However, Australia has a lot of wide open space, and there is no Tube in Canberra. Like it or not, I was going to have to hit the road.
As I climbed into the driver’s seat of our car for the first time, I thought about how weird it would be to have the steering wheel on the right. To my surprise, I felt comfortable, not disoriented at all. Okay, sitting in the car felt fine. What would the actual driving be like?
I soon realized that Canberra is a forgiving place for anyone learning to drive on the left. The roads are nice and wide, and what traffic congestion does exist is minor compared to the D.C. metro area. Best of all, perhaps because of the embassies here, Canberrans are used to foreigners finding their way. Medians divide many of the highways to keep traffic on the correct side of the road. Dotted lines and road signs remind drivers how to make the turns at intersections.
Lower road speeds help as well. Many highways have speed limits of 80 kilometres, which is 49.7 miles per hour. Speed cameras are ubiquitous, and even a few kilometres over the limit earns a ticket with a hefty fine. I’ve heard that the strict policing has brought down the number of traffic deaths, and I believe it.
Rather than traffic lights, more often a “Give Way” sign (like our “Yield”) or roundabout controls the intersection.
The most challenging part of driving in Canberra may be avoiding the wildlife, particularly at dawn and dusk. A study from one Australian insurer found that collisions with kangaroos in 2015 accounted for 88 percent of 20,000 reported road claims, and Canberra is one of the hotspots for those collisions.
Nearly eight months after arriving in Australia, I finally feel comfortable driving on the left. I don’t know that I’ll ever fully relax; my fear is that muscle memory would still urge me to the right if I had to react by reflex. Still, being on the left side of the road seems natural to me.