Drive on Which side of the Road? Perplexed!!
Do you know that your brain is divided into
two parts: Right and Left? In Right brain, nothing is left, and
in left brain, nothing is right. Jokes apart, and rather
Unfortunately, Road Safety isn’t
such a petty matter that we can afford to smile every once and
then. Have you ever given thought, why United States drives to
the right and United Kingdom drives to the left? Why Germany to
the right and Jamaica to the left? The article herewith lists the
reasons behind the selection of the side to which the traffic belongs
in their country.
It also chronologically lists the countries ordered by which lane
of the road they adhere to while driving, Right or Left?
It was Australian
historian M. G. Lay, who traced the first regulation of one-side-or-the-other
to the Chinese bureaucracy of 1100 B.C. According to the Book
of Rites, it was stated: "The right side of the
road is for men, the left side for women and the center for
carriages." This Western Zhou dynasty rule applied
only to the dynasty's wide official roads and was "more
concerned with protocol than avoiding head-on collisions."
determined Romans drove on the left.
Walters found a track into the old Roman quarry at Blunsdon
The track was only used for bringing stone from the quarry
to a major Roman temple being built on the nearby ridge (near
Swindon in England), and then fell out of use, so it is very
well preserved. And since the carts went in empty and came
out laden with stone, the ruts on one side of the
road are much deeper than they are on the other.
The conclusion: Romans drove on the left.
years ago, everybody used the English system.
In the Middle Ages you kept to the left for
the simple reason that you never knew who you'd meet on the
road in those days; you wanted to make sure that a stranger
passed on the right so you could go for your sword in case
he proved unfriendly.
was given official sanction in 1300 A.D., when Pope
Boniface VIII invented the modern science of traffic
control by declaring that pilgrims headed to Rome should keep
Travel Library disputes this, saying that Kincaid found no
records of this decree. Instead, he found evidence that in
1300, Pope Boniface VIII ordered pilgrims on the Bridge of
St. Angelo en route to and from St. Peter's Basilica to keep
to the right.
The papal system
prevailed until the late 1700s, when teamsters in the United
States and France began hauling farm products in
big wagons pulled by several pairs of horses. These wagons
had no driver's seat; instead the driver sat on the left rear
horse, so he could keep his right arm free to lash the team.
Since you were sitting on the left, naturally you wanted everybody
to pass on the left so you could look down and make sure you
kept clear of the other guy's wheels.
England, though, they didn't use monster
wagons that required the driver to ride a horse; instead the
guy sat on a seat mounted on the wagon. What's more, he usually
sat on the right side of the seat so the whip wouldn't hang
up on the load behind him when he flogged the horses. So the
English continued to drive on the left... Keeping left first
entered English law in 1756, with the enactment of an ordinance
governing traffic on the London Bridge, and ultimately became
the rule throughout the British Empire.
It extended the rule in 1772 to towns in Scotland.
The penalty for disobeying the law was 20 shillings (£1).
According to Amphicars, the UK Government introduced the General
Highways Act of 1773, containing a keep left recommendation
to regulate horse traffic. This became law as part of the
Highways Bill in 1835.
The first known
keep-right law in the United States was enacted
in Pennsylvania in 1792, and in the ensuing years many states
and Canadian provinces followed suit. In 1792, Pennsylvania
adopted legislation to establish a turnpike from Lancaster
to Philadelphia. The charter legislation provided that travel
would be on the right hand side of the turnpike. New York,
in 1804, became the first State to prescribe right hand travel
on all public highways. By the Civil War, right hand travel
was followed in every State. Drivers tended to sit on the
right so they could ensure their buggy, wagon, or other vehicle
didn't run into a roadside ditch.
before the revolution the aristocracy traveled quickly on
the left, forcing the peasantry over to the right. After the
revolution aristocrats joined the peasants on the right. A
keep right rule was introduced in Paris in 1794. Later Napoleon
enforced the keep-right rule in all countries occupied by
his armies, and the custom endured long after the empire was
destroyed. The revolutionary wars and Napoleon's subsequent
conquests spread the new rights to the Low Countries, Switzerland,
Germany, Italy, Poland and Spain.
The states that
had resisted Napoleon kept broadly left - Britain,
the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Russia and Portugal.
Of these independent states, only Denmark
converted to driving on the right (in 1793). This European
division, between the left- and right-hand nations remained
fixed for more than 100 years, until after the First World
The trend among
nations over the years has been toward driving on the right,
but Britain has done its best to stave off global homogenization.
Its former colony India remains a hotbed
of leftist sentiment, as does Indonesia,
which was occupied by the British in the early nineteenth
century. Then the Dutch influenced Indonesia to go left before
the British. Thanks to the Brits, Australasia and
Africa also go left, with the exception of Egypt.
