If you are anything like me (or some of my relatives), your first experience driving on Irish roads is a generally hair raising one. Coming from Europe or the U.S., just handling a right-hand steering wheel on the left side of the road can be a challenge, not to mention shifting with the other hand while dodging rain puddles, big buses, sheep and tractors on the tiny narrow roads, and trying to put on the windshield wipers, only to find that you’ve inadvertently used the turn signal instead.
Your Irish rental car doesn’t have to be a mistake. Really. It’s just that most tourists hop of the plane at Dublin Airport and straight into their rental car without thinking things over or learning a little bit about the Irish driving system. The fact of the matter is that Irish roads are a little bit manic and use a hotchpotch system of signage and rules, half of which were adopted from the English and the rest were probably just made up. Irish drivers themselves are no good at driving – up until a couple of years ago, half of the people on the road weren’t even licensed and nowadays most people don’t pass their driving tests the first time around, largely because the system is so manic that it takes two tries for even the most competent of drivers to get it.
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Okay, now that I’ve sufficiently scared you, lets go through a few things you need to know, including some signage that typically trips up tourist drivers.
First and foremost:
*Driving is done on the left. This one is key, and it means that, if you’re not accustomed to this system, everything will be backwards. You exit the motorway on the left and a left-hand turn is like a right-hand turn where you’re from (hugging the curb).
*The car’s controls are backwards, too. You’ll need to be able to drive a stick shift (some rental car agencies in Ireland do offer automatics) with your left hand and remember that the windshield (known as a “windscreen” in Ireland) wipers are on the left side and the turn signal is on the right – this is easy to mix up thanks to basic muscle memory that will tell you otherwise.
* Get a GPS system. Even if you’re like me and never get lost, you will need a GPS in Ireland. This is largely because, in the city, most streets are one-ways that go in completely convoluted routes, never in the direction you need to get; and in the countryside, the signs point the wrong way and often the maps are just plain wrong (really).
There are a few other basic vocabulary terms you need, especially for the Americans in the audience:
motorway = freeway or major interstate
overtake = pass
junction = intersection
roundabout = rotary
sat nav = GPS system
dual carraigeway = divided highway
give way = yield
roadworks = construction zone
traffic diversion = detour
zebra crossing = pedestrian crossing
Rules of the Road
You’ll also need to know these few basic rules of the road (don’t assume they’re the same as at home):
* There are speed limits and you should follow them. Speeds are posted in kilometers/hour, and your car’s speedometer also reads in km/hr.
* The fast lane is on the right. If you are going slower than other cars, they will not thank you for staying to the right.
* With that in mind, you should also bear in mind that it’s illegal to pass on the left.
* There is also no left on red, something that differs from American road rules. Otherwise, left turns are just like right turns.
* At roundabouts, yield to traffic coming from the right. Make sure to use your turn signal. Unless you are exiting at the first left, move to the inside. If you get flustered, keep going around – that’s why its a roundabout.
* There are also an inordinately high number of strange road markings. I don’t have time to go through them all, so you should take a careful look at this website, which explains them. You will get confused otherwise.
Now, perhaps the strangest thing about driving in Ireland for tourists are the abundance of traffic signs, many of which are unfamiliar and difficult to interpret. First, you should know that many Irish road signs are written in both English and Irish – so don’t let that confuse you.
Occasionally, when you are driving through extremely rural parts of Ireland known as the Gaeltacht (Irish-speaking areas), you will find road signs that are only in Irish, but they are few and far between and usually aren’t difficult to interpret.
Below are just a few of the road signs that most often confuse tourist driving in Ireland for the first time. There are a whole host of these examples, and luckily there is a very comprehensive Wikipedia entry on the subject of Irish road signs.
Confusing Irish Road Signs
1. This first example very commonly trips up tourist drivers in Ireland. This sign indicates that there is a roundabout ahead. The three arrows indicate that there are three turns off the roundabout, and the labels around the arrows indicate to where those roads go and their numbers. So, at this roundabout, the arrow going up (which would be the second left off the roundabout) is the R639 to Johnstown. Notice the Irish language listed above the English.
2. Blue signs indicate that you are on a motorway, in this case, the M8. This particular sign lists the arrow going straight ahead to Cork (stay on the motorway) or to exit left for the R639 to Fermoy. Typically, motorway exits are short ramps that lead to either small roundabouts or stop signs, so be sure to stay alert as you exit and look for a sign like #1 list above, which will probably follow this blue fellow.
There are about a million other smaller signs that you will see and probably be able to interpret with no problem. But just in case:
1.Motorway ends in 500 meters
2. No stopping
3. Wrong way
4. One Way
by Megan Eaves