Changing Planet

The Right (and Left) Stuff: Why Countries Drive on Different Sides of the Road

No matter how many times you go to a country like England or Japan, it’s still a little shock to get off a plane and see people driving on the left side of the road. That is, if you’re from the roughly 75 percent of countries that drive on the right side of the road. Wrong in this case is relative, depending on where you’re from.

There are a lot of differences in how individual countries do things, of course. The metric system might be the biggest—the United States is largely on its own in measuring with feet and inches. Currencies and exchange rates are certainly country-specific as well, not to mention languages and customs. But all of those things go back hundreds of years. Automobiles arrived in the 20th century. Why couldn’t the world standardize one system for driving?

Drive on Left Change Reaction

It’s harder than you might think. Despite the modern invention of the car, the side of the road on which we drive has a centuries-old history. The fact that most people are right-handed is the biggest factor contributing to which side of the road people initially chose. Ancient Romans drove chariots with the reins in their dominant right hands to allow them to whip a horse with their left. That way there was little risk of accidentally whipping a passing chariot. But if a warrior needed to do battle from a horse, he could attack a passing opponent on the right with his stronger hand.

For centuries, driving on a certain side of the road was mostly just a custom. There weren’t that many travelers and roads weren’t paved or marked to direct traffic, so it didn’t matter too much. But as more people started driving, some uniformity was needed. One of the biggest influencers of driving direction was Henry Ford, who designed his Model T with the driver on the left. That decision meant cars would have to drive on the road’s right, so that passengers in both the front and back seat could exit the car onto the curb.

Many countries eventually followed. Canada, Italy, and Spain changed to right-side driving in the 1920s. Most of Eastern Europe changed in the ’30s. Scandinavia waited until the 1960s, but its countries eventually changed to the right, too. Things got interesting in colonial countries, especially in Africa. France had long been a right-side country and Britain a left-side country, so their colonies usually followed suit. But when they became independent, many sought to normalize with their neighbors to make things easier. Today, most African countries drive on the right.

Driving on the left means sitting on the right. Photo by Spencer Millsap / NGM Staff
Driving on the left means sitting on the right. Photo by Spencer Millsap / NGM Staff

So why do close to 50 countries still drive on the left? The short answer might be stubbornness, which—we should be fair here—is part of the same reason the U.S. still sticks to measuring in inches and feet. But the more nuanced reason is momentum. Cities like London were designed to accommodate left handed driving, so switching would be no simple tweak. Changing the rules of the road is a very complex and expensive thing to do. And the more time that goes by, more cars on the road makes it even harder.

It’s certainly not a debilitating difference to foreign drivers. After a few minutes, your mind tends to adapt. But the most fascinating places to see the confusion might be at border crossings, where drivers are required to immediately change sides. British drivers who take their cars under the English Channel need to swap when they arrive in France. The same is true when crossing borders between China and Pakistan, as well as China and Hong Kong. Where possible, that seems like  a good enough reason to cross a border on foot.

  • Phil Simpson

    In centuries past people would alway pass each other keeping their sword hands nearest the oncoming strangers. It became common practice everywhere to pass on the left or you could end up dead. Countries don’t come more traditional than Japan or the UK so they never changed along with a few others… passing to the right is definitely a newer way of thinking.

  • Fred Hopkins

    Having come from the UK, I will put another reason for the driver sitting on the left. It is easier to change gear for a right handed person.
    Another side point – why do you mount a horse on it’s left side?
    Because your sword is on your left and it gets in the way when mounting on the right.

  • Justin

    I believe that Mr. Henry Ford introduced having the driver sit on the left side to help curtail driving a car with a gun and shooting.

  • D. J. Hawkins

    If my own experience is any guide, you can spot the American on the road in Ireland or Britain rather easily; when he wants to make a turn, the windshield wipers come on!

  • Richard Nyarko

    We drive now on the right in my country. I believe those who facilitated the change did the right thing for it would have been odd for those of us who are taxi drivers to collect the fares with our left hands. Using the left hand to give or collect an item is traditionally forbidden.

  • Minky Dave the Giant

    The border between China and Pakistan? Bloody hell, did I miss something on the news?!

  • Pandy Legend

    @Minky Dave
    I think you missed something in geography class

  • Damien Sanders

    Cars cross the English channel either by ferry or train, no one drives under it, so the switching of sides on the road implied by the article never happens. The French adopted driving on the right during their first Revolution, quite possibly because it was the opposite to what the English did. Interesting that Ford was trying to minimise idiots firing guns from their cars. The civilised world uses gun controls.

