Left-Side Traffic – 15 things you should know for your motorbike tour in Ireland

Disclaimer: Although I have some years of experience as a road user on Irish roads, I am not a traffic law expert or driving instructor and am not authorised to give legally binding advice. The following text is therefore not legally binding and does not claim to be complete. I only give some hints from experience to make it easier to get used to Irish left-hand traffic, especially for motorcyclists. At the end of the text you will find references to local authorities where you can and should inform yourself about the applicable traffic laws in Ireland.

Driving on the Left in Ireland - Contents:

1) Republic of Ireland is not Northern Ireland
2) Driving direction, overtaking and turning
3) Starting / moving off
4) Right of way
5) One-way streets
6) Road markings
7) Roundabouts
8) Motorways
9) Parking and parking bans
10) Alcohol
11) Speed limits in the Republic of Ireland
12) Speed limits in Northern Ireland
13) Emergency calls and recovery
14) Special things to be aware of on the countryside
15) General Consideration

1) Republic of Ireland is not Northern Ireland

Ireland is an island in the Atlantic Ocean that belongs to England. Right? Wrong. Most of the island of Ireland belongs to the Republic of Ireland, which separated from England over 100 years ago. Ireland has been a republic since 1949. The Republic of Ireland is not part of the United Kingdom, it is a member of the EU and did not participate in the Brexit. You pay in Euros in Ireland, but you still drive on the left-hand side of the road. Speed indications are in kilometres per hour and distances are in kilometres.

The small north-western tip of the Irish island, the old province of Ulster, has remained in the United Kingdom and has only partial autonomy as the state of Northern Ireland, like Scotland. Here, too, driving is on the left, but according to british, law. Distances are measured in miles, speeds in miles per hour.
As the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland is completely open, you have to pay some attention in the border area to where you are and how to read the speed limit signs.

Back to Ireland (Republic): So we drive on the left side of the road. Cars, to make things more complicated, have the steering wheel on the right side and the gears are switched with the left hand. Anyone coming from the continent and getting into a rental car for the first time at Dublin Airport, will get into the car on the left side and wonder about the missing steering wheel....it is on the other side...
Motorcyclists have an easier life, because on the motorbike, all the controls are in their usual place - very good!

2) Driving direction, overtaking and turning:

In Ireland you drive on the left side of the road. On multi-lane roads, e.g. developed national roads or on motorways, driving on the left is compulsory, so you should use the left lane most unless you have a compelling reason for using the right lane - we will come to this later.

When turning left, you turn from the left lane into the new left lane - this quickly becomes second nature.
When turning right, you have to be more careful to choose the new left lane, and not pull over to the right side out of old habit.
At intersections, yellow "boxes" are often marked on the ground; these areas must be kept clear.

Overtaking is always on the right, both on rural roads and on motorways.
There are exceptions to this:
If vehicles are on the road when turning right in the direction of travel, you may also pass them on the left side.
In columns on multi-lane roads or on the motorway, the left-hand column may also pass on the left (of the right-hand column) if it is faster.

3) Starting/driving off:

So get onto the bike, start the engine, and then? When turning into a road, or stadning at an intersection, be aware, that the vehicle coming from the right, reaches you first because it's driving in it`s left lane: So look right-left-right, then drive off - onto the left side of the road!

Attention when starting / driving off from parking lanes:
If you stop in a left-hand parking lane and then drive off again later, you have a good chance of remembering, that you should drive in the left-hand lane.
Parking lanes on the right-hand side of the road are more dangerous. From this side you may be tempted to falsely drive off on the right side in old habits! You have to be especially careful here! It always helps to let a few cars pass first and to look at them consciously before driving off correctly (in the left lane).

4) Right of way:

In Germany and on the European continent, the following applies everywhere where the right of way is not specifically regulated: RIGHT BEFORE LEFT. This is also the case in Ireland! Despite left-hand traffic! There is NO left-before-right. In Ireland, too, it is RIGHT-BEFORE-LEFT.

However, you seldom have to think about this, because the right of way is usually regulated at intersections, or there are roundabouts where the right of way is also regulated.
Right-of-way signs and markings generally look similar to the ones we are familiar with. The right of way sign and the stop sign are comparable, the right of way sign has additional lettering in the middle.  Right-of-way signs usually have a dashed line across the roadway, while stop signs have a solid line. On small roads in the countryside, signs are not always clearly visible (overgrown), but the lines on the road are often still recognisable.
Traffic lights and light signals are again comparable to those in e.g. Germany.

5) One-way streets:

One-way streets function as in Germany, the signage is quite self-explanatory. In addition to the signs, there are also road markings where entry in the wrong direction is prohibited: The dashed line means free entry from that direction. The solid line means no entry from that direction.

6) Markings on the road:

Again, similar to Germany: If lanes are marked with a dashed line on your side, you are allowed to change lanes. You are not allowed to cross a solid line. If there is a dashed line and a solid line, you may change lanes coming from the side of the dashed line, but not from the other side.

7) Roundabouts: choosing the correct lane, signal and right of way

Roundabouts are extremely common and can be very large and multi-lane, while others are little more than a dot in the middle of the intersection.
You turn left into a roundabout and then follow it in a clockwise direction. You exit the roundabout turning to the left.
In most cases, multi-lane roads also lead to multi-lane roundabouts. Before entering the roundabout, get into the correct lane.

