Why some people drive on the right, and some on the left | Did You Know?


A few years ago, my friend and I went to Hawaii, and we rented a car to get around. Here’s me on day one, the car still in the parking lot, looking a little terrified at the prospect of driving. Not because I was tired, or because I hate
driving. It was because in Australia, you drive on the left side of the road, whereas in the US, you drive on the right. Most countries in the world — about two-thirds — drive on the right side. Which leaves one third that drives on the left. You might be wondering why people who drive on the left don’t just switch over to the right. The thing is, left-hand side traffic was the worldwide norm for a long time. So how come a split now exists? Well, the reason boils down to two main factors: One, the fact that most people are right-handed. And two, the fact that countries were using different forms of transportation at the time formalised road rules began to emerge. Back in the middle ages — way before cars existed — people mainly travelled around on horseback or by foot. People kept to the left so they could keep their dominant hand closer to the centre of the road. Remember this was a time when people often carried weapons on them — such as swords, knives or daggers — while travelling because of bandits and outlaws. Also, people almost always mount horses from the left side — and it’s safer to mount from the roadside than in the middle of the road. This left-side travelling continued for years across the world until about the time of the French Revolution. There was a big class distinction on the roads of France at the time — the wealthy would drive their carriages on the left and force poorer people to travel to the right. But by the end of the revolution, the aristocracy began travelling on the right to blend in with the lower classes, and France’s roads effectively became right-side travel. So you had France travelling on the right, and places like England travelling on the left. Throughout Britain it was more a matter of custom than widespread regulation until 1835, when parliament passed a law forcing traffic to keep left. In France, the keep-right rule was established more firmly by this guy. As Napoleon conquered countries across Europe, those countries were forced to switched sides. Meanwhile in the US, one particular wagon was a big driving force for keeping to the right. The Conestoga wagon became popular in the late 1700s, as a way to transport heavy goods. These massive wagons could hold thousands of kilograms worth of cargo, and needed teams of horses to pull them along. There was no driver’s seat, so the driver would usually sit on the rear left horse — so they could still hold a whip in their right
hand. Because of this, the wagons travelled on the right, so the driver — sitting on the left — would have more visibility over the rest
of the road. In 1792, Pennsylvania officially passed the first keep-right law in the US, to this turnpike. Twelve years later, New York enforced right-hand travel on all public highways, and it slowly spread across the rest of the US. In time, more and more countries shifted to the right. As they found themselves surrounded by converted land neighbours, it was just easier to follow suit. When the US started putting steering wheels on the left, that became extra incentive to switch. Cars initially had the wheel on the right, following horse-drawn buggies. Ford was the first to put the wheel on the left with the Model T in 1908. Initially, it was just to make disembarking easier. But car manufacturers soon realised it was better — and safer — for the driver to sit more towards the centre of the road. And because the US is such a big car exporting country, this was an extra push for more countries to switch over to the right, so they could use the cars. Obviously not everyone made the switch. British colonies remained on the left, and still do for the most part. And other countries like Japan and Thailand, which were never British colonies but had dealings with the British, have also kept to the left. But most countries switched to the right in the early to mid 20th century. In fact, only three places have switched back from right to left in recent times. In Japan, Okinawa was controlled by the US after WWII and made to drive on the right. It switched back to the left on July 30, 1978, after being returned to Japan 6 years previously. Timor-Leste switched to the left under Indonesian rule in 1975. And Samoa switched over in 2009, so they could import old Australian cars instead of more expensive US cars. The Samoans had a smooth changeover — they got a two-day national holiday to ease traffic, and a three-day ban on alcohol sales to deter accidents. But they had a relatively small population at the time of about 180,000 people. So what would happen in a country with a lot more people — and a lot more that could go wrong? Sweden switched from left to right in 1967. With a population of about 7.8 million people at the time, there was a lot to prepare for H-Day. Road markings had to be repainted, bus stops relocated, intersections and one-way streets redesigned, and about 360,000 street signs changed. At precisely 5am on September 3, Swedes were directed to switch over to the right. The whole process cost 628 million kronor — the equivalent of more than $400 million today. But the country’s road networks and infrastructure a lot more sophisticated now than they were 50 years ago — not to mention there
are a lot more people and cars. A switch nowadays would be a lot harder and cost a lot more. It’s the main reason why we won’t see another country switching sides any time soon — it would be a huge logistical exercise that would cost a lot more than people are willing to spend for something that isn’t needed. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. In the end, it only took a day or two for
us to be comfortable driving on the other side of the road — and it’s probably what
travellers will have to keep doing. You may have noticed that most left-side driving countries are actually islands, which helps justify not switching over. For the few that do share borders with right-side driving countries, most of the time it’s a non-issue – you’d have to go through customs first, so you’d go through border security on one side and exit out the other. But for a few countries, they’ve come up with some inventive solutions.