  • Jonathan Davids

    “So why do close to 50 countries still drive on the left? The short answer might be stubbornness”…is it really stubbornness to throw away a standard that worked well for centuries even before cars were around to adopt a US standard? Would it be similar stubbornness not to adopt the spelling “color” instead of “colour”? Or is it stubbornness not to stick with an existing established standard?

    Unfortunate to see the subjectivity enter into this article which shows a somewhat subjective point of view and aimed at a US audience – ‘my way is the right way’ type of view, which unfortunately doesn’t help with building positive opinions of Americans.

    On the subject at hand, I don’t care either way, as long as people learn to drive properly, if you can and you have a brain then you can make the switch quickly to driving either side. What I think is more difficult is knowing the differences in road laws between countries and in some nations between territories or states. I agree though it would be simpler to all if everything was the same everywhere…but it doesn’t mean it has to be…variation can be nice and makes the world a more interesting place.

  • Krishnakumar K A

    Actually controlling the steering with right hand and changing the gear shift with left hand is easier and safer. I read in a research report that accidents are lesser in countries where in vehicles steering is on right side. Because majority of people in world are right handers, hence keeping steering in right side is logically right. Remember Henry Ford and Napoleon are left handers, both of them implemented right side traffic (left side steering). Many countries follow USA not only in driving but also in lifestyle, its nothing but due to enslaved mentality towards USA as its one of the world power. If you remember, till 2000 mid USA had been acting as “world police” and “god father” to many countries. So many powerless countries followed them. That increased the number of left steering countries.

  • Postal Vehicles

    I think you said it right when you mentioned momentum. Many countries were designed around a left side traffic system and the switch may cause more grief than relief.

    Some countries have both left and right hand drive vehicles mixed into a single traffic system.

  • Barbara Dunfee

    A bit more complex than that, but Mr. Simpson has the beginnings of it.

  • Krishnakumar K A

    You are so obsessed with your left hand steering cars. I want to why left hand steering cars are not made with left leg break and accelerator?

  • tony

    Around the time of reconstruction in Paris at the time when the Arc De Triumph and surrounding streets were built, to keep order, it was decided to drive on the right. The Brits thought this was a great idea but, so as not to be seen as copycats, decided to drive on the left.

  • Keith Ray

    The comment ‘so why do 60 countries still drive on the left seems to imply that driving on the right is the correct and natural thing to do, What pompous arrogance! Just because the US drives on the wrong side of the road doesn’t mean it is correct! Why does the US still drive on the right??

  • John J Duffy

    What a complete load of rubbish. The English drive on the correct, left side of the road and the Americans drive on the incorrect, right side of the road.

    Until 1789 all of the world drove on the left because the vast majority of people are right handed which meant you could pass weapon hand to weapon hand. Even primitive tribes passed each other on jungle paths walking on the left.

    The French changed because, pre-revolution, the aristocracy drove on the left and the peasants were forced over to the right. When the revolution came, so as not to be seen as aristocracy, the aristocracts joined the peasants on the right. Napoleon’s conquest of half of Europe introduced much of the driving on the left because it was part of the Napoleonic Code.

    Almost half of Europe still drove on the left until WW2 and Sweden and Iceland only changed in the 1960s. Most of the old British Empire drives on the left. Contrary to what is said above, fewer than half the African countries which used to drive on the left switched to the right and one, Namibia, switched to driving on the left. Japan drives on the left because Herbert Austin, a pre-war major British car manufacturer set up the Japanese car industry. (To this day, Nissan build a Nissan Cedric, named after Herbert Austin’s son).

    Until 1792 all of America drove on the left. Then the Lancaster to Philadelphia Turnpike introduced a rule to drive on the right because ox carts were driven from the left hand side and, by passing left hand to left hand they were able to do so safely. Gradually, all states followed suit. Also contrary to what is said above, Ford built it’s first left hand drive vehicle in 1908, up until then they had all been right hand drive. Cadillac didn’t change until 1916.

    Interestingly, accident statistics are higher in left hand drive countries than in right hand drive countries and when Sweden and Iceland switched, after an initial drop due to people driving more cautiously, the accident rate rose quite noticeably. The reason behind this is right eye dominance along with right dexterity. Not as many many people are right eye dominant (about two thirds) compared with being right handed but it is enough to make a significant difference when observing oncoming traffic.

