Terror in the UK

Driving against your brain

Mollie’s Take

Bravely (or foolishly) Ryan opted to rent a car for our Scottish adventure, and took full responsibility for driving it the entire time. It might have been easier, but to save money, he opted for a manual transmission… in the UK- where you both drive on the left hand side and change gears with your left hand. Oh, and the turn signal is also still on the left.. so good luck trying to signal while also changing gears.

The first day was tough, getting out of Edinburgh into Glasgow. The car was parked during our time in Glasgow (much to Ryan’s enjoyment), but it was needed again to go north for the rest of our trip. Driving was challenging for sure, but soon he got in the hang of it and it became slightly less terrifying. I think it would have been MUCH easier to have just sucked up the $200-$300 difference for an automatic transmission, but he wouldn’t hear of such a thing. Thank God, we survived, albeit with some honking directed at us. Oh well, it’s inevitable, c’est la vie.

Ryan’s Take

After doing some research, it seemed like the best way to explore Scotland would be by car rather than by train. I’ve heard from other people who have driven on the “wrong” side of the road, and they said they got used to it. As usual, I’m a proponent of manual transmissions, and doubly so when I can save money by opting for one. I was sort of looking forward to the challenge as an interesting experience…

As soon as we had to start driving, I started regretting my choice. I wasn’t physically grinding any gears in the car, but it sure felt like my brain’s gears were grinding. Half the things that come naturally while driving a car became useless or wrong. In some sense, you’d expect that you would just have to try mirroring your expectations, but that’s not actually how it’s set up.

The pedal configuration on the car is the same as it would be on a left-hand drive car, as is the gear configuration. However, the gears are now on the other side of you, though the turn signal is on the same side.

This means that while I’m used to downshifting to merge or make a turn using my right hand and using my left hand to turn the wheel and use my turn signal, that’s no longer possible. What then occurs is my brain freezing up while it’s attempting to process the commands “downshift”, “use turn signal”, and “move steering wheel”. There’s no fixing that, as it’s not physically possible to shift and hit the turn signal at the same time in a right-hand drive car.

Also, something a bit more subtle that I didn’t realize at first- I kept missing the accelerator with my right foot on occasion, and my left foot felt cramped when pressing the clutch pedal. After some thought, I realized this had to do with the mirrored configuration: typically a driver’s seat and footwell is set up such that there is plenty of space between the car door and the nearest pedal, but not that much space between the center console and the nearest pedal.

This means that when I typically drive a left-hand drive car, my left foot has plenty of room to relax, but I usually lean my right leg against the center console which is fairly close to me. Now, being in a right-hand drive car, my left foot and clutch pedal were obnoxiously cramped against the center console, and my right leg, which is used to leaning on something while accelerating, was encountering nothing but empty space. This all sounds fairly minor, right up until you’re subconsciously missing a pedal with your foot and can’t figure out why.

I haven’t even talked about driving on the wrong side of the road, which means left turns are close and right turns are far- and roundabouts go the wrong way… Let’s just say it was a stressful nightmare at first.

It also didn’t help that the car had an auto engine stop/start “feature” which would turn off the engine while the car was idling, but didn’t always seem to get the memo that it should turn itself back on when I was trying to go at an intersection.

Ultimately, I would describe my experience as confusing, frustrating, and terrifying on the first day… and second and third day as well. Eventually it just became somewhat confusing and a bit frustrating. By the end of the two weeks it was mostly just a little frustrating, but no longer confusing or terrifying.

I guess the question is, would I rent a car in the UK again, and if so, would it be a manual? At this point, the answer is yes. If someone else asked me if they should do it… I’d say yes just to hear about their horrible experiences afterwards 🤣

See also