Friday, April 19, 2013

In India we drive on the left side of the road while in other countries people drive on the right side of the road. If one has been shuttling between such countries often and need to self-drive, this can be a potential source of danger.

Colonel Asim had returned home to Bangladesh after a year in the UN Mission in Congo. He purchased a new car immediately on return and while driving it home from the show room, he banged it up. Reason; he had turned right at a roundabout (as in Congo) while here in Bangladesh he should have turned left.

Here are a few tips to overcome the problem.

The Problems
The problems start as we approach the car itself. Take a scenario where you were in India and have moved to a country which has vehicles driven on the right side of the road. Having just returned to Congo from India, I found myself approaching the passenger side (right) of the car before realising my mistake and coming around to the left side of the left hand drive car.

Once inside, the chaos continues. You turn to the right to put on the seat belt and then having reached for the seat belt buckle, you realise that it is on the left side, check yourself and turn left and hook up. You then reach for the window handle when what you wanted to do was reach for the gear knob to check the vehicle was in neutral. Having corrected yourself and having confirmed that the vehicle is in neutral you proceed to start the car. 

The only place common in both the versions is the general location of the ignition keyhole. Having started, you again reach for the window handle on the right and then curse and reach for the gear lever to the right, engage and march off. You would off course have switched on the wipers to indicate which direction you were turning!

On the road the confusion is increased manifold as now added to the problem of the controls inside the car you also have to drive on the ‘wrong’ side of the road.

This starts as early as you get out of the drive way and align the car to the road. As you leave the driveway a simple decision as in which direction to look first, can make a difference. In India, drivers and pedestrians alike, look right first and then left, that is if they look at all! This is based on the simple logic that since the vehicles are driven on the left of the road, they will approach your car from the right. Hence we look right first and then we look left to check the oncoming traffic. This takes a moment to understand since it is more of a habit, an instinct, than the outcome of a conscious decision. 

Try it when crossing a street. You will find yourself looking right since that is the direction from which you will first encounter traffic. After you have crossed that carriage way of the road you will then face the traffic coming from the opposite direction. This is the most difficult instinct to overcome. Moving to a country where you face traffic driving on the right side of the road you need to look left not right first.  

This is also the time you need to ‘think’ whether to align the car to the left of the road or the right. Having aligned the car (correctly) one then proceeds to drive along with the flow of the traffic. However it is at cross roads, without another car ahead of you, that the confusion returns. In case there is a car leading you, then it is easy as all you do is follow the leader, but when you are at a cross road alone, then you have to follow the thought process of having to consciously ‘remember’ which country you are in and which side to stick to, overcome your instinct to correct your self. This can take a few crucial fractions of a second longer than normal which could make the difference. It also affects your confidence in driving.
Overtaking is also from the opposite side. Another alien sensation with you expecting the driver you have overtaken to start shouting at you for having over taken him from the ‘wrong’ direction.

So what can one do about it?

·         Slow down. Go slow on the first drive. Start early and concentrate on the basics. Drive deliberately. Get into the car and take a pause. Take a deep breath and then with out reaching for the seat belt first, tell yourself that the seat belt is to the right (or left as the case maybe), and then reach for it. Similarly for the other actions.

·         Have someone else drive the first day. While this may not be feasible for the many, it could be a way to blend into the traffic rules of the place safely.

·         Be safety conscious. Talk to yourself as you drive. ‘Keep to the right (or left), keep to the right’ and so on. Stay focused on the drive and do not be distracted by the FM or the music. Ask someone else to talk to you. Have your wife, son or some other passenger keep reminding you to ‘turn right at the circle’.

·         Keep the hand on the gear lever. This prevents you from searching for the gear lever with the ‘wrong’ hand.

·         Follow the leader. Most of the confusion arises where we have to make a choice, e.g. at an intersection or where we are leading the ‘pack’. Here it is a good idea to allow some other cars to overtake and follow them. Seeing the car ahead turn in the direction you want lets you identify the ‘path’ and stick to the correct side.

·      Overtake carefully. And only when absolutely confident.

·      Changing vehicles. Another source of potential danger is when shifting from smaller light vehicles to larger heavy vehicles. The turning radius has changed, the Centre of Gravity has shifted and the vehicle responds differently whereas either unconsciously or forgetfully the driver is still trying to drive it like he used to. Larger vehicles need time to stop and due to the heavy weight cause more damage on impact for the same speed. Remind yourself that there is a difference especially in the turning radius and hence the turns need to be wider so as not to scrape the sides.

It takes three to four ‘driving’ days to overcome the instinct to follow the rules of the previous location. This time depends on the duration of the stay in the previous location, with a longer stay taking a longer time to return to the new location and also on which format you originally learnt to drive.

Finally, use common sense. Stick to the basics. Drive slowly till you gain your confidence in driving in the new location.


  1. Yes, it's really risky, particularly in one way lanes without a lane seperator. I have tried to drive on the right once, and I really was cautious. Once I hit the motorway, it became much more easier. But, we just have to keep in mind constantly, that !drive on right".

  2. I really appreciate this wonderful post that you have provided for us. I assure this would be beneficial for most of the people. Very significant Information for us, I have think the representation of this Information is actually superb one.