Friends and family will know that the one thing about relocating to America that intimidated me more than any other thing was driving. Although I have visited America several times over the past two decades, I have never driven there. For various reasons, my husband has always been the driver. Nor have I ever driven on my travels in continental Europe so I have zero experience of driving on the other side of the road. The thought of having to do so – with four kids in the back to boot – was one that freaked me out.
I opted to face and flood my fears. I was going to have to drive in order to complete basic, daily tasks so I had to just throw myself at it headlong. I arrived in the US last Thursday evening and on Friday morning I was in the driver’s seat and reversing out of our driveway. I drove along busy roads, parked in thronging car parks, and navigated completely unfamiliar territory and not only did I not splat another living being but I didn’t even clip a wing mirror. No one died. No one was even injured. Success.
My road positioning was horrible initially. I was conscious of driving a slightly wider car than the one I had had in Scotland and was also, of course, sitting on the side of the car away from the kerb so my whole sight line was different. However, I established that the correct positioning accorded with the outer edge of the windscreen wiper blade being in line with the road lines on my side of the car. No more risk of scuffing tires on kerbs from that point. Of course, there is still the challenge of navigating in residential streets with no lines painted on the tarmac but so far so good. Let me reiterate: no one has died or suffered injury at the expense of my driving.
The turning on red thing is weirding me out, however. In Scotland, I am used to signs informing me what not to do: no left turn, one way street, no entry. Added to that is the fact that red very definitely means red. Stop. Not red that is kind of amber and means go unless you have to stop. Suddenly being faced with a system where they tell you to do something unless they expressly tell you not to do it is just too counter-intuitive to my brain. I’ve been driving in Britain for over 20 year. Undoing all of that habitual behaviour is going to be a challenge. I’m institutionalised. So for now I have to deal with being hesitant and being honked at by other drivers as I try to determine whether red really does mean stop or go unless you have to stop. I am also having to learn to lift my eyes that bit higher to read the traffic lights in the first place as their positioning is so much higher than those in the UK and so my sight line is another habit I need to break. But still not a living thing or their property has been damaged by my driving. Let’s chalk that up as a success.
Now added to the fact I have never driven in America is the fact I have barely ever driven an automatic before. I drove one once for a few weeks 20 years ago. I have always owned manual cars. Suddenly I find I own a car with an automatic transmission so that is another learning curve for me. Admittedly driving an automatic is much easier than driving a stickshift but once more it is about the habituated behaviour. My left leg feels too idle and whenever I go from reverse to drive I look for the gear stick with my left hand, flapping and pawing about, which is peculiar since that isn’t even my gear changing hand. It feels as if the limbs on my left side are atrophying when I am driving. It really is peculiar. Yet I am grateful to not be having to learn how to drive a stickshift back to front while also learning everything else. Like when to turn on red.
At some point I will have to take my test and get my PA driver’s license. I don’t think “No one died or got injured” is adequate, however, so that will be a challenge for the not so distant future.