With the increased availability of travel options in recent years the tourism trade has boomed worldwide. Now people from over the world travel to different countries to experience cultures, see famous monuments, and view scenery that differs from their own.
With over 9 million people each year visiting the country of Ireland it’s not surprising that tourism now provides and contributes to a large portion of the Irish economy. This elevated number of people also increases the amount of drivers on the road at any given time.
Now that visitors routinely opt to rent cars and vehicles to explore the country, there is a higher risk of accidents and incidents on Ireland’s street and roadways. Having your own vehicle can be an excellent way to travel around and visit many of Ireland’s most popular tourist destinations, and it is also undoubtedly more convenient than public transportation.
Unfortunately unfamiliarity with Ireland’s roadways and local driving rules can sometimes lead to accidents. This useful guide should provide you with some insightful tips and tricks to keep you safe and on the right side of the law when driving around the Emerald Isle.
1. Driving on the left
The country of Ireland, like England and many other countries, drives on the left side of the road. This will be unfamiliar to visitors from America and other nations that are typically used to driving on the right. The watchword here is ‘concentration’.
Driving on the other side of the road is unfamiliar but actually not that difficult as you are also on the other side of the car. Meaning the driver’s road position is always the same. For example if you were driving in America down a single lane road the driver would always be sat closest to the center line of the road, the same is true for Ireland.
The driver will still be closest to the center line of the road even though they are sat on the other side of the car and driving on the opposite side of the road. That said it still easy to fall into the habit of turning into the side of the road that you are most accustomed to.
Take your time at junctions and intersections, think about where you were going, and make sure you observe the other cars that are around you and the direction in which they are heading. A good rule of thumb is to check and double check before making any turns or maneuvers.
2. Fasten your seat belt
In Ireland, as well as the majority of other European countries, the wearing of seat belts is compulsory for drivers and passengers of vehicles. Including people that are seated in the rear of the vehicle.
Children that are smaller than 4 foot 11 inches or weigh under 36 pounds should use a booster cushion or be secured in a child car seat for their safety. The driver is responsible for ensuring that all passengers seat belts are securely fastened at all times.
The wearing of seat belts helps to prevent serious injury and even death in the event of an accident. Not to do so is illegal and the authorities take a dim view of anybody not abiding by the rule. Non compliance will result in a hefty fine or penalty should you be pulled over by the authorities.
Like most of the other countries in the world you will require a licence to operate a motor vehicle in the country of Ireland. the good news is that if you come from Canada or the USA your licence is automatically valid in Ireland.
If you’re coming from any country other than the US, Canada or Europe you will require an International Driver’s Licence. You will also require a passport for identification purposes, and third party insurance to cover you in the event of any incidents or accidents.
Make sure that you have all the necessary documents from the rental car company and keep it in your vehicle. You will need to produce it should you be pulled over by the police.
4. Check the transmission on your rental
This may seem like a strange point to include but it’s an important one. when you book your rental vehicle check to see if you can specify automatic or manual transmission type for your car rental period.
This may seem like an odd suggestion but unlike America where cars typically come with a standard transmission most Irish vehicles tend to come with a manual transmission as standard. If you have not driven a manual transmission vehicle previously, being in an unfamiliar country is not the time to attempt it.
Take a moment and make sure that you are renting a vehicle that you are comfortable operating. It may even be worth a car to the rental company beforehand just to clarify your requirements.
Even though Ireland is a country that is renowned for its drinking and pub culture the use of alcohol while operating a motor vehicle is illegal. While the Irish people have a reputation for enjoying their tipple, the legal alcohol limits for a motor vehicle operation is actually lower in Ireland than many other countries in Europe.
The legal allowed limit is 0.5 mg of alcohol per milliliter of blood. Driving over these limits can result in stiff penalties including fines, licence points, and even imprisonment. Most people that live in the Emerald Isle will not even risk getting behind the wheel after just one drink.
Given the strict limits it is prudent to err on the side of caution and not attempt to drive at all if you are indulging in a drink. Try and arrange a taxi or alternate methods of transportation.
6. Speed Limits
Speed limits in and around the country of Ireland should be strictly observed. As with other countries, exceeding the speed limit will result in penalties, fines, and possible points on your driving licence.
Make sure to take caution and observe all of the road signs. Speed limits can vary quickly as routes change from motorways down to small rural roads. Make sure you adjust your speed accordingly as the requirements change.
It is also worth noting that the speed limits in southern Ireland are displayed in kilometers per hour not miles per hour. So make sure you are looking at the right gauge or dial on your dashboard to avoid incidents.
