It's quite easy to drive safely in Ireland. Just obey the laws and get familiar with both the car and road layout. Because, you know, the steering wheel's on the right, and you drive on the left side of the road. What you really have to know about road safety in Ireland before you go full throttle is not a lot. And driving a (rental) car in Ireland does not need to be difficult, or even dangerous, as long as you stick to the rules of the road and follow some basic advice. There are no more than a dozen really important things about driving in Ireland to remember. And these will become "second nature" in a few days. So don't worry and enjoy your drive-on-the-left adventure, complete with drop-dead gorgeous Irish scenery.
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Get Familiar With the Car's Controls
Before you even hit the road in a rental car, try to get a feeling for the mirror-image layout. Your left hand will operate the gearstick (yes, most rental cars are not automatic), and your right hand opens the door. Remember that the more important side-view mirror is on your right and the interior rearview mirror on your left. If at all possible, drive a few minutes in the rental company's parking lot before getting on the road, just to get used to the driving-backward feeling.
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Stay on the Left Side of the Road
This is the hard part. Driving on the left side of the road may be obvious when everybody else does, but it tends to be forgotten especially after breaks, on lonely roads, and in the morning. Pass traffic islands to the left. Only use a roundabout clockwise. Take a left turn when accessing a motorway(Irish for major highway) and remember to join traffic on your right side. It actually helps to have a small post-it note saying "stay left" on the dashboard.
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Get a Decent Map
The map you'll find in your rental car's glove box makes a nice souvenir, nothing more. For practical use invest in the Complete Road Atlas of Ireland published by Ordnance Survey Ireland (you can also get good road atlases of Ireland on Amazon.com). This will not only show you even the smallest country roads but also all places of interest.
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Get to Know the Road Signs
If you have the OSI-Mapbook you’ll find a section on signage. While warning signs in Northern Ireland are generally to international standards, those in the Republic of Ireland tend to be more parochial. Don’t worry: Most if not all are understandable without problems. Direction signs are in blue for major routes (motorways), green for national roads, and white for local roads. Places of interest are signposted by brown in the Republic and black in Northern Ireland, both with white lettering.Continue to 5 of 12 below.
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Respect the Right of Way
At unmarked crossings, the car from the right (!!!) will have right of way, and the same goes for cars already in a roundabout. In the Republic yellow signs with black markings give instructions at marked crossings, with a graphic approximation of the layout with thick lines denoting the right of way, thinner lines representing roads that have to yield. Additional stop signs or markings on the road surface will help you.
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Don't Run Out of Gas
Gas stations can be few and far between in rural areas, and almost none of them offer 24/7-service. It is a good idea to refill once your tank is half empty. Remember that not all gas stations will take credit cards, so you should have plenty of cash. That means euros in the Republic of Ireland and pounds in Northern Ireland.
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Pick the Right Pump
It might sound really basic, but make sure to fill your tank with the right stuff, especially if you are from the USA. Whereas at many U.S. gas stations the pump handles for diesel are green, a green handle denotes unleaded petrol in Ireland. Always read the label. And if you make the mistake of filling up with the wrong fuel, do not start the car; push it to the side and contact your car rental company immediately. They'll put you into contact with a mobile tank-cleaner...costly, but way cheaper than losing the engine.
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Avoid Illegal Parking
More and more towns are outsourcing parking control to private companies that are keen to be seen as efficient. This means that illegally parked cars will be quickly immobilized by clamps or even towed away and only released after a hefty fee is paid. In some designated areas in Northern Ireland, an illegally parked car may be subject to a "controlled explosion." Any fees (or even damage) will not be covered by insurance.Continue to 9 of 12 below.
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Expect to Cover Only 40 Miles in an Hour
When you're planning your day's driving schedule, don’t plan to achieve more than an average speed of 40 mph.
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Expect the Unexpected
Ireland is largely a rural country, and rural traffic is the norm. Expect slow and gigantic pieces of farm machinery around every corner from March to October. Also, be prepared for wildlife and pets suddenly crossing the road or cows and especially sheep to use it as a resting place. Even in Dublin collisions with horses are not unknown. Drive defensively.
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Never Drive in Dublin
In Dublin, parking spaces are at a premium, the traffic is slower than in New York City, and nearly all sights are within walking distance of each other. Choose the location of your accommodation wisely so walking is possible and use public transportation or a cab for destinations that are not within walking distance. There should be no reason to use a car in Dublin or in many other Irish cities, for that matter.