Adventures in Neuroplasticity: Driving in Ireland

Sat 16 June 2012

Mom and I wanted to visit Clonmel, where my great-grandparents were married. After researching train schedules I chose to rent a car. Driving on the wrong side of the road was challenging but worthwhile.

One school of thought says to rent an automatic to keep things simple. The automatics that were available were four times the price and tended toward larger models. I preferred to drive something small that would leave a wider margin on narrow streets and would be easier to park. That meant a manual. The thing that felt most wrong about driving on the left was having my left hand radio in the gearshift signals I usually get from my right hand. Once the weirdness wore off, driving a manual was fine. In fact, I did one of the best hill starts of my life in Wexford.

Contrary to expectation, highway driving was easier than local roads. The lanes are wide with rumble strips on both sides. I tended to overcorrect to the left, and the sound helped me calibrate the width of the car. I found a nice slow truck to follow. We felt confident enough to take a smaller highway that offered a view of the coast. It didn't - or so mom told me; I couldn't look away from the narrow road. Tip: hedgerows can double as rumblestrips. Speaking hypothetically, of course.

My friend Bill gave me some pointers after his own recent Ireland trip. He said it would take three days to adjust. That was right on the mark. On day one I had to concentrate as hard as when I had a learner's permit. On day two, I could occasionally look up at the landscape. ( I'm told it was beautiful.) Day three wasn't natural, but it was normal. When I got home, I had to remind myself to stay to the right.

Thanks to Bill's hints I was well prepared. I'll pay it forward with some resources and tips for the next traveler.

  • Reserve ahead of time if you want an automatic.
  • Your credit card renters insurance almost certainly doesn't include Ireland. Call them ahead of time to check. One guidebook cautioned that the rental company may require you to show the printed brochure of cardholder benefits as proof of coverage. The benefits statement takes a few days to arrive from the credit card company.
  • AAA helped me find a good rental rate. I did the calculations for insurance and navigation system too - I hate figuring that out at a rental desk.
  • Rick Steves on driving in ireland:
  • It's worth splurging on the navigation system. It'll take the pressure off your passenger. I couldn't look up from the road to read street names, and we found it hard to read street signs when we were walking.
  • The Republic of Ireland's official rules of the road are online.

Some favorite selections:

Zebra (pedestrian) crossing
This is marked by yellow flashing beacons. The actual crossing area is marked by black and white ‘zebra’ stripes.

Not to be confused with a Yellow Box Junction, which has criss-cross yellow stripes.
Pelican crossing
At this crossing, an amber light will flash for a short period after the red light for drivers goes out. Similarly, the ‘green man’ light for pedestrians will flash for a short time before changing to the ‘red man’ light. A flashing amber light at a pelican crossing gives priority to pedestrians.
(But why pelican?)

Ghost island: A marked area on the road that shows where a motorway and a slip road meet.

Keep a safe headway by ensuring you are at least two seconds behind the vehicle in front. This is known as the two-second rule.
You can use the following steps to check if you are obeying the rule:
On a dry road, choose a point like a lamp post or road sign.
When the vehicle in front passes that point, say out loud “Only a fool breaks the two-second rule.”
Check your position in relation to your chosen point as you finish saying this. If you have already passed the point, you are driving too close to the vehicle in front and need to pull back.
( Optional: say it in the voice of Mr. T.)

Category: Sightseeing