I’m a confident driver – when I’m in the UK, that is. Actually, you can add South Africa to the list – along with Japan, Hong Kong and Australia and a few other places. As long as I’m on the left-hand side of the road, I’m absolutely fine. But if I’m driving in a country on the ‘wrong’ side of the road, sitting on the left and trying to change gear with the door handle, it’s a completely different matter.
Keys to the highway
So you’ll appreciate that, when it came to contemplating a trip to the Florida Keys with my boyfriend Steve, the thought of hiring a car to get from island to island filled me with dread, even though it was clearly the best transport option for our holiday.
The coward’s way out would have been to get Steve to do all the driving. But, I convinced myself, that wouldn’t have been fair or particularly empowering, would it? So I determined to conquer my terror of driving on the right hand side of the road. Oh, and did I mention I’ve never driven an automatic – vehicle of choice in any US rental shop?
Steve had driven in the States before and was confident I could handle it, especially if I eased myself into things on quieter roads. He agreed to tackle the city streets while I’d do the straights. So we booked our car and planned a route from Orlando to Key West and back, via Miami. You know how you spend the weeks before a holiday fizzing with anticipation and excitement? Not this time. I’d get a queasy feeling in the pit of my stomach when I contemplated giant US highways, bewildering junctions, intimidating level-crossings, turning left across the oncoming traffic, turning right on a red light… the stuff of several sleepless nights!
Female gender fears fender benders
According to a survey by MoneySuperMarket’s sister company, TravelSupermarket, 73% of women have never driven a hire car abroad and 47% say they never will – so I’m clearly far from alone in worrying about driving on the right. Drilling deeper into the results, women who haven’t driven a hire car overseas are 133% more “terrified” of overseas driving than men. Almost every woman asked – that’s 93% of the survey – is more likely than a man to find driving abroad “stressful”. But here’s the funny thing: women driving overseas are safer behind the wheel. Only 44% have had a car accident compared to 57% of men. They’re also less likely to get a fine in their hire vehicle, less likely to cause damage to their hire car and much less likely to break the rules of the road in the country they’re visiting.
State of play
When we actually got to Florida, things almost took a turn for the worse. Steve leapt at the chance to upgrade our Corolla to a luminous yellow Chevrolet Camero – quickly dubbed the giant banana – that was much more of a powerful, sporty option than I had considered, even in the depths of a sleepless night back home.
But I was hardly going to object, was I? It’s a beautiful car, and we were going to be cruising the Keys, after all! So, with a few turns around a giant ‘parking lot’ under my belt, off we went. And yes, there were a few slightly anxious moments, and yes, I did find my left hand reaching for a non-existent gearstick a couple of times (in an automatic as well!), but it was generally fine. No bumps, scratches or tickets to report.