Handy hints for driving around Europe for Australians –
1) You’ll need to get in the other side of the car to drive it. Seems obvious, but its amazing how old habits die hard. Everytime you open the right door and realise that the steering apparatus is on the other side should be a reminder to put your brain into “driving from the left mode”.
2) Once ensconced in the left front chair you will realise that everything is in the same place except the gear lever and hand brake are not tucked away in the door card somewhere (you will unconsciously scratch around under the arm rest on the door a few times during your driving tour in Europe trying to release the hand brake). If you drive a European designed car at home then you will be used to the indicator stalk being placed on the left side of the column, it will be the same in Europe. If you are used to it being on the right you need to know that locals won’t recognise your turning on of the wipers under a cloudless sky as an indication of turning down a side street.
3) Having adjusted your seat and mirrors its time to head off. If driving a H pattern manual the position of the gears is of course the same but it will take some practice to confidently and smoothly shift gears with your right hand. No biggy but relax knowing you aren’t the only one needing to get your head around this mirror image operation.
4) Having let the clutch in (or selected D for drag) the key feature of driving in Europe for Australians is now apparent – KEEP RIGHT! Its really not hard at all but you way have to keep the fact that you need to drive on the opposite of the road ‘front of mind’ for a while until it becomes natural after a day or two.
5) For me the two oddest things of driving on the RHS of the road is crossroads when turning left and roundabouts. It feels like alonnnnggg way across to the other side of the road when turning left at a crossroads particularly if its a multilane road, but that is where you are headed. Keep an eye on the painted lines on the road to help maintain lane placement and consciously think the whole exercise through. If a few cars are stopped at the lights or stop sign it makes it more obvious you need to head further afield but observe carefully where you need to head if there are only empty lanes on the road you are turning into.
Roundabouts can be a pest as I find myself occasionally looking right while turning into them which is a bit useless when the traffic is coming at you from the left…
6) Speed limits around town and on secondary roads are much the same as Australia but on the Motorways/Freeways/Autostrada/Autobahn its a different story. Mostly its a 130KPH limit but as you will notice many folks drive faster. Not so much in speed conscious Austria (yes both Australia and Austria hate speeders…) but in Italy and Germany things move faster. Interestingly due to the quality driving of the locals (who are very lane disciplined and generally drive in a focused polite manner) you will find yourself quite happily speeding along at 130 – 150KPH and wondering why this can’t happen in Australia. Of course on unlimited German Autobahns its a free for all but the obvious controlled and intelligent manner this is undertaken makes it seem entirely reasonable. You will find yourself very much concentrating on driving though as there is no rest. If you are passing slower cars by entering the far left ‘fast lane’ be aware that even if you are doing 180KPH there will be cars behind catching you really really fast as they are doing 250kph. Linger too long in the fast lane and expect to be flashed by those behind attempting to explore the outer limits of capability of their M3, 911, AMG. If you are thinking this might be all too much for you then stay far right with the trucks and RVs and tootle along at 100KPH odd and watch the others blast by on the far left.
7) Country roads can be very narrow and very twisty and in some areas on super narrow twisty bits lots of horn honking can be heard warning others of your imminent arrival at a blind hairpin. There are times when an oncoming car appears and simply there is too little room for two cars to pass you will need to back up. This happens in town often enough too. The tiny scale of some roads will take some Australians by surprise. All the more reason to rent a small fun car. Thats why the locals drive them rather than some oversized pointless 4WD/SUV thing.
8) Public toilets really don’t exist in Europe as far as I can tell. In fact the more I travel the more I realise that public bathrooms are really largely the realm of Australia only. Sure there are fairly stinky things in laybys on Autostradas and Autobahns but your best bet by far is stop at the proper service type areas with food and coffee and pay toilets that are generally pretty good. If you are in the country you will want to stop and buy a drink or a snack and use their toilet. Thats how Europe works, its civilised, a more leisurely paced society that doesn’t have anywhere near as far to drive as us Australians.
9) IDP or International Driving Permits sometimes incorrectly titled International Driving Licences seem to be a hangover from a pre-technology past. Probably quite a handy money spinner for the local motoring authorities but not something I have ever been asked for when renting a car in Europe or the USA. Surely a modern ‘smart’ license with your picture on it is worth more than a $40 piece of paper from the RACV, RACQ etc. Some say it might be handy when pulled up by a cop with minimal English skills and a desire to write you a ticket? I can’t comment as I haven’t been pulled up by such a person but I’m going to suggest again that in this tech savvy world a translation of your official and impossible to copy drivers license is only a smartphone google away. Obtain an IDP if you believe the scary scary Smart Traveler website but be prepared not to need it. Oh and in regard to insurance issue as mentioned here and there on the web, the vast majority of the insurance on the vehicle you will be driving on a Euro Drive Experience will be supplied by the car rental firm which will have already accepted your rental with your Australian State license…
10) Sign posts and navigation – I highly recommend a GPS as even I with a metal plate in my head and an ability to follow my nose anywhere I get all buggered up when in the northern hemisphere. Whether its having the sun in the south (seems somehow un-natural and fundamentally wrong) or its a magnetic thing I don’t know but it takes me at least a couple of weeks before I can navigate ‘naturally’. At Euro Drive Experience we give you a GPS programmed with all our days courses so if you loose sight of me just follow the lady in the electronic map box thing. I find it most handy when getting on or off complicated Autostrada junctions. Much less turning around and trying that again having headed off in the wrong direction for 15 minutes!