    Not only is driving on the left historically correct but it is also safer. Interestingly, if there hadn’t been a French revolution then, maybe, the U.S. would be the only country in the world driving on the right (but then, if there hadn’t been a French revolution then, without French help, America would not have won the War of Independence and would be driving on the left anyway).

  • Michael Nesbitt

    Folk should work on their reading comprehension before dismissing what others post. Yes, the author does appear to have an Ameri-centric opinion, but what he writes is not incorrect; readers are simply molding the details to their own understandings.
    I was searching for information on a list of countries that drive on the left, and found this article. Thanks, NG, for a bit of background.

  • Michael Nesbitt
  • Michael Nesbitt
  • James

    I can handle driving on the left, but driving with the steering wheel on the right side….that would be difficult for me I would think.

  • rob

    As pointed out, the commonality throughout history was to walk on the left, this was because ones sword was kept on the left hand side (as most people are right handed), if you walked on the right, you risked firstly accidentally clashing swords and starting something, you also were at a disadvantage in drawing your sword and fight should you need to, therefore to stop accidental quarrels and give you a chance at protecting yourself, people walked on the left, capable of quickly and efficiently drawing and striking their weapon.
    When Napoleon, who was left handed, was ruling France and conquering countries, in order to give himself the advantages just listed, he made his army march on the right, this gave him an advantage as a left hander.
    The Americans went to the right, partly as a snub to their former British rulers
    Contrary to the article suggesting that the left side is wrong, it is more likely that driving on the right is the more dangerous activity, as most people in the world have a stronger right hand, it is safer when changing gears and reversing (where people place their arm over the passenger seat and look back), that left hand side drivers keep their more dominant right hand on the wheel, for control purposes.

  • charles

    Driving on the left is wrong side,most machine are operated from the right side,it is only because the English wanted to be different,,, and please the crap about swords and all the other stupid things,,,,we don’t use swords today,,,, the,English are a bunch of snobs,,,,,, they are so up them selfs,,,,,

  • Milad

    @Charles do you think racism is a clever way of making your point?

  • pasha mohammed

    i would like to know why left driving and when its started and why right driving when its started what difference in left and right please let me know thanks………….

  • Andy

    I think we should all drive on the same side weather it be on the left or the right personally I don’t care what side but believe it would be safer and Easyier if it was uniformed world wide.

  • Jason

    Driving on the left is correct, this is due to our right side being dominant and countries that drive on the left have lower accident rates.

  • Ashique Reza

    I think, sitting on the right hand side of a car is logically perfect.

  • Tanaya

    Driving with the steering wheel on the right is fascinating to me. I would love to learn to drive that way. I love the diversity of the world. I read all of the comments and i am upset people from other countries call America stuck up. I dont undersand what being stuck up has to do with our steering wheel being on the left. ? ? ?

  • Noel Ells

    Well there is still a lot of ill-informed nonsense out there. John J Duffy makes some interesting points but has still got it confused. There is no evidence that America has a uniform rule before the Revolution, which was 1776-83, six years before the French Revolution. The idea that the French aristocrats kept to the left and “pushed the lower classes to the right” only makes sense if they are going the same way. There is also no record that Napoleon was left-handed, however it does appear that driving on the right spread across Europe to the countries he controlled. But even this is incomplete with exceptions like Italy which did not complete the change until Mussolini.
    There is no evidence that the British influenced Japan. Japan seems to have been influenced by the Samuri sword wielding class, but the keep left rule was not nation-wide in Japan until 1925.

  • Valeriya

    I’ve read that historically lots of roads were used not only for the army and people caring swords but for peasants who carried heavy bags and stuff. Of course since most of the people are right-handed they carried the stuff on the right side. Therefore it was naturally that when they met someone on the road they would step on the right side to let a person pass (who also might carry something). So right-side was kind of a natural choice for peaceful people.

  • Tim

    The neutral thing to say is the “correct” side to drive is the one you’re used to and I actually agree with that.
    Being a Brit and used to driving on the left, I was very nervous about the first time I drove in the US, particularly as I was in Las vegas and collecting the rental car from the Bellagio – meaning my very first experience of driving on the opposite side of the road was going down The Strip. In the end, despite a tendency to let drift to the right (subconciously trying to position myself to the right of the lane, where I would usually sit) and sometimes my left hand would reach out for an imaginary gearstick (despite being in an automatic), I found it was no easier or no harder driving on the left.
    The big difference is the driving attitudes. Being a tourist, I constantly found myself in the wrong lane. No problem, just signal and you’ll be let across, in the UK it’s, at best, 50/50 if that would happen. Also local driving rules (turning right on red etc) can be troublesome but otherwise, I had no problems.