100 comments

You talk about British colonies and left driving what about Canada why do we drive on the right it annoys me how much more influence by the American then the British

This is wrong. The only reason countries drove on the left is because of the great British colonies. The greatest country in the world. 👌

as a person coming from mainland europe, spending few months here in australia and driving some time here, i can say driving on right side of the road makes much more sense and its more practical than driving on left… and plus for me personally is totally still weird to drive on the left…

Left hand drive – steering on the left, car on the right side of the road | Right hand drive – steering on the right, car on the left side of the road

It's down to the Romans – right hand dominant so if you and another cart/chariot pass you're going to whip the other driver, not an innocent pedestrian

Interesting video but you really should just keep your eyes on the road, recording a YouTube video is not worth dying for.

In the UK we drive on the left. In Lithuania we drive on the right. My dad got used to driving on the left. We went to Lithuania last year and almost died. He drove into a wall.
Hope that won't happen this year. 😀

Ive never driven on the left side would be the same crazy, would be really weird on the left side of the road. You always see a few left hand drive cars around here in Canada. But driving a left hand vehicle on a right side road, Is even worse. Would be like driving a right hand car there in Australia, not to good at lights and making turns cant see crap

I'm from France, and like in the whole Europe (except islands) and the most of the world, I drive right 😀

As a driver of stick in the US, it would take some time to get natural as shifting with my left hand. Otherwise it's not a big deal to me.

Driving on the left started in the UK. They didi because they butthurted at Napoleon teaching them which side to drive.

Why is Uganda flag not here? Here we can drive on either. YOU are RIght to drive on the LEFT by LAW. But if you drive on the right, then of course, you are driving on the right.

I tried driving on the right hand side, but I found it dangerous, mainly because I live in Britain

So Not Only Did France Create Gay, They Created Driving On The Right Side. I'm Only Unhappy With One Of These, Guess.

I heard the reason that Americans drive the way they do, has something to do with the covered wagon trails when they traveled cross country. I'm not sure why, but that's what I heard.

Funny fact is that the two safest City's in the world for roads plus road safety are Tokyo and Sydney. Other governments transport minister's visit these two cities for a better prospective.

Well, at least we Malaysians and Australians drive at the same side on the road, that I couldn't help but to thank the British influence for that! 😀

In the UK we drive on the left and the right is for overtaking. When travelling to other EU countries I get really confused crossing the roads and even getting a ride

The united kingdom it's the opposite of the rest of the world,
U say white, they say black
U say €, they say £
U say right, they say left
Always the opposite

I am from Australia and left is the natural and more logical side of the road. Right eye (dominant eye) onto on coming traffic 👍. Safer.

I always heard that France passed a law that autos must drive on the right so Britain, want to do everything anti-French, passed a law that said there, autos had to drive on the left.

It would be convenient if we could universalize this across the world. In the Americas I could see it being worth the investment helping Guyana to make the switch. Getting the entire Western Hemisphere on the same system would be nice.

In old England it is said we rode on the left to keep our right hand free for sword / dagger etc, but also, it is a fact that in the 12th century, there was only one bridge across the Thames in London that also had houses, inns and a defensive gate built on and was like a small town. Due to this, traffic was all over the place and very congested and it could take an hour just to cross as so many people used it, so the authorities brought a rule in where everyone had to keep to the left to help ease the flow, which worked and the rule stuck with us to this day….keep to the left.

some commonwealth countries would have driven on the left anyway as most Hindus & Buddhists have to go round temples to the left & a lot of temples are on traffic ilands. it also more natural because the sun & clock hands go round to the left as well

driving on the left is inherentlyvafer than driving on the right due to the way the Mark One Human Brain is wired up if presented with a life threatening situation the human Brain is wired up to flinch to the left If you are driving on the left and you flinch to the left you will end up in a field! if you are driving on the right and flinch to the left you wil lhit on comingtraffic!

The map is incorrect, I noticed 1 country which drives on the left but is said to drive on the right. Idk if there are any others.

I thought driving on the left was so you could attack and oncommer with you sword? And france changed to the right as they were scared of getting their ribs broken when jousting. Being left handed is just wrong.

And yet most motorbike side stands are on the left & kickstart on the right , indicating they should be mounted from the left. Therefore should be ridden on the left side….unless its a european brand like huskvana

It makes more sense to drive on the left in Europe, as people in Europe drive properly (manual) and the majority of people are right hand dominant, keeping the right hand in control of the direction of the car whilst the other works the gears makes sense.

Yes, almost every Country started out driving on the Left side of the road. Wars , Revolutions & Independence led many Governments of the day to defy previous rulers & drive differently. The USA & France are good examples of switching.

Driving on the left is the original way to do it.

The Romans gave the world roads, and drove on the left. You want to say they were doing it wrong?

…Mystery Solved…
This is the most in-depth analysis in answering this question which had puzzled me for decades.
Thank you for all the research and work in putting this together and posting it.

Nobody:

Australians when somebody drives on right hand side: WHY ARE THESE ARSEHOLES DRIVING ON THE WRONG SIDE OF THE ROADD?

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