If you're the type of traveler who likes to explore, you'll probably want to see Ireland by car. But be prepared: Driving there is a pretty darn scary experience, and not just because gas costs almost $5 a gallon.
For starters, you have to drive on the left side of the road with a right-hand-drive car no easy task when you're suffering from jet lag or trying to read a map. In addition, Irish roads are unbelievably narrow by U.S. standards (even major highways can be little more than two lanes wide), and very rarely is there a hard shoulder to pull off to when a car comes flying too close from the opposite direction.
Also, instead of traffic lights, many cities and towns have roundabouts, or traffic circles, that require yielding to vehicles on your right while turning left. Adding to the confusion is the fact that some road signs are in kilometers (Republic of Ireland) while others are in miles (Northern Ireland).
The biggest obstacle, however, is speed. Simply put, many Irish motorists drive way too fast for those skinny, winding roads. According to government officials, excessive speed was a factor in almost 30 percent of road fatalities in the Republic of Ireland between 1996 and 2004, and 24 percent in Northern Ireland.Comment on this story
"Frommer's Ireland 2007" pointedly notes that the country is the "second-most-dangerous country in Europe in which to drive," after Greece. Speeding is so great a problem that the government recently launched its graphic "The Faster the Speed, The Bigger the Mess" ad campaign on TV. It depicts a young couple getting squashed against a wall when a speeding driver swerves to avoid hitting a dog and ends up airborne. (The commercial is so disturbing, it's only aired after 9 p.m.)
Still, with the proper precautions, you can cut down on the risks. Give yourself time to get used to the roads by not going too far the first day. You'll also want to avoid driving after dark or in bad weather. It's also probably wise to stay off the roads after the pubs close (11:30 p.m. weekdays and 12:30 a.m. weekends) and to rent as small a car a possible.
Not only will you save on fuel costs, but a car that takes up less room is also easier to maneuver out of harm's way.