My First Experience Driving On The Left Side Of The Road

driving on the left
The best way to see the Orkney Islands in Scotland is by car. The buses don’t go to many of the most important attractions and don’t correspond well to the ferry schedule. On the other hand, distances are fairly short, so I decided to rent a car for a couple of days.

The only problem was, I had never driven on the left side of the road.

That fact and my Arizona driver’s license didn’t faze the guy at the rental agency in Kirkwall. The only question he asked was if I had ever had any moving violations.

“No,” I replied.

At this point my 6-year-old son chimed in, “BUT PAPA, WHAT ABOUT THAT TIME IN ARIZONA YOU WERE DRIVING TOO FAST AND THE POLICE STOPPED YOU? THEY MADE YOU PAY MONEY.”

Thanks, kid.

The guy at the rental agency smiled.

“Yeah, there was this speed trap in a small town in northern Arizona. The speed limit goes from 70 to 40 with no warning. They got me,” I admitted.

“There’s a bad one north of Aberdeen,” he told me. “The speed limit goes from 60 to 30 and then down to 20.”

“Good thing I’m not driving to Aberdeen,” I said.

“The car comes with damage insurance after the first £500. For £5 a day you can have extended insurance after the first £200. Basically with the first option we’re betting you won’t get in a crash and with the second option you’re betting you will.”

“Well, I don’t think I’m going to get in a crash but I’ll take the extended coverage anyway,” I replied.

Famous last words.I rented an automatic. The last thing I wanted to deal with while driving on the left for the first time was shifting with the wrong hand. I got in the car and accustomed myself to sitting on the right side of the car. After making sure everyone was strapped in, we headed out.

If you want to learn how to drive on the left, Orkney isn’t a bad place. There isn’t much traffic and not many roundabouts. It’s not ideal, though. Most of the roads are two narrow lanes with no shoulder. This means that on city streets and country lanes, many people park halfway on the road. At times I found myself weaving past parked cars and having to go almost entirely into the other lane before heading back into my own lane to dodge the next parked car.

This obstacle course was no problem for the first day and Orkney’s long summer twilight ensured that I didn’t have to drive in the dark.

I was feeling pretty confident as we headed out on the morning of the second day. This driving on the left thing was turning out to be pretty easy! Today would be no problem. We drove out from Kirkwall and into the rolling green countryside. We passed through a village and I moved to the right to pass a car parked on the edge of the lane when …

CRUNCH

I looked over at my side view mirror. The casing was gone.

“Oh Gadling! I just broke the Gadling mirror! I probably broke that Gadling’s Gadling mirror too! GADLING!!!”

I turned the car around.

“Let’s go back and see how much Gadling money I owe that Gadling Gadling.”

The worst part of this whole thing was that it was my fault. While he had been parked partway onto the road, there was no oncoming traffic and I could have easily got around him. I misjudged the distance because it was on my left and I was sitting on the right side of the car. I had no one to blame but myself. I hate it when that happens.

We drove back to find a burly old man standing by the side of the road holding his side view mirror and parts of mine. “Burly old man” sounds strange but that’s what he was. He was 70 if he was a day but had a chest like an ox, with massive arms that ended in spade-like hands. His weathered face had a stoic northern look to it. There was no murder in his eyes. I got out of the car.

“It looks like I owe you some money,” I said.

“Yes,” was all he said.

I examined the damage. It was a good thing I took that extended coverage because this was going to come out to well over £200. Neither of us had the number of a garage on us so he invited me back to his house to look at the phone book.

I like to visit the homes of the local people when I travel but I prefer to arrive in happier circumstances. His house was off the main road in a little cluster of homes on a windswept hill. A sign in the tidy living room said, “A fisherman lives here with the best catch of his life.” A fisherman. That explained the burliness. Hopefully, he’d continue playing the part of the stoic Scot and not gut me like a flounder.

Luckily everything went well. The fisherman remained stoic, only showing his anger by repeating the phrase “all I want is my mirror fixed” a few more times than necessary. The rental agency didn’t take back the car, so we were able to visit the Heart of Neolithic Orkney. And I learned an important lesson about driving on the left: after driving on the right for 25 years, it’s not so easy just to flip your perceptions and expect to be able to judge distances perfectly.