  • linda simmons

    No wonder there are wars when people argue about such trivial things as the side of the road we drive on. Diversity is what makes humankind develop and progress and not stagnate.

  • Christi

    Personally I do not drive. But I am a passenger. And it seems as though having the drivers side on the left seems to be the right way to go. Since the majority of people are right handed you don’t really need to have your right hand near the window, you need it near the things you can access, like the brakes, the middle section of the nobs in the stereo, fan, defrost and also near to the passenger. This is just my opinion, I am right handed and I do not drive, but being a passenger my whole life I do notice and observe the drivers more than the drivers them selves. Again just my opinion.

  • Asim

    @Christi: If you want to see it in that perspective. If you want to access the controls and other things on the consol you should be using left hand not right. Because its steering wheel that needs the strong hand not the controls. You should have greater control on car.

  • C J Coker

    I think there is a great deal of unwarranted animosity being displayed here… especially from the UK “correct, left side..incorrect, right side” bunch. There is not one person on here that was around when their country made the decision to drive on whichever side of the road, OR, which side the steering wheel would be placed on!! The side you grew up around and learned with IS the correct side TO YOU!! So this ridiculous hostility towards ..well, the US, mostly,…is just about as stupid as arguing over how we speak the English language! That you feel the need to show your butts and try to act superior in any way whatsoever tells me more about your mental state than differences in driving standards. Whatever the reasons were… we didn’t have anything to do with it! And changing it now would be a catastrophe! So climb down from your imaginary ivory tower and get a life! And for the record.. I don’t have any trouble steering with my left hand even though I’m right handed! There are a lot of reasons for traffic accidents, especially nowadays with all the distractions, but I highly doubt that has ANYTHING to do with it! It feels just as natural to us as the way you drive feels to you… BECAUSE WE HAVE ALWAYS DONE IT THAT WAY! Left/Right…neither is correct or incorrect! And to John J Duffy… get a grip! America won! It’s over and in the history books! What’s your problem?! “If it wasn’t for the French… blah blah blah…” And if it wasn’t for the US a lot of people would be speaking German too…but what’s your point? I think the point is you have issues you need to work on!

  • C J Coker

    Oh..and guns had nothing to do with anything! That’s just plain stupid! And one more thing…the border between China and Pakistan?!?!?!? WTH?! This is National Geographic!!

  • Mr J

    Left or right? It doesn’t bother me which side of the road we drive on in the UK. We can switch for all I care so long as the astronomical cost of doing so isn’t passed on to me the taxpayer. Maybe those of you calling for Britain to switch to the right would like to bankroll the entire operation for us? Rebuilding roads, moving road signs, reprogramming lights, repainting road markings so long as you have it all done in the blink of an eye so that we don’t have to shut down the entire road network. Then when you have done that you can re-educate the elderly and others that would be confounded by such a change and buy all of our now worthless RHD cars off us and replace them with LHD equivalents.

    …or maybe the above reasons is why it hasn’t been done already?

  • Terence W

    Interesting article and more interesting comments. I found John Duffy to be more interesting (and accurate) than the original article.

    I also felt it pompous to suggest that the UK ‘still’ driving on the left was somehow a problem. We have no interest in changing. Also anyone who thinks it’s just the UK driving on the right is not very intelligent (or American). Approx 35% of the world’s countries drive on the left.

    Right and wrong is subjective. But don’t imply that whichever you drive on is correct, because it just makes you look stupid.

  • Dave Selby

    Most people are right handed. You use your right hand to make small, controlled and precise movements, like writing, drawing and pointing things (vehicles) in the right direction. Ford (Henry) was a dictatorial and stubborn man, who disliked the UK, along with much of continental Europe, who we still don’t see eye to eye with on many things. Countries, like sheep, don’t always follow the natural way, they do as they are told, or adapt to what they are given.
    Use your right hand to steer because its right.

  • Asif

    Can anybody provide a list of countries that drive on left and right Side of the road plzzzzz

  • Ravibdraa

    It’s always easy to drive on the left side of roads
    For example. If you you are on bicycle or motorcycle you feel more comfortable while taking a left turn but if you take right turn you don’t feel so!!! Changing gears of a car by right hand isn’t that easy!!!
    It’s my own experience!!!

