I had often wondered whether driving abroad was the same as driving at home or something completely different. Recently I got the chance to find out while in South America.
How did it turn out? I have to admit that there was a prang involved in it, but I learned a lot from the experience. Here are the main points which I was left to think about.
I was a bit worried about driving on the right hand side of the road but it was really no problem at all. It seems that once you are positioned on that side you go into some sort of automatic pilot mode and don’t even think about it. The only problem I had was with roundabouts, but that it because I discovered that they don’t treat them as roundabouts in the city where I was driving. People would stop in the middle of the roundabout and no one really seemed to know who had right of way. Which leads me rather nicely onto the next point.
Controls, Signals and Signs
If you drive in the UK then take a look at the number of signs, road markings and other pieces of information next time you go out driving. If you have never driven anywhere else then you probably take all of this stuff for granted. However, the biggest problem I found is that you don’t get the same level of control everywhere else. In the centre of town where I drove there are traffic lights and road markings but away from there it kind of turns into a free for all where there are no road markings and no signs whatsoever. This might not sound like much of a problem, but if you are used to everything being controlled then it takes a bit of getting used to. For example, roads end suddenly in sheer drops with no warning and one way streets aren’t marked at all. Add to this the fact the local police don’t exert any sort of real presence at all and you can see that anyone used to driving in the UK could feel a little bit shaken on their first few days of driving around. You might want to consider vehicle placards, warning triangles and the like and take them with you, these can be bought from places like Hazard Shop (www.hazardshop.co.uk) and other retailers.
The quality of the roads is also a factor. I don’t know how many huge potholes or unmarked speed bumps I rattled over on my first few days. If you are used to smooth, well-kept roads you probably don’t even look at them as you drive.
The Driving Culture
This is the most important factor of all when you drive abroad, in my opinion. The accident I had would never have happened in the UK, but the Latin driver who hit me didn’t expect me to do what I did, and I certainly didn’t imagine that he would do what he did. Pulling out without signalling, overtaking on blind corners and all sorts of other crazy stuff are normal but no one will expect you to stop, for example, to let a pedestrian cross the road or to let someone pull out of a side street. At the end of the day, you need to adapt to local conditions and this means thinking like the local drivers do and if all else fails ensure you have car insurance cover wherever you are driving.