Right, wrong side of the road

Can you recall the horror when you drove for the first time on a left-hand traffic road and a big pickup truck suddenly emerges around the bend occupying what was supposedly your side of the road?

Cars travel on the left side of the road at St. Kitts, Caribbean Islands.

If you grew up and lived all your life in right-side traffic countries, it’s a nerve-wracking experience.

It’s terrifying if you are just a passenger, but when you’re the one driving and you had to focus so you will not go back to the right from as you’re used to, every time there’s an oncoming car means panic multiplied a hundred times.

On the first day my travel buddy and I arrived in Nassau, we went straight to the car rental across from the airport and were told that the cars have no built-in GPS and they were out of the GPS units that they rent out. Instead, they gave us a large folded map and drew instructions on how to get to our Airbnb rental, and where to go and shouldn’t go especially after dark.

Cars navigate a steep curb in the road at St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands.

Our phones didn’t work so we had to rely on the physical map and on street and road signs. Since I wasn’t driving, I was naturally the navigator and I was so bad at that. Under my direction, we got lost big time and had to pull over several times so my buddy can look at the map.

My buddy had a challenging time getting acquainted with driving on the left side. It was his first time to drive in a left-handed traffic. There was a printed sign on the dashboard that says “Keep Left” to remind non-resident drivers to stay on the left. It wasn’t easy to remember especially if you cross an intersection or make turns in the road.

A lot of drivers in Nassau and even at the Exuma Cays are aggressive and ignore road signs.  On a 45mph road, cars overtake anytime going over 70 and literally flying over potholes. Those were rainy days and the roads were flooded but they have the advantage of knowing where the potholes are. We didn’t, so we became the recipient of muddy showers. It took some time before we finally got used to being on the “wrong side” of the road.

Traffic on the road at the Exuma Cays, Bahamas.

In St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands, a lot of the road accidents were caused by tourists who rent cars and who are new to the left side driving. The roads are narrow and snake up and around hills and cliffs with sharp elbow turns that are accident prone.

My first left side driving experience was when I first visited Tokyo with a small group of cultural dancers from Saipan some years back. Our host picked us up in a van from the Narita Airport parking lot. Then the shock started. The driver was a small woman who drove like mad and on the left side of the road.

I was holding my breath the whole time and when a semi-truck came hurtling towards us, I knew we were dead. She wasn’t slowing down, and neither was the truck. I closed my eyes tight waiting for my life to flash before me.

Seconds later, I opened my eyes again and we were still alive but she was still driving like mad. I only regained some of my sanity when we switched to an interstate road so there’s no more incoming traffic.  

Printed sign on the dashboard of rental cars in Nassau, Bahamas.

About 35 percent of the world population over 76 countries drive on the left side of the road, mostly former British colonies. If you’re planning to rent cars, spare yourself from the agony and research which side of the road each country of your destination drives on. It can help you a lot.

Do you want to share your experiences about driving on the right wrong side of the road? Comment below. We’re excited to hear about it.

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