Left-turners (9 o'clock) should get into the left-hand lane and signal on the left.
If you want to go straight ahead (12 o'clock), you can usually get into the left or centre lane. Just before leaving the roundabout (to the left), signal to the left.
If you want to drive to the right (3 o'clock), get into the right or middle lane. Signal to the right first, and then to the left shortly before leaving the roundabout (to the left).

8) Motorways: Entry and exit, overtaking

On motorways, merge from the left, i.e. look to the right and signal right.
When leaving the motorway, turn left and signal left.
You will usually have of way and time to change lanes.
There is a general rule of driving on the left on the motorway. Overtaking is done in the right-hand lane.

9) Parking and parking bans:

The signage is mostly self-explanatory. A special feature are solid yellow lines at the roadside:
One solid yellow line means temporary parking ban. The times for this can be found on a sign next to it.
Two solid yellow lines mean permanent parking ban.

10) Alcohol and mind-altering substances

The alcohol limit in Ireland is 0.5 per mille, except for novice drivers, for whom it is 0.3 per mille. The penalties for exceeding this limit can quickly become very expensive - even for tourists.
The same applies to drugs, medication and other mind-altering substances, that are not allowed and penalties will become very expensive.
So be careful on your motorbike trip with visits to breweries and whisky distilleries! Tasting can quickly become expensive and the Garda (traffic police), also know where to set up the best checkpoints.
The same goes for the evening pub visit, and also the residual alcohol the next morning - take this seriously!

11) Speed limits in the Republic of Ireland:

Unless otherwise signposted, the following speed limits apply:
Motorway = Motorway, marked "M" (M5) on blue signs: 120 kmh.
"National Roads", marked "N" (N81), green signs: 100 kmh
Country Roads = Regional Roads, marked with R or L (L8715), white signs: 80kmh
In city traffic: 50kmh
Practical tip: Many tourists try to drive 80kmh on small R or L country roads and get terribly stressed: On many small and narrow roads, 70kmh or 60kmh are more realistic speeds, so don`t try to drive at 80kmh if you don`t save doing so. 

12) Speed limits in Northern Ireland:

In Northern Ireland, distances are measured in miles and speeds are measured in miles per hour or mph.
Unless otherwise signposted, the permitted speeds are:
Highway, motorway: 70 mph, approximately 110 kmh
National/country roads: 60 mph, equivalent to about 95 kmh
City traffic: 30 mph, equivalent to about 45 kmh
When driving from Ireland (Republic of) to Northern Ireland, the border is often barely visible, so you have to pay close attention to notice the change in signage.

13) Emergency call and recovery assistance (towing):

If something does go wrong and an accident occurs, you can call 911 or 112 in Ireland.
In Northern Ireland, only 999 is the emergency number.
If the motorbike has to be recovered, you can call the AA, which is the Irish equivalent and partner of the German ADAC. The emergency number of the AA is: 

AA breakdown: +353 1 649 7460.

14) Special things to be aware of on the countryside:

On many small country roads, you cannot look far ahead. Hedges and walls restrict the view into the bends, entrances into meadows and fields are hardly visible and obstacles appear suddenly and unexpectedly. The only thing that helps here, is to drive slowly and carefully.
The numerous hedges are trimmed a few times a year. This usually happens in spring or autumn, when no birds are nesting in the hedges. The hedgecutting machinery is not always well secured. Sometimes there is someone standing at the roadside directing traffic with hand signals, sometimes there are temporary signs and sometimes nothing at all. So be careful, when passing by hedgecutting machinery. 

Construction sites are also often regulated with hand signals, or green and red signs.
In the countryside there is agriculture and where there is ploughing, roads also get dirty - the mud then often lies in the middle of the bend, not recognisable beforehand - so look ahead and drive carefully, especially in bends.
Sheep, cows, deer, dogs, horses and donkeys - it is unbelievable what you will find walking around on Ireland's small country roads. In nature reserves animals are allowed to run completely free and elsewhere - the fence was just broken one more time. If you see animals, slow down considerably and be very careful, because you never know when they run off and where they will head next.

15) General consideration in traffic - be kind and patient:

Dublin is a big city with hectic traffic, not much different from big German cities for example.
But everywhere else in the countryside and in the many small towns and cities, the clocks tick much slower.
You hardly hear any honking, if some car takes what feels like 5 minutes to turn off, everyone waits patiently. 

There is always time to let someone pass and help him or her to do so.
People let each other pass at bottlenecks and greet and thank each other with hand signals.
Irish people often wait for your signal whether they are allowed to overtake you - one signal to the left and they pass with thanks.

 By the way, on large national roads there is often a very well-developed hard shoulder for this purpose - the slower vehicle pulls to the left to let the car behind pass.
Most tourists are happy about the hospitality and friendliness of the Irish. I think it's a good move if you, as a motorbike traveller, return the friendliness and drive considerately. 

By the way, Irish motorcyclists often don't greet with their left hand, but with their right foot - makes sense, doesn't it?

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Ulrich Knüppel-Gertberg, January 2022
Sources and photo credits:
All graphics are taken from the following source: Roads Safety Authority (Ireland): Rules of the Road, dated 7 June 2019. Available at www.rsa.ie.