Home Plan British

For Non American Drivers

This photo shows Big Ben tower in London with cars driving on the left side of the road, instead of the right.

Which side of the road do you normally drive on?

If you’re from the UK, Australia, India or Japan, read this article for critical information.

If you’re from the UK, Australia, India, Japan, or Hong Kong, an American a road trip is going to be hard, unless you travel with an American, or European. That’s because you’ve been driving on the left side of the road your whole life.  All of North America and 95% of South America drives on the right.

True the traffic lights are the same. Most signs are universal. Other signs can be figured out quite easily. But a lifetime habit isn’t something that’s quickly replaced.

If you plan on driving slow and sticking mostly to the highways, you might be all right. Still though, I wouldn’t suggest that you try it.

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I’ve known people from the UK whom almost got into head on collision. So it’s just too risky getting into an accident abroad, with all the insurance claims and potential hospital time. Not to mention a ruined trip and perhaps a ruined life.

That’s because even though going slow, someone will suddenly be honking at you at a traffic light. Since it’s a rental car, they won’t know you’re a tourist. While you try to decide what to do, against years of habit, and in a single moment, one wrong turn can change lives.

If you’re from China, Germany, France, Spain or most other European countries, you’ll be fine driving on American roads. It’s the same deal with those from Mexico and most of South America. Road signs here and the way you drive, are exactly the same as back home. (Well, except for China where they park on the sidewalks. You can’t do that here.)

One thing to check before you go, is if your drivers license is valid in the country that you want to drive in. For Canadians and Americans going back and forth over the border, it’s no problem. Even Florida, who decided that Canadians need an IDL (International Drivers License) repealed the law, so it’s no longer required.

If you want to be sure, get an IDL as proof of your government issued license. You get one before you leave home, but where you get it from depends on your local authorities.

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In Canada, you get an IDL from the CAA (Canadian Automobile Association) or their local representative. In the states, you get one from the DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles) that issued your state license. For other countries, look it up on the internet, as the issuing bodies change from time to time.

You will also need proof of insurance and registration. This may be in the form of a card, or papers, that were given to you by the insurance company, when you insured your car, or from the rental car company.

The best place to leave the insurance papers are in the glovebox. That way you’ll know where to find them if you get pulled over by the police.

Also beware that local traffic laws change from state to state, or even from one county, or municipality, to the next. For example, in North Dakota, cars fly down the highway like bullets at 80 mph. So keep your eyes open for new traffic rules, especially when crossing a state line, or provincial border of any kind.

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