Sunday Scribblings - Driving Left - 11/11/07

I lived in England for six years and surprisingly had little problem adjusting to driving on the “wrong” side of the road. My initial arrival was on the ferry to Felixstowe from Zeebrugge Belgium. They make the transition very easy. You drive off the ferry and there you are on the left-hand side of the highway and on your way. I had a few minor setbacks particularly when I was very tired or was on unmarked, unlit country roads at night.

The one glaring exception was in August of 1983. I drove a group of three friends to Castle Donington to attend the Monsters of Rock Concert. Whitesnake, Twisted Sister, ZZ Top, Ronnie Dio, Meat Loaf (one of my all-time favorite performers), Diamond Head, Ritchie Blackmore, and others took the stage while many thousands of us imbibed and ingested a multitude of mind-expanding, mind-altering, and mind-numbing substances.
When the concert ended well into the night, the throngs began to disperse. Intoxicated by the music, atmosphere, and whatever chemicals were flowing through our veins, it was decided that we were too far-gone to attempt the long drive back to Ipswich. England was way ahead of the states in penalties for driving impaired.

So we all crawled into the car and in minutes were in various states of sleep, stupor, and coma. I awoke about daylight and feeling renewed, though not necessarily so, I decided to let the others sleep as I piloted us home. I turned onto the M1 Motorway and had driven several miles when my copilot awoke, somewhat, and after observing our progress for a few minutes remarked how odd it was that all the road signs were turned around backwards. “Oh my God”, raced through my groggy brain. I was driving down one of Britain’s major highways on the wrong side of the road. The American equivalent would be driving down I-95 against traffic. Luckily, unlike I-95, at that time on a Sunday morning that section of the M1 motorway was deserted and unpatrolled. This saved not only our lives, but more important, the embarrassment that only extreme stupidity can afford. Though, now, immediately stone sober, sweating profusely, and ghostly white, I performed an incredible 180 degree maneuver, nearly on two wheels. Unfortunately I had to drive several miles back to the next exit before I could send us back in the right direction. The corpses in the back did not stir and later when we recounted the episode to them, they did not get the full effect of the horror we experienced. This writing is the first account of that experience ever documented. I am hoping the statute of limitations has expired and that England does not extradite for stupidity.

I would like to make one comment about driving in England. I much prefer the roundabout to American signal lights. The roundabouts keep the flow of traffic much smoother, even in the congestion of London.