  • Humberto Juarez

    It really doesn’t matter. It just takes a little bit of time to learn to look to the opposite side you’re used to before crossing the street. But, no one and I mean NO ONE has better taxi cabs than the Brits. Hats off to you!

  • Gabriel Lipworth

    Personally, I don’t care! I am used to the left side because that’s where we drive in the UK but I don’t have a problem with switching to the right when I visit France or the US. I don’t see why everyone makes such a big deal about it. Also, I don’t think it’s a good idea to change because think about the cost and disruption it could cause! Just leave it the way it is and that’s fine!

  • Taiki

    I like driving on life side because I m used to it. I just feel like driving right is a form of Americanisation like feets and pounds. We stay as km and kg. it’s fine like how it is and driving right in other country can be challenging but I find it’s exotic. Like our similar neighbour like Korea or Taiwan, I feel like oh I’m in other country by looking at signs and seeing drivers on right side. So, I think it’s nice, maybe the Japanese car industry grew because we drove left. The Americans and European car companies didn’t bother changing the side for Japanese consumers, and Japan has no choice but buying Japanese cars after the ww2 till 80s.

  • A. Sanxto

    Interesting. My philosophy class brought me here. I’d like more information.

  • Leon Wulf

    I might be wrong but most two seat flight decks have the pilot on the left hand side (and co-pilot on the right. An exception to this is a helicopter pilot which is typically on the right, again, unless I am mistaken.

    I wonder if it has anything to do with the way we mount a horse from the left which accordingly goes back thousands of years. By extension, I think most carriages have a single driver’s seat centrally located (I am referring to a Coach and cabriolets). Traditionally, if I recall correctly, most drivers of such typically board from the left. I am thinking of horse drawn carriages that went through parks that I used to see more as a kid.

    I also remember once my father tried to mount a horse from the right or “off-side” of the horse, and the horse promptly stepped on his foot.
    Most motorcyclists likewise mount from the left.

    Could such traditions also have an affect on why we think a driver should be located on the left? The driver “mounting” a car from the left hand side and not the “off side”? The sides of the road used following suit.

    I’m more posing a question than offering proof of one or the other.

  • Ryan J

    I’ve been reading some comments here at it appears that people think it was an error when the author stated that there was a border between Pakistan and China. China is a big country, and though the coastal cities in the east are the most famous, China goes really far west in to the rest of the continent. Keep in mind that China annexed Tibet. Look on a map, find Pakistan, and look to the northeast of it. Yup, Pakistan and China have a border with each other. It was not a mistake. I had to look it up to make sure myself, and they totally do. A lot of that part isn’t completely controlled by Pakistan because Pakistan has been quarreling with India over it, but there is still enough there for Pakistan and China to have an official border.

  • Keith Pearson

    I been driving 40 years in UK and abroad with cross mix of foreign Left Hand Drive cars here and UK Right Hand Drive on continent. If I am aboard in Right Hand Drive car I have a big sticker on my dashboard to always remind me to drive on the right.
    But my contradictory main point here is I actually like / prefer to drive a small Left Hand Drive car in the UK on the left. I do like changing gear or applying the hand brake with my right hand even though I never did it till 10 years after learning to drive. This to me just feels “right” . I also like to get out of the car straight onto the pavement / sidewalk. I think a person with certain disabilities would find this a boon. Overall your driving style can accommodate any minor seating difference (left or right) within the vehicle.
    I have also played the classic joke here with a UK based LHD car and mounted a dummy steering wheel on the right hand passenger side and driven round with a large dog sat next to me – just to wind people up to give impression that the dog is driving the car!

  • Ron Williams

    This article is poorly written. I’m surprised to see such a standard from NatGeo.
    This article should avoid using “right” and “wrong” and “correct” and “incorrect” when describing left vs right.
    The article also compares metric vs imperial as being the same as left vs right. What’s 10×2? What’s 3/8ths x 2? One of these is trivial, one is not. Left/right is arbitrary (unless you take the anecdote that mounting a horse from the right means your foot will be trodden on!!)
    I’ve studied prejudice a lot. It’s pervasive, it starts with the mindset and is reflected by the language. Do a “search and replace” and change all occurrences of “left” with “right” and vice versa in this article. You’ll see what I mean. You can apply this “flip test” to just about anything and see prejudice all over the place. It’s a good way to identify writing that is prejudiced.