Egypt had been conquered by Napoleon before becoming a British
dependency, and its traffic goes to the right.
minister to Japan achieved the coup of his
career in 1839 when he persuaded his hosts to make keep-left
the law in the future home of Toyota and Mitsubishi. Sir Rutherford
Alcock, who was Queen Victoria's man in the Japanese court,
persuaded them to adopt the keep left rule."
began building "automobiles" in the 1890's, they
thought of them as motorized wagons. As a result, many early
cars had the steering mechanism-a rudder (or tiller), not
a wheel-in the center position where the side of the road
didn't make any difference. Lay points out that technical
innovation created the configuration we are familiar with
in the United States:
"However, with the introduction of the steering wheel
in 1898, a central location was no longer technically possible.
Car makers usually copied existing practice and placed the
driver on the curbside. Thus, most American cars produced
before 1910 were made with right-side driver seating, although
intended for right-side driving. Such vehicles remained in
common use until 1915, and the 1908 Model T was the first
of Ford's cars to feature a left-side driving position."
By 1915, the Model T had become so popular that the rest of
the automakers followed Ford's lead.
switched to driving on the right in the last days of the Tsars.
to the right in the 1920s.
The break up
of the Austro-Hungarian Empire caused no change; Czechoslovakia,
Yugoslavia and Hungary continued to drive on the
Austria itself was something of a curiosity.
Half the country drove on the left and half on the right.
The dividing line was precisely the area affected by Napoleon's
conquests in 1805. Napoleon gave the Tyrol, the Western province
of Austria, to Bavaria. It continued to keep
to the right, although the bulk of Austrians drove on the
In 1924, Japan
passed a left-side driving law.
Hungary, After 1938-9
the power of the right has been growing steadily. When Germany
annexed Austria in 1938, it brutally suppressed
the latter's keep-left rights, and much the same happened
in Czechoslovakia in 1939.
On 12 March 1938 Hitler invaded Austria,
and the next day proclaimed Anschluss, the absorption of Austria
into Germany. He ordered that the traffic should change from
the left to the right side of the road, overnight. The change
threw the driving public into turmoil, because motorists were
unable to see most road signs. In Vienna it proved impossible
to change the trams overnight, so while all other traffic
took to the right hand side of the road, the trams continued
to run on the left for several weeks. Czechoslovakia
and Hungary, the last two states on the mainland
of Europe to keep left, changed to the right after being invaded
by Germany in 1939.
occupation, Okinawa, Japan drove on the right side. Okinawa
changed back to left side when it was returned to Japan.
changed to the right in 1946.
now drives right, but only because it passed directly from
Japanese colonial rule to American (and Russian) influence
at the end of the Second World War.
also considered changing to the right in the 1960's. The main
argument against the shift was that camel trains often drove
through the night while their drivers dozed. The difficulty
in teaching old camels new tricks was decisive in forcing
Pakistan to reject the change.
1 December 1922 there had been a problem for automobile drivers
who crossed the border between Nova Scotia and New
Brunswick - on that date New Brunswick had switched
to driving on the right-hand side of the road, while Nova
Scotia remained with the left-side rule. For four
and a half months, drivers crossing the border in both directions
had to remember to change to the other side of the road, and
even with the relatively low traffic levels of that day there
were some near- misses resulting from this conflict."
The switch had an interesting effect on the beef industry:
"In Lunenburg County, 1923 is still known as The
Year of Free Beef; the price of beef dropped precipitously
because oxen which had been trained to keep to the left could
not be retrained — oxen are notoriously slow-witted
— and many teamsters had to replace their oxen with
new ones trained to keep to the right; the displaced oxen
were sent to slaughter."
The last holdouts
in mainland Europe, the Swedes, finally switched
to the right in 1967 because most of the countries they sold
Saabs and Volvos to were rightist and they got tired of having
to make different versions for domestic use and export. Acc.
To Travel Library, Swedish government felt increasing pressure
to change sides to conform to the rest of Europe. Anders Hanquist
writes, "The problem with left-hand driving in Sweden
was, of course, that all our neighbors already drove on the
right side. There are a lot of small roads, without border
guards, leading into Norway so you had to remember in which
country you were. Another curiosity was that most of the cars
running in Sweden were built for right-hand driving. That
means that the steering wheel was on the left side. Even cars
imported from Britain were built that way.' Perhaps not causal,
but along with the road change, Sweden began large scale road
safety work. For example, instead of unrestricted highways,
speed limits were imposed.
thread at MG Cars Enthusiasts stated "There is also an
old tradition where the gentleman walks on the kerbside of
the lady, whilst this is pretty much defunct these days, it's
origins date back to these times where a gentleman was supposed
to be chivalrous and protect his lady. And here we are back
at the beginning again, with a gentleman walking on the left,
his lady to his left and his sword arm presented to any oncoming
battleground is the island of Timor. The
Indonesians, who own west Timor, have been whiling away the
hours exterminating the native culture of the east Timorese.
The issue? Some say it's religion, some say it's language,
but I know the truth: in east Timor as well as in west Timor
they drive on the left.