Right about now is the time when many of us, sick and tired of the constant rain and the conveyor belt of Atlantic storms we’ve been facing since back in October, will be booking our summer holidays. The Christmas hangover credit card has been taken care of, the school uniforms will surely last the next few months so it’s time to start breaking out the Lonely Planet guides and picking somewhere nice and warm for your summer or Easter break destination. Just remember that it rains in Malaga and Milan too, sometimes anyway.
Remember to that it’s much more dangerous for you to drive when you’re on holiday. You might well be used to travelling on the continent and driving on the right, but even so, you are at noticeably higher risk when you’re driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road, and often in a rented car which is unfamiliar to you.
Driving on holiday accidents
In fact, there has been some interesting research done in this area, which suggests that you might be as much as twice as likely to have an accident when you’re on holiday as when you’re driving at home.
Looking at drivers facing the opposite problem, coming from Europe or the USA to Ireland and having to drive on the left, Sixt car rental found that “the dominant factor with visiting tourists is the side of the road they are used to driving on. Drivers from the USA, who at home drive on the right-hand side of the road, accounted for 16 per cent of rental days and 35 per cent of accidents. This compares unfavourably to drivers from Australia, who like Ireland drive at home on the left, accounted for 5% of rental days and 5 per cent of accidents.”
Sixt has used the research to implement a new safety scheme for its cars, which uses a series of in-car prompts and warnings to help drivers get over that initial confusion which comes with driving on the other side of the road. “The programme has been a spectacular road safety success. In a period of over 250,000 days, the Sixt safety programme has resulted in a welcome and unprecedented decrease in accidents and serious injuries. In fact, the frequency of serious claims per 100,000 rental days has declined from over 6 per cent in 2014 to below 3 per cent in 2015”, says Trevor Toner, Operations Director Sixt Rent a Car Ireland.
A few simple tips
All of which means that when you clamber into your rented car in some sun-drenched airport, you need to remember a few basic hints and tips. On the car front, only rent from familiar, known ‘name’ brands of car rental companies – it might be tempting to go for some unheard-of bargain basement crowd, but if something goes wrong, you could be left out of pocket or worse.
Secondly, always take the insurance. It’s usually not all that expensive and if anything does happen to the car while it’s in your care, at least you know it’s covered. It’s also worth getting insurance excess cover before you leave – it usually costs only a few Euro but can potentially save you hundreds if there’s a prang. Many insurers will now bundle it with regular travel insurance.
When you start driving, you need to remember that your instincts are going to be, at first, all wrong. Your right hand will be doing to gear-changes and you’ll probably spend at least the first ten minutes looking up and to the left, at the corner of the windscreen, in search of your rear view mirror. It’s important then to take a bit of time – get your driving position correct and comfortable and make sure that all of the mirrors are adjusted properly. so that you have good sightlines. Adjust the wheel and seat too so that you’re comfy and can see the car’s instruments properly. I know – the kids will be screaming and your spouse will be keen to get going and get to the pool, but these first few minutes of preparation are critical.
It’s well worth having a read up on the rules and regulations for driving at your destination too. It’s easy to assume that road signs and rules are the same all across Europe, even the world, but although many are similar, not all are the same and as ever, ignorance and an Irish passport aren’t going to cut any ice with the local gendarmerie, polizei or federales.
Caution is the watch word
Finally, at first, take your time and go slowly. There’s no worse idea than leaping into traffic and trying to keep up with swift-driving locals. They know the road and they know their cars – you, most likely, do not so remember what it was like to be a learner driver and take it easy for the first little while at any rate. Don’t worry – you’ll build up confidence and velocity as the holiday wears on, and by the end of it you’ll be steering with one hand, smoking with the other and sounding the horn with your knee – just like a local (I’m assuming your holiday destination is Italy, there…).
Safe driving and happy holidays.