  • Steve

    Interesting article. But, it’s easy to adapt to both, as long as you drive a car that places you on the side nearest the center-line.

    If you are in a right traffic country, you need to drive from the left of the car, and conversely, in a left traffic country, you need to drive on the right.

    Main reason? On two lane roads, you have to be able to see around the vehicle ahead when trying to overtake.

    This is especially true in Thailand, with it’s large number of SLOW, OVERLOADED, UNDERPOWERED trucks blocking traffic on two-lane roads.

    I live in Thailand, but visit the US twice a year, and drive in both. No problem with either.

    And it is highly unlikely that any of the current standards will change. Why? MONEY. Perhaps in minimally-developed countries, they could change. But for countries like UK, Japan, and Thailand, WON’T happen. And there’s no reason for it to happen. None.

  • Bob

    If more and more Brits are using Eurotunnel and ferries to bring Cars and lorries in to France, I really think the UK should switch to right-side driving.

    • Bradley Conder

      But we don’t want to drive on the right side of the road. Historically the left was the norm and statistically speaking it is safer to drive on the right. The logic backs this up as the majority of people are right-handed, therefore the right hand should be used to perform the more important job of holding the wheel steady, rather than the simple act of changing gears. Most people are right eye dominant so again, it makes sense to drive on the left as it puts the driver onto the right side of the vehicle.

  • John Farthing

    I have seen some early American cars c 1909, LaFrance for instance, with RH driving positions. Did some parts of the USA drive on the left until the early years of the 20c ?

  • Harry Flashman

    It would seem that you can in fact drive from Pakistan into China via the Karakoram Highway. The connecting region is Pakistan controlled Kashmir.

  • Samuel

    I’ve been driving for 10 years now, my first 5 years were in a country that drives on the left side (I had a RHD car), and now I live and drive in a country that drives on the right side (I have a LHD car). I must therefore say I’m very comfortable driving on either side of the road. I must however say it has never appeared natural to me sitting on the Left side of the car.

    I’ve never found it natural that my wife sits on my right, as opposed to the more natural left side.

    5 of driving a LHD car but it has never felt natural that I enter the car from the left side – entering from the right side is a lot more natural.

    I’ve always found it easier (and more natural) to engage the gear using my left hand (than my right hand), while controlling the steering with my right hand.

    All in all, to me, it’s not about what side of the road you drive, but rather what side of the car you sit. Sitting on the left is more natural, and I don’t mind what side of the road I drive.

  • Lilia Subkhankulova

    I would imagine with the inevitable introduction of self-driving vehicles, this problem will naturally go away by itself. Cannot say the same about metric/imperial. I move to the UK from Russia some 12 years ago. While getting used to imperial was a lengthy process (and a was a staunch metric supporter), I found that in fact in every-day life imperial measurements quite often make more sense. Possibly because they are based on physical characteristics of every-day objects. I like how if you drive at 60-70 mph, if it says you are 10 miles away from your destination is it roughly 10 minutes drive. 100 yards is 100 generous steps. And when it comes to feeding a baby formula, milli-litres are just too precise to make an accessment of an adequate meal, while ounces make much more sense. If she had 2 ounces – she clearly was not hungry, 5 ounces being her average meal. When mixing the formula it’s an ounce of water to a scoop of formula. (Not 30 ml of water to a scoop, so if you use 7 scoops, it’s what 30×7=210ml? How on earth are you goin gto measure 210ml of water in a beaker?) An inch is a gesture everyone makes when they tell you something is this small. Most people will get an inch right without knowing. When it comes to buying wallpaper and measuring carpets, metrics is easier and more precise, but when you need to approximate imperial measurements have their use.

  • Ian Brooks

    It is not stubbornness that makes the British, and other left side drivers, hesitant to change. Why should they change?

    Right side drivers have already shown themselves to be fickle in having changed (and yes, nearly everyone used to walk/ride/drive on the left, if you now drive on the right you have changed). Since they are already fickle, why can’t they change back?

    Maybe it’s stubbornness on the part of right side drivers?

    Interesting weird fact, there are 5 nations where the Police do not habitually carry weapons, the UK, Ireland, New Zealand, Norway and Iceland. Of these, only Norway and Iceland drive on the right and they both only changed in the 1960s! Any conclusions on that one?