7. Narrow Roads
For those coming from overseas driving in the country of Ireland may prove to be somewhat of a culture shock. As the country is not that large it doesn’t have the wide, broad roads that somewhere like America does.
American roads are characterized by being very wide, straight, and long. The opposite is true in Ireland where there is a wealth of winding, narrow streets. There of course motorways to help you traverse from city to city but the terrain in between can run into some very rural areas.
In these regions the roads can be extremely narrow, with sharp bends, and not marked with the typical set of lines or familiar road signs that you may be used to. Make sure that you take your time and drive slowly along these types of roads to avoid any incidents.
8. Cell Phones
The use of cell phones is not permitted while driving in Ireland due to the obvious dangers of not concentrating on the road while you are operating a motor vehicle. The rule in Ireland is that the driver must never touch the phone at all while the vehicle is an operation.
So if you’re planning to use your mobile device for GPS purposes you may need a plan your route beforehand. If you are driving hand your phone to a passenger to assist you with navigation.
Bluetooth devices are technically allowed but the police in Ireland are quite strict and if they determine that you are driving unsafely due to being distracted then fines will be imposed.
9. Rural Areas
Many of Ireland’s beautiful areas are located in more rural and remote parts of the country. Many of these can be situated around open fields and or farm land. There is a good chance that during your travels you will come across slow moving and heavy farm equipment, and industrial machinery being transported.
You may encounter tractors, combine harvesters, and similar vehicles traveling the roadway. Exercise patience in these situations and allow the vehicles time to travel to their destination. You may also experience occurrences of farmers transporting their cattle or flocks from field to field and blocking the road.
You are expected to wait patiently and give the right of way to the crossing animals. Usually this should only take a few minutes and the farmer or cattle herder will typically give you an appreciative wave to signify when you can move along.
Over the last few years there have been an increase in the number of roundabouts being built in America. However, they are still not common in most regions, and can be tricky if you’re not used to navigating around them.
Roundabouts are prolific in Ireland and are used in many locations instead of the more familiar traffic lights. When approaching a roundabout make sure you take time to check oncoming traffic before pulling out.
The rule is that you give way to traffic coming from the right. Once you have pulled on to the roundabout you travel around it in a clockwise direction. Making sure that you signal and check your mirrors before pulling off your exit.
11. Check your petrol
Gas stations or ‘petrol stations’ as they are known in Ireland are not operational for 24 hours a day as they are in other countries. Some of them may not even open after evening hours.
This country is a little different from places like America where you can find a petrol station almost every few blocks. Some areas of Ireland you may be able to travel for miles or hours before happening across a petrol station.
A good rule of thumb is to not let your tank get down to being completely empty. Refill it regularly when it starts getting below just the halfway point to avoid being stranded on a rural road.
If you come from a country that experiences a moderate climate than you may be in for somewhat of a shock depending on the time of year that you visit Ireland. The country as a whole experiences four distinct annual seasons of Winter, Spring, Autumn (Fall), and Summer.
During the late Autumn, Winter, and early spring months the weather can be unpredictable and inclement. Driving rain, ice, snow, and hail can all be experienced. For those not used to driving in variable weather conditions it may be worth routinely checking the weather reports and determining which days are safe to drive.
If you are unaccustomed to driving in ice and snow it is probably best to give those days a miss altogether. As Ireland is routinely subjected to bad weather conditions most roads will cleared or gritted during icy or snowy days. Smaller, rural roads may not receive the same treatment and could be treacherous to drive on.
Should you be unfortunate enough to have a crash or be involved in a serious accident then emergency services need to be contacted the number to call in Ireland is 999 or 211 either will work. The number will connect you with to the necessary authorities.
As in most countries any accident or incident should be reported and the police alerted. If you’ve been involved in a minor accident then the usual statements and insurance information will need to be exchanged for claims purposes.
14. Driving Alternatives
Public transportation is readily available throughout the country of Ireland. Buses and trains are good options to get you from place to place. However some of the more remote locations may not be as accessible to public transportation.
You can book taxis and private hire vehicles but note that services like Uber and Lyft do not operate in Ireland they way they do in other countries. Uber does have a presence there but only for the purposes of booking a private hire vehicle or limousine through the app. They do not use private cars and independent drivers as they do in other countries.
While taking a vacation in Ireland should be an enjoyable experience there are some measures that you should consider to keep you safe if deciding to drive in the country.
Hopefully this list of tips and advice will give you some good pointers and help to keep you out of danger if you decide to rent a vehicle. Many accidents can be avoided by simply using due care and attention. So take your time, look before making any maneuvers, and stay safe!