Why do I feel like I am driving on the wrong side of the road?
April 24, 2011 1:32 PM   Subscribe

Why do I feel like I am driving on the wrong side of the road?

Sometimes when I am driving I get a brief feeling of panic that I am driving on the wrong side of the road. My rational brain then jumps in and checks and assures me that I am driving on the correct side, but I still have a weird feeling that is best described as "uncanny" for a moment afterwards.

This has been happening more and more frequently.

Recently, on a road trip in St. Louis, a weirdly-oriented freeway on-ramp gave me this feeling so strongly that I felt almost dizzy, it was physically uncomfortable.

Possibly relevant information:
-I am left-handed
-I have always lived in the U.S. and have never driven anywhere that drives on the other side of the road, though I have visited several such places.
-When these feelings happen, I am still able to drive normally and I experience no other sensations.

What is going on here?
posted by mai to Health & Fitness (14 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Have you been watching movies/TV shows lately which show people driving on the left side of the road? If so, perhaps it could be leaving mental residue of some sort.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 1:43 PM on April 24, 2011

this happens to me too and i am NOT left handed.
sometimes there's just so many lines painted on the road that it's hard to tell what's shoulder, what's a turn lane, what lane i'm supposed to be in, especially if it's raining or a construction area, or a place with weird ramps that is new to me.
posted by sio42 at 1:47 PM on April 24, 2011

This could be an interesting listen for you.
posted by vivid postcard at 1:48 PM on April 24, 2011 [2 favorites]

I get this occasionally while driving on one-way streets or a divided highway with a few exits on the left. As long as it's not interfering with your driving, which it seems like it's not, I think it's probably nothing to worry about. I'm sure it happens to lots of people. Brains are dumb like that.
posted by phunniemee at 1:59 PM on April 24, 2011

This happens to me occasionally, as well as not being certain that I'm correctly remembering things like my phone number or zip code. I attribute it to getting older, and I believe the technical term is "brain fart."
posted by ellenaim at 2:08 PM on April 24, 2011

I thank everyone for their answers so far.

To clarify:

1. I am 28 so I don't attribute it to getting older.

2. This is not related to lane markings or signage. I am rationally able to tell that I am driving in the correct part of the road.

3. I wouldn't describe this as a feeling of confusion. Rather it is a nagging feeling that I should be driving on the left side of the road instead of the right, as if the two sides suddenly switched places in some part of my brain.
posted by mai at 2:34 PM on April 24, 2011

Do you have OCD-like traits? Are you dyslexic? Were yoiu British in a previous life?
posted by Obscure Reference at 2:43 PM on April 24, 2011 [2 favorites]

Do you frequently drive in the left lane on highways or divided avenues?
posted by milarepa at 3:37 PM on April 24, 2011

It may not be psychological. I live in St. Louis and I can attest that our roads are just weird.

For one, we have lots of left exits. Coming off of northbound I-170 near the (recently tornado ravaged) airport, there are two left exits in succession. The first drops you right into the fast lane of I-70, while the one just after it puts you in an exit-only lane of I-70.

Another is that the Missouri Department of Transportation likes to experiment. To make you feel more British, they've started putting in roundabouts in many places. They've also got added the "Diverging Diamond" intersection at Dorsett and 270 in which you really are driving on the wrong side of the road.

There are many great things about St. Louis, but MoDOT is not among them.
posted by tomwheeler at 4:24 PM on April 24, 2011

If it was confined to St. Louis, I'd agree with tomwheeler. I do love that city. but some of their highway exits are very, shall we say, creative.

If it happens even in familiar places, I'll throw out a weird idea. I used to get a strange disoriented sensation, usually when driving. It was like I didn't know where I was, even though intellectually I knew perfectly well that I was heading West on 84 or whatever. Your "almost dizzy" sounds like what was happening - I was fine and could keep driving, but it felt totally wrong. Turns out it was from drinking coffee. Which I'd done all my life, but for whatever reason I could no longer tolerate it anymore. That was the only symptom; it took me forever to figure it out. I can't tell if my thing was the same as your thing, because it's hard to describe a vague sensation in words. But that's what your post made me think of.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 5:30 PM on April 24, 2011

This makes me think of anxiety. Do you have anxiety or panic issues? If not, this makes me think of some kind of sensory "issue" you have that is manifesting in this setting. Also maybe vertigo?
posted by cerebral at 5:48 PM on April 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

Thanks for all the additional thoughts.

I've gotten this feeling over the last few years, it is not confined to any particular place.

I am not dyslexic and I don't have vertigo.

A few years ago I had some dizzy spells which I eventually concluded were due to lack of sleep. I haven't had them lately. This feeling I get when driving happens even when I am well-rested so it seems like a different thing but maybe not.

I do get anxiety about plenty of things, I'll have to think about whether that's connected to the times when I get this feeling.
posted by mai at 7:15 PM on April 24, 2011

I get this feeling and I do have anxiety issues. For me, it's a sudden "oh shit" feeling with an adrenaline rush that lasts only a second or two, and then I calm down and know that I'm on the correct side.

My anxiety has also caused dizzy spells in the past. Stress manifests itself in crazy ways sometimes.
posted by mudlark at 10:07 PM on April 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

I get that nagging feeling I should be driving on the left side of the road too - but I am in the UK, so it's a good feeling!

Seriously, I tend to have this confusion after visiting places which do drive on the other side of the road. I've visited mainland Europe a lot recently, and driving home from the airport is a bit of a challenge as I have momentary lapses thinking about which country I'm in, especially when it's just road and not much to see either side. I think such feelings are pretty normal.

Driving itself is really stressful and perhaps it's just your brain's way of coping. Maybe some anti-anxiety meds might help - I know they did for a friend of mine who had problems with the freeway.
posted by stenoboy at 12:28 AM on April 25, 2011

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