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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."

Ancient Rome

Bryn Walters determined Romans drove on the left.
Walters found a track into the old Roman quarry at Blunsdon Ridge.
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.

Middle Ages

Seven hundred 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.


This custom 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 left.
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.

U.S. France

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.


In small-is-beautiful 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.

North America

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.


In France, 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.

Europe- Russia

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 War.


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.


The English 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."


When inventors 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.


Russia switched to driving on the right in the last days of the Tsars.


Portugal changed to the right in the 1920s.

Austro-Hungarian Empire

The break up of the Austro-Hungarian Empire caused no change; Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia and Hungary continued to drive on the left.
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 left.


In 1924, Japan passed a left-side driving law.

Austria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, After 1938-9

Nonetheless, 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.


During U.S. occupation, Okinawa, Japan drove on the right side. Okinawa changed back to left side when it was returned to Japan.


China changed to the right in 1946.


Korea 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.


Pakistan 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.


"Since 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.

New York Pedestrians

The discussion 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 foes.”


The current 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.

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