to have promtped such a signing programme.

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Traffic Tom Vanderbilt

How We Drive is the companion blog to Tom Vanderbilt’s New York Times bestselling book, Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us), published by Alfred A. Knopf in the U.S. and Canada, Penguin in the U.K, and in languages other than English by a number of other fine publishers worldwide.

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