Why Countries Drive on Different Sides of the Road

Rules regarding which side of the road people should drive on have been in force for quite some time now, with different countries driving on different sides. There have been many cases recorded where certain countries had right-hand traffic, and then changed to left-hand traffic for some reason, and vice versa. Nowadays, most countries in the world have right-hand traffic, and only about 33% of the countries have left-hand traffic. As most people probably know, Great Britain has left-hand traffic, just like most of their former colonies, such as Jamaica, Bermuda, Hong Kong, Australia, South Africa, India and so on. Japan is a left-hand-traffic country, too,even though it was not a British colony, but they decided to do it for different reasons.

There are various theories as to why not all the countries drive on the same side of the road. But, one thing is for sure, there have to be laws that regulate which side of the road people drive on. That way, the risk of head-on collisions is significantly lower, and it’s easier to organize the road infrastructure, as well as position traffic lights and road signs. So, for practical reasons, people can’t drive on whichever side they want to, and some countries have decided to drive on the left side, while others – on the right side of the road. So far, no one has been able to offer a theory on this subject, that would be widely accepted as accurate and well-founded.

It’s a well-known fact that most people are, right-handed. Not just nowadays, but it has been so throughout the ages, as well. That’s why people in the Middle Ages preferred to walk on the left side of the road, so that their right arm can be closer to oncoming people and can pull out their swords and defend themselves easier, since there was a lot of violence those days, and you could’ve been attacked at any time, so you always had to be prepared for a fight.

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A little later, during the 18th century, people started moving on the right side of the road on their horse-drawn carriages. Back then, teamsters used to sit on the left-hand horse, so that they can lash the other horses using their right arms. Since they were sitting on the left-hand horse, they wanted to move on the right side of the road, so that they can make sure they avoid colliding with wagons coming from the opposite direction. This method was adopted by most countries in Europe, as well as by people in North America.

People in Great Britain didn’t accept this change and continued to move on the left side. Britain wanted to keep this method and stay unique, and it was transferred in all of their colonies, as well. Japan is a very interesting exception in this regard, as it has never been ruled by Britain, but has always been a left-hand-traffic country. It’s because the British helped Japan built their railway system, and trains started moving on the left side. Later, cars and other motor vehicles just followed suit and this practice still hasn’t changed.

In any case, countries that have left-hand traffic won’t change those rules, as it would be too expensive and complicated to change people’s habits and the whole road infrastructure.

Author: Jordan Perch – Follow him on Google+.