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Irish Driving

My second blog is totally consumed with writing about cars and driving in Ireland. This was not my plan, but our excursion this weekend compelled me to talk about this subject while the memories (or wounds) are fresh.

Let me start by stating something that is obvious to some but not known to all; In Ireland they drive on the “other side of the road” (that would be the left). In general driving on the left is not tough except when 1st starting out in a parking lot and when coming to a T in the road with no other cars….because you usually just get your queues from the other cars on the road.

But then there are roundabouts or traffic circles that add a level of difficulty even without driving on the left. Here are the rules as related to me by my driving oracle, my lovely wife Carol. She has actually read the Irish driving manual, an act that caused mass hysterics at the office.

There are rules for roundabouts that involve turn signals and entry lanes and relate to your desired exit from the roundabout. Here are a few scenarios

1. You are approaching a traffic circle and want to take the 1st exit. You enter the traffic circle from the left most lane with your left turn signal on, you enter the traffic circle going clock-wise (to your left) after yielding to traffic already in the traffic circle, you stay in the outermost traffic circle lane until the 1st exit and take the exit….ok that one was easy.

2. You are approaching a traffic circle and want to take the 2nd exit. You enter the traffic circle from the left most lane with your turn signal OFF, again you take a left into the traffic circle after yielding to traffic in the traffic circle, after passing the 1st exit you then put on your left turn signal and proceed with authority to the 2nd exit….don’t worry about those pesky cars trying to enter from what would have been your 1st exit, they are supposed to see your turn signal and yield to you.

3. You are approaching a traffic circle and want to take the 3rd or 4th or 5th or 6th exit (yes they do exist!!!). You enter the traffic circle from the right most lane, unless you can’t.😀 You take a left into the traffic circle after yielding but this time with your right turn signal on (no this is not a typo). You proceed around the traffic circle with your right turn signal on until the exit before the one that you want, then you turn on your left turn signal to show you are about to exit and then proceed with authority to your exit. Sometimes the right lane at the entry of the traffic has a right turn marking….no you don’t take a right into the traffic circle….you still take a left into the traffic circle.😀 The right arrow indicates that this is the lane you should use to make a 270 or right turn.

OK, if you got that you are doing great. Just remember the 1st exit can be at 90 degrees, or 45 degrees, or 180 degrees…it is still the 1st exit. The 2nd exit could be at 90 degrees… if there was a 1st exit at 45…you get the idea. The best thing about traffic circles is that they are ready made for U-turns….don’t know where you are going, and miss a turn; just take a 360 on the traffic circle and correct...miss your exit on the traffic circle, just proceed around again (with the correct turn signals of course).

Driving on the left also implies shifting a standard transmission on the left….no they didn’t switch the gas, clutch and brake and gear pattern…Thank God!! ….but you may have wished they had switched the lights and the turn signal….now try to down shift with your left hand while you are doing the turn signals indicated above….this is a challenge for even the ambidextrous.

With all that said, the hardest thing about driving on the other side of the road is being the PASSENGER IN WHAT YOU EXPECT TO BE THE DRIVER’S SEAT. Nothing feels right….the mirrors are wrong…your perspective is off….you end up making a perfect set of fingerprints in the vinyl dash or the passenger handles 😀 …Trust me on this one!

With all that said…roundabouts work…I have hardly seen any traffic back ups and although I have seen lots of need for car bodywork, I haven’t seen a wreck.

In Ireland the roads are NARROW…no I mean NARROW!!.

There are local roads, L roads, N roads, and M roads. M roads are closest to the US Interstate and have a speed limit of 120 km/hr (72 mph), this is quite a feat for most of the cars in Ireland that tend to be 4 cylinders or less. M stands for Motorway and is limited access. N stands for National highway. The only thing you are guaranteed on an N road is that there will be a white line down the center and yellow lines on each edge of the road…..if you are expecting enough room between the yellow and white line to comfortably drive a sub-compact like a Toyota Yaris, YOU WOULD BE WRONG!!! Especially if there is a bus coming towards you…remember this is the country of stone fences that tend to clip side mirrors…let’s just say I have learned this from experience. The L roads and the local roads are even narrower. They are really only wide enough for one car, if you encounter someone coming the other way, one of you needs to find a nook to pull into, so the other can pass. Add no reflectors, no lights and rain 365 days a year (at least according to every Irishmen) and the difficulty factor is upped considerably.

Other driving factoids:

1. Gas is 1.60 Euros per liter (that would be 1.60 * 1.33 * 1.06 * 4 = $9.03 per gallon)..yes that’s just over $9 per gallon.

2. Any place you would want to park if you are paying a deductable for bodywork, has a charge. Sometimes a large charge.

3. You can double your rental car charge by adding a 2nd driver.

4. Every car I have seen over a day old in Ireland has needed some bodywork.

5. Ireland is not that big…if you drive for 8 hours you will be in the ocean or driving in circles…I am not exaggerating.

Here are some rules for visitors renting cars:

1. Rent the absolute smallest car that will meet your needs

2. Turn down a rental upgrade unless it is a diesel and only one size up

3. Avoid renting a car until you absolutely need it. There is a regular bus from the airport to most points in Dublin, a train to Galway and Limerick,… think public transportation.

4. Rent your car with a World Master Card for the insurance (not an American Express as in the US). If your American insurance company doesn’t cover you, then consider the additional insurance.

5. Upping the size of your car is so painful that you might want to consider reducing your luggage so that you only need a smaller car like a Yaris or Fiesta…mid-size cars in Ireland.😀 You should only be in your car 4 hours max in a day so the comfort factor is not that big a deal.

Despite the intensity of the roundabouts and roads, the driving in Ireland is much more pleasant than one would expect. People regularly will stop and let you through in rush hour traffic and I’ve hardly heard any horns honked in anger. In general Irishmen are quite civil drivers and that makes this intense experience mostly a pleasant experience.

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