Driving in Ireland

Getting Around on the Wrong Side of the Road

Even the signs in Ireland can get complicated. Photo credit: M. Ciavardini

Even the signs in Ireland can get complicated. Photo credit: M. Ciavardini

Driving on the right side of the car on the left side of the road turned out to be more challenging than I thought it would be on a recent trip to Ireland. Basically, a driver and a front-seat passenger need to be on constant alert because there very much is a tendency to drift back toward the right side of the road if you happen to have grown up driving in the United States. Here are some tips on getting around safely:

  • Don’t pick up your rental car until you have to. If you happen to be arriving in Dublin from an overnight flight from New York, you’ll be arriving pretty early in the morning, just in time for rush-hour traffic. You’ll be tired and trying to concentrate on that driving on the wrong side of the car and on the wrong side of the road thing. If you can wait a day or so until you’re refreshed and really need wheels, take it if you can. Although the drive from Dublin airport to our hotel was not a particularly long one, it was also not particularly fun mostly because we were tired and cranky and got a little bit lost.

    Remember the weather: as the locals say, if we go two days without rain, in Ireland we call that a drought. What makes the countryside green also makes the roads wet. Be prepared. Photo credit: L. Tripoli

    Remember the weather: as the locals say, if we go two days without rain, in Ireland we call that a drought. What makes the countryside green also makes the roads wet. Be prepared. Photo credit: L. Tripoli

  • Upgrade to an automatic. The Brawny Sherpa is an uber-experienced driver with a commercial license, so he is used to shifting on all sorts of vehicles. That said, we opted for an upgrade to an automatic. We’re driving on the wrong side of the car on the wrong side of the road in a foreign country. If we could reduce our headaches by one, we’d take the deal.
  • Get the GPS even if you have one on your phone. Our rental car representative suggested this after warning us that the global positioning systems in our iphones might not work quite as well as we would like them to. He was absolutely right. Get the Irish GPS that knows its own roads! A lot of the time, our phones could not even pick up a satellite.

    Our GPS was a relationship saver; it outperformed our cellphones and our maps. Photo credit: L. Tripoli

    Our GPS was a relationship saver; it outperformed our cellphones and our maps. Photo credit: L. Tripoli

  • Be warned that there is a lot of construction in Dublin. It is great to see a city being restored. Sometimes that means that even the good GPS has not quite caught up with temporary changes in directions on certain streets. Pay attention.
  • Paying tolls: Tolls are paid on a bit of an honor system. Figuring out whether you’ve actually gone through a toll is the hard part. Once you have, you get until 8 pm the next evening to pay your toll online. To do so, go here: https://www.eflow.ie/i-want-to/pay-a-toll/. You will need your car’s license plate number. We were definitely driving on toll roads and had been told that we would have to pay our toll online if we passed a “barrier-free toll”—meaning that our vehicle’s license plate was being photographed. Tolls were to be marked with bright purple signs. We were certainly in areas where there were supposed to be tolls, but we didn’t see the purple signs. We paid a couple of times just to stay on the safe side. EZPass, for all its faults, definitely seems preferable to this system.
  • Go left at the roundabout. There are plenty of traffic circles in Ireland, and they proceed clockwise, unlike the ones in the United States that roll counter-clockwise. That is one more thing to pay attention to. Also, the GPS has a tendency to issue directions like “take the third exit from the roundabout.” Sometimes, distinguishing between exits from and entrances to the roundabout can be confusing, especially because our minds keep veering back to the way things are in the States. We miscounted exits several times!

    You never know what you might see on the side of the road in Ireland. Photo credit: L. Tripoli

    You never know what you might see on the side of the road in Ireland. Photo credit: L. Tripoli

  • Maps don’t quite mesh with reality. I had several maps, most of which were recent, denoting highways. Somehow the numbers on my maps never quite matched the reality of where we were driving on or the direction in which our GPS voice was guiding us. Also, highways all seem to be similarly named, like M25 and N25. When in doubt, we opted for the wisdom of the GPS lady.
  • Getting gas. There actually are some unmanned gas stations, which is all well and good until one won’t accept your credit card. Try not to let your tank run too low in case you discover that you have to make it to the next station. Also, gas is called petrol.
  • Be prepared for a wild ride! Even on major roads, shoulders were often quite narrow or practically nonexistent, and stone walls seemed to be precipitously close. Remember that the passing lane is on the right on highways, not the left. Away from main roads, some local ones are so narrow that only a single car can squeeze through. We were fortunate to be traveling on those on low-traffic days.

    Make time to explore in Ireland. Photo credit: M. Ciavardini

    Make time to explore in Ireland. Photo credit: M. Ciavardini

  • Leave some time for discovery. Partway through our trip, we decided to just follow signs indicating that a castle was ahead. Don’t be so tied to a schedule that there isn’t time for plenty of detours to see some magical places.
  • Take advice from the locals. On the shuttle to our rental car, the driver asked the Brawny Sherpa whether he had ever driven in Ireland. When the Brawny Sherpa shook his head, the driver said, “Well, it’s in God’s hands now.” We apparently were well-guided!

—Lori Tripoli

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