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Driving In Ireland For Tourists: An Essential Guide To Driving Safely On Your Road Trip

Driving In Ireland For Tourists: An Essential Guide To Driving Safely On Your Road Trip

I‘ve been planning on writing a guide to driving in Ireland for tourists since last November.

We were sat in a pub in Galway when two American young lads started chatting to us.

We we’re having the craic and chatting away when one of my friends asked the younger of the two how they were finding driving in Ireland during their trip.

The conversation that followed p*ssed me off to no end. You can read why below and discover everything you need to know if you plan on driving during your visit to Ireland.

Are you planning a trip to Ireland? Make sure to check out our guide to planning the perfect Ireland itinerary.

Driving in Ireland: A guide for tourists

beara peninsula things to do

Photo © The Irish Road Trip (this car was stopped when the photo was taken)

Back to the bar…

When he heard the question, he turned to his friend and they both laughed.

When they finished, the older chap told us about the two near misses they had when they reached the ‘busy road that you take from Dublin Airport into the city‘ (he was referring to the M1 Motorway…) and the several other close calls that they had on their way to Galway on our ‘crazy Irish roads‘.

I turned and asked the older lad if they looked at what the differences were between driving in Ireland in comparison to the states.

The answer? ‘Nah man, I prefer to wing it‘.

Russborough house wicklow

Photo by Chris Hill via Tourism Ireland

150 people lost their lives on Irish roads in 2018.

150. Out of these fatalities, 63 drivers were killed, 21 passengers, 42 pedestrians, 15 motorcyclists and 9 cyclists.

150 lives lost. Now, I’m not saying these were accidents caused by people driving in Ireland for the first time – I’ve no idea what the breakdown is.

However, If you’re planning on driving during your visit to Ireland, TAKE IT SERIOUSLY.

Don’t just assume that because you can drive perfectly fine in your own country that you’ll be able to do so in Ireland without doing research in advance.

A guide to Driving in Ireland for tourists 

Coumeenoole beach kerry

Coumeenoole beach & Bay: By Chris Hill

While this guide attempts to cover as many bases as possible, it is by no means an exhaustive guide to driving safely in Ireland.

Be sure to conduct your own research prior to jumping in a car and hitting the road.

The objective of this guide is to help you drive safely during your visit to Ireland and has been written in line with the RSA’s guidelines.

If you need some guidance, the Road Safety Authority have created this document to help.

What you’ll learn from reading this driving in Ireland guide

  • Info on licences, insurance requirements and rental car FAQs
  • Videos and info that’ll help you drive safely, from overtaking (when it’s safe to do so) to road signs and markings
  • Info on drinking and driving in Ireland (don’t f*****g do it!)
  • Loads more info and videos that’ll help you drive safely

1 – Understanding the rules of the road

The Road Safety Authority have prepared a detailed guide to driving a in Ireland. This is just as relevant for tourists as it is for locals.

Download the RSA guide to driving in Ireland here.

These guidelines are essential for anyone using Irish roads, cycle tracks or footpaths.

You should read these in advance of arriving in Ireland.

2 – Driving Licences

You cannot drive a car in Ireland without a current driving licence or a learner permit.

If you have a driving licence issued by an EU/EEA member state, you can drive in Ireland as long as your existing licence is valid.

glengesh pass donegal

Photo by Gareth Wray

If you want to exchange your driving licence for an equivalent Irish licence, you need do so within 10 years of your driving licence expiring.

If you hold a non-EU driving licence, you can still drive legally in Ireland.

Tourists visiting Ireland can drive with a driving licence from any state outside the EU/EEA for up to a year provided the driving licence is current and valid.

Note: you need to carry your driving licence or learner permit with you at all times when you are driving in Ireland.

3 – Car insurance for rental cars in Ireland

When it comes to questions around driving in Ireland for tourists, one of the most common questions that I receive revolves around car insurance.

You must be fully insured when driving in Ireland.

This is an area that often causes a whole lot of confusion for people when they’re planning a trip to Ireland.

Insurance via your credit card

Some credit cards that are issued in the US offer collision and theft insurance for rental cars. You should check this well in advance of arriving in Ireland, as it could save you a decent chunk of money.

Note: if your credit card provider does cover you, you’ll need to use the credit card in question to pay for your rental.

If your credit card does in fact offer collision and theft coverage in Ireland, make sure you have written proof to show the staff at the rental counter.

You’ll want to fully understand what exactly is covered and not covered by your credit card company, to avoid any hassle if any accident does occur.

Annual leave Ireland 2020

Photo via Tourism Ireland (by Kim Leuenberger)

Collision Damage Waiver

However, and this can change depending on the rental company, it’ll only cover you for damage to the cars bodywork.

That means if you get a flat tyre, damage the interior, loose a car key, need to get towed due to a breakdown or break a wing mirror, you’ll be paying for it.

Super Collision Damage Waiver

Before you pay for this, ensure you fully understand what exactly it covers.