I just wish i hadn’t said “Gadling” in front of my son so much. It’s such a filthy word.

[Photo courtesy user webhamster via Flickr]

Don’t miss the rest of my series “Exploring Orkney: Scotland’s Rugged Northern Isles.”

Coming up next: “Visiting Orkney: the Practicalities!

Video: A Crash Landing From The Pilot’s Point Of View




Talk about a crash landing. While flying over Cleveland National Forest, Larry E. Hockensmith, a student glider pilot and licensed power pilot of almost 40 years, thought he was going in for a smooth landing. Unfortunately, he didn’t notice the nearby mailbox, which caught the right wing of the sailplane about 8 inches from the tip.

While many would be embarrassed about the guffaw, Hockensmith instead is choosing to own up to his mistake of lingering on the “lee-side of a ridge over rough terrain,” and to make the crash into a learning experience. Not only did his soaring club host a safety meeting where they watched the full 16-minute video and participated in discussions, but Hockensmith also posted the video to the YouTube community, asking them how they thought the differences between the training of a power pilot and glider pilot could have affected the outcome.

“Going into that turn I wanted to make sure I did not stall and added a bit too much airspeed,” Hockensmith explains. “Next time, hitting the spoilers, dropping airspeed and putting the skid down fast might produce a better outcome.”

If you found this interesting, the pilot will be posting more videos on this in the near future. You can click here to follow his YouTube account.

The Discovery Channel Crashes A 727 Intentionally (Video)

After building a plastic model airplane I used to fantasize about what it would look like crashing. This urge became overwhelming when my best friend was over at my house trying to annoy me to death. So I sent a B-52 across my bedroom for a bombing run.

The end result was a crash that was a bit of a let down.

Someone at the Discovery Channel recently had a similar idea, albeit on a more grand scale. Back in March, Kate Nixon, a producer working for Discovery, emailed me looking for a ‘727 guru.’ She told me that they had purchased a Boeing 727 that they would be crashing in April for a scientific study. I’m sure the fact that it would make for some great T.V. was also part of the plan.

I explained that I was hardly a guru on the old three-engine Boeing, but that I might be able to put her in touch with someone. At the end of the exchange, I asked her what the “N” number was of the airplane to be crashed.

“Our aircraft is a 727-212 built in 1978 registration N293AS,” She said.

A quick check revealed I had flown that exact airplane when working for ExpressOne International (pic), a passenger charter airline. In fact, my sister Kim had flown it as a flight attendant at Alaska Airlines (pic), the original operator of the doomed airplane.

Kate swore me to secrecy and explained that the planned crash that would be extensively filmed for an upcoming special. They were mounting cameras inside and outside to capture the event. I suggested testing some AmSafe airbag seat belts that I had recently seen while sitting on a 737 at a bulkhead seat.

Of course I wanted to share it with all my friends at those two companies. But I had to keep quiet, at least until now.

They apparently used a pilot and some form of radio control device operated by a chase plane to guide it during the final moments. The pilot jumped out (D. B. Cooper style?) before the final descent into the ground.

And of course, in this day of cell phone cameras everywhere, someone managed to capture the crash, and it looks like the results for the Discovery Channel are far from a let down:


Here’s the full press release from the Discovery Channel:

DISCOVERY CHANNEL CRASHES A PASSENGER JET FOR SCIENCE DOCUMENTARY

A Boeing 727 passenger jet has been deliberately crash-landed in a remote and uninhabited Mexican desert as part of a scientific experiment for an unprecedented international television documentary for Discovery Channel, Channel 4 in the UK, plus Pro Sieben in Germany. The pilot ejected the 170-seat aircraft just minutes before the collision after setting it on a crash course, it was then flown remotely from a chase plane. The crash went according to plan and there were no injuries or damage to property.

