By Michael Kotowski
“You are now approaching a roundabout. Please enter in a anti-clockwise direction and take the third carriageway on the right,” said the voice from my GPS. Earlier that afternoon I had cleverly toggled my GPS’s voice to “English Gal.” She has a charming British accent, although some of her terms and cues were unfamiliar to my ear. As I drew nearer to the roundabout I felt panic rising. And then I remembered that I am an American driving in America. I got this.
Much about driving is a reflex; forty years of muscle memory at work keeping me safe and going with the flow of traffic. If I ever found myself driving in Cyprus or Malta or Great Britain for that matter, I thought I would surely die. So strange then it was that I would not only entertain buying a right-hand drive automobile, but that I did.
After nearly a decade of searching for a classic British Mini, I found the one that spoke to me. Since I had planned to modify the entire car to include new paint, new upholstery, uprated suspension and a highly tuned motor, my only requirements were that it be rust free and have the steering wheel on the right-hand side. Yeah… I know.
I’ve been driving ‘Rosebud’ almost daily for three years now and I have some thoughts to offer on driving on the wrong side of a vehicle.
I’ll start by talking about left turns. They take some getting used to. When there are cars stopped and the goal is to turn left, sitting behind them in the right-hand side of the car is a decided disadvantage. Unable to see around the left side of the cars in front, you must place more trust in the decision making ability of other drivers than they may deserve. Plus, if you do get hit by an oncoming vehicle, it’ll be right in the middle of the right-hand door—your door. On the bright side, when you are driving a car the size of a Mini, you’ve earned the right to leave yourself the extra space that normal sized cars would fill.
Lane placement requires constant and continued adjustment. I frequently have the unsettled feeling that I’m driving too far to the right of my lane. When I’m properly centered, those mailboxes seem alarmingly close. It’s not until I hear and feel the centerline road reflectors for 30 seconds or so that I realize I should probably move more to the right.
Parking lot ticket dispensers, tollbooths and fast-food drive-thrus? Forget about ’em. They’re not for you.
Honestly, my biggest concern is how to gracefully and without a hint of humiliation walk from the left side of the vehicle where I was about to jump in and get behind the wheel, to the right side of the vehicle where the steering wheel is actually located. If I sense anyone is watching—and there is always someone watching Rosebud, it attracts more attention than the Oscar Myer Weinermobile—I simply bend down and take a few seconds to adjust the left side review mirror, then calmly walk around to the other side and get in, my pride intact.