Other insurance types

You can also get insurance from other third party providers or via a broker website if that’s where you’ve bought the car rental from.

Make sure you research this thouroughly in advance.

Insurance add ons are how rental companies make money, so they’ll be keen to sell it to you. Make sure that you arrive to the counter fully informed.

4 – Road signs and markings

When driving in Ireland for the first time, you need to be fully aware of the different signs and road markings that you’ll as you explore Ireland.

Watch the below video to familiarise yourself.

5 – The most important (and not always the most obvious) point

We drive on the left hand side of the road in Ireland.

If you’re used to driving on the right, this will take some getting used to.

Especially at roundabouts. If you pick your car up from Dublin Airport, you’ll hit 1 of at least 3 roundabouts in the first 5-10 minutes of leaving the rental depot.

conor pass in dingle

Photo © The Irish Road Trip

6 – Understanding how to take a roundabout safely

I live in Swords, which is very close to Dublin Airport. The most dangerous roundabout in Ireland is the one the leads from the Airport to the M1 motorway.


Mainly because people in general can’t navigate roundabouts, but the added swarm of tourists that rent a car in Ireland hit this roundabout about 5 minutes after stepping into their rental, after never driving in Ireland before.

There are roundabouts EVERYWHERE in Ireland.

Watch the video below from the RSA that shows you how to tackle a roundabout in Ireland.

7 – Changing lanes

Don’t move from one lane to another unless you actually need to.

If you do need to, you must give way to the traffic that’s already in the lane that you’re moving into.

irish road trip playlist

Photo © The Irish Road Trip

Here’s how to change lanes safely:

  • Use your mirrors: ensure that you check in plenty of time that the lane you’re moving into is clear
  • Check your blind spot: when travelling at speed, ensure that the position of a vehicle that may have disappeared from your view in the mirror.
  • Use your indicators: ensure you signal your intention to change lane before making the move (don’t be one of those tools that jumps lanes without indicating)

8 – Overtaking (NB, NB, NB!)

This is arguably one of the most important points in this driving in Ireland for tourists guide.

When I’m driving, regardless of whether it’s to the shops or along the Wild Atlantic Way, the most common near-collisions that I see happen when someone makes a mess of overtaking.

Here’s some guidance:

  • Only overtake if it is safe to do so
  • Be particularly careful of features that may obstruct your view of the road ahead, like as hills, dips, bends, bridges or roads narrowing.
  • Pay attention to the road markings (continuous, broken, single, double white lines)
achill island aerial photo

Photo © The Irish Road Trip

How to overtake safely

Please follow the below advice when overtaking:

  • Make sure the road ahead is clear: you need to be sure that you have enough distance to overtake and get back to your own side of the road without forcing any other road user to jam on their breaks or move to avoid you.
  • Never directly follow another overtaking vehicle
  • Check your mirrors before overtaking to ensure that no one behind you has already started to overtake
  • Indicate your intention to overtake in good time, then move out when it’s safe to do so
Healy pass cork

Photo © The Irish Road Trip

When you should avoid overtaking

A lot of the below should be common sense, but that’s often not the case.

Avoid overtaking when:

  • You’re near a pelican crossing, zebra crossing or at pedestrian signals
  • A traffic sign or road marking prohibits it, e.g. a straight white line
  • You’re approaching a junction
  • You’re approaching a corner, bend, dip in the road, hump-back bridge, brow of a hill or on a narrow road (don’t be that dic*head)
  • It will cause danger to another road user

9 – Completing a U-Turn

walking the gap of dunloe

Photo © The Irish Road Trip

Please only do a U-Turn when it’s safe.

A family was tragically killed in Wexford in 2017 while attempting to complete one. If in doubt, just avoid doing it.

Here’s some guidance on doing a U-Turn when driving in Ireland:

  • You must not make a U-turn unless traffic conditions make it completely safe to do so.
  • Check there are no signs or road markings prohibiting a U-turn, for example a continuous centre white line.
  • Check that the road is not one way.
  • Look for a safe place, where you can see clearly in all directions.
  • Give way to all other road users.
  • Check carefully for cyclists and motorcyclists.
  • Do not delay or prevent pedestrians from crossing safely.
  • Make sure there is sufficient room to complete your manoeuvre safely and smoothly.

10 – Driving in Ireland at night

So, driving at night will differ depending on where you are.

In the main cities, roads will, in general, be well lit. Further out, they many not be (this will depend on the county).

connemara co galway

Photo © The Irish Road Trip

What you need to do to drive safely at night:

  • Drive at a speed that allows you to stop within the distance covered by your headlights
  • Keep your headlights adjusted properly. If they’re out of line, they’re 1, less effective and 2, may dazzle oncoming traffic.
  • Maintain a safe speed and drive carefully at all times

11 – Drinking and/or taking drugs and driving

The drink-drive limit in Ireland was recently reduced and is now in line with European levels.

driving in county kerry

Photo © The Irish Road Trip

As of 2018, anyone caught with 50-80 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood will be disqualified from driving for three months and receive a €200 fine.