Rather than carrying passengers, the plane was packed with scientific experiments, including crash test dummies. Dozens of cameras recorded the crash from inside the aircraft, on the ground, in chase planes and even on the ejecting pilot’s helmet. The program is being made by award-winning British production company Dragonfly Film and Television Productions.

The project aims to recreate a serious, but survivable, passenger jet crash landing with a real aircraft in order to allow an international team of experts to study the crashworthiness of the aircraft’s airframe and cabin as well as the impact of crashes on the human body, plus possible means of increasing passenger survivability and evaluating new ‘black box’ crash-recording technology.

The plane was crashed in a remote and unpopulated part of the Sonoran Desert of Baja California, Mexico. The location was chosen after an extensive international search to find a suitable location offering the perfect conditions for this groundbreaking scientific project.

For safety reasons, an exclusion zone at the crash site was manned by security teams, as well as the Mexican military and police. Ahead of the crash, a full safety review of the project was undertaken by the highly-qualified pilots and commanders as well as the Mexican authorities who concluded that it was safe for all concerned.

Following the crash, the aircraft will be salvaged and an extensive environmental clean-up operation is being carried out by a reputable agency with the full co-operation of the Mexican authorities.

“This ground breaking project features an actual crash of a passenger jet and explores the big questions about how to make plane crashes more survivable; it’s the ideal premiere episode for our CURIOSITY series that stirs the imagination of our audience, bravely asking questions and fearlessly seeking answers. This latest production captures that audaciousness perfectly and I can’t wait to share it,” said Eileen O’Neill, Group President of Discovery and TLC Networks.

“For the first time, leading scientists and veteran crash investigators, who have been enthusiastic supporters of this project, witness a plane crash in real time and explore what happens to the airframe and cabin, as well as the effects on the human body during a catastrophe of this magnitude. We hope to provide new information about how to improve the chances of survival while providing scientific results on passenger safety and new technologies, including new ‘black box’ flight data recording systems.”

Executive Producer, Sanjay Singhal, from Dragonfly Film and Television Productions, said: “NASA were the last people to attempt a crash test of a full passenger jet three decades ago. Now, with the improvements in filming and remote control technology we felt that the time was right to do it again. It’s never been safer to fly, but we want to use this as an opportunity to provide scientific data that might help to improve passenger safety in those extremely rare cases when a catastrophic aircraft accident does occur.

“This has been an extraordinary feat of organization, involving up to 300 people on location, including the production team, pilots, experts, risk management, plus local crew, military, fire teams and police. This is the culmination of four years of planning and hard work. We’re particularly grateful to the Mexican authorities for their assistance and support.”

The crash and the results of the accompanying research will be shown later this year in a feature-length documentary on Discovery Channel in the United States, Channel 4 in the UK plus Pro Sieben in Germany. The program is made by award-winning production company Dragonfly Film and Television Productions.

Video of the Day – IranAir 727 makes emergency landing


Just one week ago on October 18th, an IranAir Boeing 727 landed at Tehran’s Mehrabad airport without the use of its front landing gear, after the bay of the nose gear failed to open on approach.

The crew performed a landing without the nose gear on runway 29L and came to a stand still on both the main gear and the nose of the aircraft. The flight, traveling from Moscow to Iran, held 94 passengers and 19 crew members; none were injured in the landing.

Video of the landing has now surfaced on Youtube, demonstrating an incredibly skillful landing executed by the pilot and his crew.

Hats off to a job well done in a critical situation. If you’ve seen incredible rescue video online or witnessed an amazing safety performance on your travels, we want to see it. Leave us a link the comments below or submit your photos to our Flickr Pool. It could just be the next Photo/Video of the Day!

Video of the Day: Motorcycle tricks & rickshaw crash

Readers, we need your help. No information is listed with this video. Where do you think it’s from? What language are they speaking? Why did that rickshaw driver decide to crash into that fence? OK, that probably wasn’t a choice. Still, we have so many questions about this video and we’re hoping that you can help us fill in the gaps.

Any guesses as to the location or language? Leave your thoughts in the comments. Meanwhile, we have a feeling it’s going to take more than 15 minutes to get our next rickshaw insured.