Driving on the left or the right?

While browsing travel blogs on Ireland (in the run-up to our trip in September – yahoooo!!!!), I came across a post titled “Irish politicians proposes switch to right hand driving” (see original article).

I was so astounded at this news, that I double-checked its validity on Reuters news agency.

And here hubs and myself had been getting all excited at the fact that we would actually be able to drive in Ireland without going all cross-eyed with intense concentration in order to avoid knocking into people, sheep, fences, police cars, etc. and trying to remember which way to drive around round-abouts and traffic circles and who had to yield to whom.

Thank goodness the Brits had colonised our fair country and forced their style of driving on us. Okay, they also made us use pounds, shillings and pence, and miles, feet and inches and all that odd stuff, but fortunately our government wisely converted us to the metric system sometime in the 1960s (or thereabouts? anyone know? my usual fount of knowledge, the Wikipedia, is bafflingly silent on this issue).

Anyhow, the politician responsible for ruffling my feathers was Donie Cassidy, the leader of Ireland’s upper chamber Senate. He said that Sweden had successfully switched from left-side to right-side driving in 1967, which means that it is theoretically possible to re-train drivers. His justification for this preposterous proposal was that there were thousands of immigrants and visitors from all over Europe and America arriving in the Republic of Ireland, and that they were finding it difficult to adjust to driving on the left.

Now consider the fact that this relatively small geographical island is in fact split in two, with Northern Ireland still part of the UK. I somehow don’t see the powers-that-be agreeing generously to change from left- to right-side driving without putting up a good fight. I mean, I am told that distances in Nor’n Ir’n are still displayed in MILES and not in KILOMETRES… (mental note to take along a pocket conversion guide) and the POUND still reigns supreme, whereas the Republic has joined the European community.

Now imagine if drivers who cross the border (which is not even all that clearly demarcated everywhere) have to remember to change from the left to the right side of the road and vice versa. And add a pint or two of guiness to the mix…

Cassidy also made another suggestion, which I can’t see being all that popular either, namely that visitors from countries where you drive on the right should observe a 50 mile per hour speed limit, whereas Irish drivers would be allowed to drive 120 km per hour. I find this rather amusing, and not only because of the confusion of metric and imperial (British – how ironically appropriate) systems. I don’t know whether this was deliberate or an oversight. For those who don’t know, 50 miles per hour works out as approx 80 km per hour.

But seriously, how on earth would you be able to monitor this rule, and to enforce its compliance? How would you know whether a driver was Irish, or not? What if the driver was indeed of Irish heritage, but had been living in the US or in Europe for many years, or had never been to Ireland – which speed limit would he have to apply? And if you were to use number plates or colour of car as an indicator of whether the driver was Irish or not, what happens if a non-Irish person or a foreigner drives the car?

A technical complication is that a left-hand drive vehicle has the driver’s seat on the right, so that the driver is closer to the middle of the road – which gives a better view of the road ahead, and thus makes it safer to overtake and all kinds of other things. So does that mean that all vehicles will have to be physically reconfigured to move the steering wheel and gear lever and pedals over to the other side? How realistic is this?

The following comment had been added right at the bottom of that post. A chap by the name of Brian Flaherty said:

“The Irish have done extensive research on this subject and the changeover will be January 2009. To facilitate the change there will be a transitional period for trucks and cars. Cars will commence two weeks before trucks so that the average Irishman will be au fait with the new setup. Trucks will then move to the other side of the road after the cars have had two weeks practice.”

Oh yeah, that’ll work. Seeing a truck hurtling towards you at 120 kph while you’re trying to process which side of the border you’re on and which side of the road you should thus be travelling on, is sure to clear things up pretty quickly.

But I think Brian was speaking in jest.

Cripes, at least I hope he was.

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For other posts on this blog related to Ireland and the Irish, click on:

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