Leave the car at home or at your hotel and grab a taxi. It’s always worth booking a room near the town/village centre if you want to have a drink!

Taking drugs and driving in Ireland is completely illegal.

12 – Seat/Safety belts

Where safety belts are fitted, you must wear them. The only exceptions are for:

  • People who wear a specially designed belt due to a disability
  • People whose doctors have certified that, on medical grounds, they should not wear a safety belt
Gleniff Horseshoe Drive in Sligo

The Gleniff Horseshoe Drive in Sligo

I’ve mentioned this on this site in many other places aside from this driving in Ireland for tourists guide: when you’re driving a vehicle, don’t use your damn phone.

If you need to stick something into Google Maps, pull over safely and do it while the car is stopped.

You may only use your mobile phone when you are driving if you are phoning 999 or 112, or you are responding to another type of genuine emergency.

skellig drive kerry ireland

Via Google maps

14 – What to do if your vehicle breaks down or if you have a puncture

Hopefully this isn’t something that’ll happen to you, but this guide to driving in Ireland for tourists wouldn’t be complete without mentioning this.

If your car does breakdown or if you get a puncture while driving, move your vehicle safely to the hard shoulder.

Contacting help 

According to the RSA, you should ‘Park as near to the left as you can. If you cannot do this, take steps to warn other drivers such as switching on your hazard warning lights. Where possible always step over and stay behind the crash barrier, ensuring your passengers do the same. Use the roadside phone to contact the Gardaí.

This automatically lets them know your exact location. If you cannot use this phone, use your mobile but be aware they will need information about your location.’

the skellig ring of kerry

Via Google maps

Exiting your vehicle

Never walk on the motorway and ensure that, when you’re exiting your vehicle, that you do so via the left-hand door (make sure your passengers do the same).

According to the RSA, you should ‘Wait for help on the embankment side of the motorway well behind the crash barrier. If, for some reason, you are unable to follow the advice above, you should stay in your vehicle with your safety belt securely fastened and switch on your hazard lights’.

Getting back into traffic

Before you re-join the motorway after a breakdown or puncture, ensure that you build up your speed in the hard shoulder before merging back out into traffic.

15 – Practice before leaving the rental depot

You’ll be able to find some form of space to practice before you take a spin out onto a main road.

Get into your vehicle and ensure that you’re familiar with the different functions, e.g. how to clear the windows in case they steam up.

The is especially crucial if you’re not used to using a manual car. And even more so if you’re not use to driving a car with the wheel on the left hand side.

driving the gap of dunloe

Photo © The Irish Road Trip

16 – Slow down and take your time

The best advice that I can give anyone driving in Ireland for the first time is:

  • Be prepared
  • Slow down
  • Be vigilant

Questions about driving in Ireland?

I’ve left the comments section open.

If you have a question, leave a comment and I’ll help where I can.

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Stan Schuck

Wednesday 23rd of November 2022

Are there age restrictions on driving a rental car despite having a valid license.


Saturday 15th of October 2022

Hi Keith, thanks for the great information! I'll be taking a road trip this November. I'm worried about right of way on smaller roads that aren't one-way. Do you just pull over to let the other driver pass? I'm not sure if I will encounter a lot of roads like this, but I have seen pictures of the roads. The road looks too small to fit more than one car. Thanks, Lisa

Tom Walker

Wednesday 27th of July 2022

Great advice, I rent about 60 cars a year on business here in the US. I never move my car until I understand how to operate the Wipers, Defroster, Lights, Shifter and Mirrors. I like the idea of finding a place to practice driving on the left side of the road prior to departing the agency.

Well done!

Brendan Flood

Monday 18th of July 2022

Hey, Keith. I have something I cannot find any information on is whether it's legal to turn at a red light. In the US, where I am, it is legal to turn right on red in some states but not others. Is the equivalent, turning left on red, legal in Ireland? Is it any different in Northern Ireland? Thanks.

Keith O'Hara

Tuesday 19th of July 2022

Hey Brendan - In Ireland you need to wait for a green light to turn and it's the same in NI. Have a lovely trip!


Thursday 14th of July 2022

Great information Keith. I was wondering if you could suggest a car rental company to use or avoid. I am in Dublin for 4 days l will use city transit for those days. I will then rent a car for nine days. I am interested in renting away from the airport. Get in some practice in less congested traffic first. Thanks again Phillip

Keith O'Hara

Saturday 16th of July 2022

Hey Philip! Ah, I'd love to make a recommendation based on positive personal experience, but I can't. To be completely honest, the only thing I do these days when it comes to car rentals (abroad, as I have a car here) is go off overall price, as reviews online are so hard to go off. I know this is of no use to you, so apologies! I hope the trip is mighty!

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