Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Keep Left!

photo by Roger C.

Learning how to drive on the left side of the road with a right-hand drive car pretty much encapsulates the experience of adjusting to life abroad. It's all about having to concentrate hard on doing things that you used to do without thinking.

Being of a more cautious temperament, I opted for proper driving lessons before braving Aussie rules traffic, optimistically thinking I'd only need a couple of sessions since I've been driving back home for a few years. After my first experience on the driving on other side of the road, I am convinced that switching from right to left is much easier said than done.

The hour started out with my narrowly avoiding a disaster. The driving instructor picked me up at the hospital, which is located along a major highway. A mere five minutes into the lesson, I was blithely attempting to cross the highway to get to the other side of the road - and I would have succeeded if my instructor hadn't floored the brake pedal on his side of the car. That was just the beginning.

I quickly discovered that driving in Australia is a far cry from the chaotic, every-man-for-himself driving I was used to in Manila. The cars here go so much faster - 50 kph in built up areas, 60 in main roads, 70 on the highways, 110 on the freeway. And these speed limits are not mere suggestions - you are obliged to follow them to the letter. Speeding has never been one of my myriad bad habits, but driving fairly leisurely is - something that is also not allowed here.

I also fell victim to another peculiarity of vehicles here - the indicator light switch and the windshield wiper switch have been swapped around. Every time the instructor told me to start signaling for a turn, I'd flip the switch and see my wipers start up instead of my indicators flash. Short of time, I'd hit my indicator switch and turn into the next street - all the while with wipers going until I'd have enough time to switch them off.

And don't even get me started on the confusing rules governing roundabouts and intersections without traffic lights. I still haven't figured out when it's acceptable to go straight into your turn or when you should make a full stop and give way, even after I've read their road rules handbook cover to cover several times. There are so many nuances that it just gets too darn confusing.

I would love to take a full course of lessons before I finally get my own car, but each hour is so unbelievably expensive that I can only afford so many. My work situation is also making it more and more necessary for me to drive around as soon as possible. With shifts that start at 10 pm and others that end at 11 pm, even getting a cab could become quite difficult. Walking at that time of night alone would be, of course, completely out of the question.

I guess the only real choice would be to confront the driving issue with the same aplomb that I've approached everything else in this adventure so far. There's no other way to learn but by doing. And just hoping against hope that I won't end up crashing in one big splat.


Manggy said...

"crashing in one big splat"

Lol, let's not be so pessimistic. Learning to drive anew is a huge step and I'm so proud (yuck, kapal!) that you went for it! More life analogies!

Petitehye said...

Honestly, I don't know how to drive.. I am already 20 years old but have no car yet. I commute... so I don't have any experience to share about driving. But at least I learned from you just by reading your article.

dr_clairebear said...

@manggy: it'going by way of all the major decisions in my life so far - i didn't really have much of a choice! :)) i am seeing life metaphors everywhere these days, it seems. driving is always a treasure trove of them for me.

@petitehye: don't worry, i started when i was 24. :)

MerryCherry, MD said...

"There's no other way to learn but by doing."

Totally agree Doc. As John Dewey said -- learning by Dewey, err, doing. :)

Abaniko said...

I can just imagine how difficult it is for you to unlearn your driving habits in Manila. The wiper thing is funny, ha. That must be a comic relief in your driving sessions. Hehe. But you'll soon get used to the Aussie way of driving. Good luck.