Why do Different Countries Drive on Different Sides of the Road?
There are a few theories and opinions about this subject. Some of them even contain an element of truth. But the first thing that we should do is get rid of the idea that there is a “right” side of the road (as in correct) and a “wrong” side of the road. There are reasons for driving on both sides of the centerline, good and bad. But one side is not any better than the other.
Of all the countries in the world, three out of every four uses the right-hand side of the road. The others, including the U.K. and many of the countries that were British colonies, require their drivers to use the left-hand side of the road.
For those who feel they must decide if one side is correct and the other is not, there was a time that the left side was correct – if you wanted to stay alive. In societies when horse and foot travel were the only means of land transportation, the world was generally a more dangerous, violent place. People rode or walked on the left-hand side so that they could keep their sword or other weapon available in their right hand. (The vast majority of people were right-handed and still are.)
Some explanations of why the right-hand side of a road was originally used include the idea of mounting a horse. People on horseback could dismount and be on the roadside, with their sword scabbard on the right side as they go on and off the horse. The weapon then stayed out of the way.
In many countries, men who drove wagons sat all the way to the left side of the seat and used their right hand to hold the whip. Much of this traffic moved to the right-hand side of the road so the driver could judge how close to pass to other vehicles. The French tradition of riding and driving on the right-hand side of the road spread to other European countries that still use this method today.
Many people are aware of the difference between the left-hand driving in the U.K. and the right-hand driving in the United States. One of the main factors in this difference was the desire among the U.S. colonists to be different from England. This was one of many signs that they were getting rid the links between the two countries.
Canada, the northern neighbor of the United States, stayed with the left-hand side until the late 1940s but eventually switched to the right-hand completely. Many other countries, including some in Europe, have changed to the right-hand side of the road in the earlier years of the 1900s. These changes were obviously made much easier by the lack of violence and need to carry a weapon in the right hand.
Great Britain continues to use the left-hand side of the road, primarily for financial reasons. Changing the habits of drivers would not only be very expensive to the federal and local governments, but it would also be very dangerous and confusing in a time when there are thousands of motor vehicles on the streets and roads.