  • Pand

    I guess we should all be grateful that there is worldwide acceptance of a common right hand screw thread direction, albeit tempered with many pitch and profile variations. One common way or the other wouldn’t have really mattered much but imagine the expense and confusion if international manufacturers had to assemble products with left or right hand threads depending on intended market.

    With more countries converting “from” drive on the left than “to” drive on the left I imagine that the expense of producing drive on the left vehicles for a constantly diminishing market will eventually result in remaining drive on the left diehards; mainly now of colonial origin (plus Japan) and isolated island nations with no common border neighbours, increasingly giving consideration of their wallets priority over their parochial heritage.

  • Kris

    This is a good 3 year old post, and still it’s generating enough attention, probably due to the interesting topic plus the foolish branding of the left-handed traffic + right-handed steering of Britain and its colonial countries as stubbornness ! It’s not stubbornness, rather natural way of doing things.

    As another person pointed out, if author claims it’s natural for all countries to adopt right-handed traffic + left-handed steering, why are the accelerator and brake pedals still mapped to right and left legs respectively in such a configuration !? Because most humans are right-handed, their co-ordination works well if the dominant eye/hand/leg has control over important functions, and less prominent functions are only delegated to the left side of the body !

    Hmm, the argument continues ! 🙂

  • Ian Brooks

    Leon Wulf – you questioned whether mounting a horse (and a bike, motorbike etc) on the left may have had an effect on the side of the road one drove on.

    The simple answer is yes, very much. While many put forward the reason that it was easier to fight from the left side with sword in your right hand, and by having your scabbard out of the way on the left side it wouldn’t tangle with any on-coming riders, fighting wasn’t actually common.

    It is easier to swing your right leg over the rump of a horse from the left side, try mounting a horse from the right side! Having a horse standing on the left side of the road made mounting it easy, you could use a mounting block set off the road if you had difficulties. Once on the horse, you rode straight on. If people rode on the right, you would either have to get up in the middle of the road, no way of having a mounting block to help, or once up turn the horse around to go off on the right side.

    So yes, the way people got onto horses – and by extension bikes and motorbikes – was also a factor for riding then driving on the left.

  • Allen Schaaf

    Actually driving on then left side of the road as they do in England, Japan, and about 35% of the world makes much more sense. Since the majority of drivers are right handed, when startled they tend to look right. Driving on the right side of the road means that you look away from the traffic toward the side of the road rather than toward the oncoming traffic. If I recall correctly there are somewhat fewer accidents in left hand countries because of this.

  • Jeff McConachie

    Apart from all the swords and controls of vehicles when you approach a person to shake hands you move to the left.

  • David S

    Not sure if this is so in other languages, but the latin for right, DEXTER, gives us favourable words such as DEXTROUS, while the word for left is SINISTER.

  • Peter Blackerby

    I think a lot of this dicussion is purely fantasy. Americans are right handed and right legged and as cowboys had their guns on the ready on the right side, and yet drive with lefthand drive.
    The reason is based on the top selling cars. Ford’s cars were designed as lefthand drive and by shear volume of sales became the standard. I am guessing the cars built in England in the early days of autos were built both as right or left and the side that won out was just the better run company and thus the standard of which side. I remember riding along on Roman street around the time of Christ. It was always a big confusion at busy intersections. Sometimes we rode on the left and sometimes on the right. It was simply a rule that said, The bigger force has the right of way. This idea of knights riding along tipping thier visors is just about the silliest Tom Foolery I have ever heard of. Please, someone that knows car history from the dawn of autos please advise me on whether cars were built both right and left. Thats my theory and I am sticking to it.

  • Richard

    I was just wondering if the manual shifting, versus automatic, has anything to do with this topic? I can guarantee that as a right handed person I would find it very hard to finagle that stick with my left hand in any proper way.

  • Peter Pettigrew

    I found the comments to be much more interesting than the article. I think it is obvious that where you grew up and learned to drive is the biggest factor in determining what feels natural to you. I was born and raised in the USA and have never driven in a left hand drive country. I don’t think I would have a problem driving on the left in a car with an automatic transmission. I do think however that driving with a manual transmission in a right seated car would be difficult to get used to. My daily driver is an automatic and I usually drive one handed using my left hand. I have heard the argument, “right is right”, meaning driving on the right hand side of the road. I think this is a tongue in cheek expression though because one could say, “right is right”, meaning sitting in the right hand seat is right. I also find it interesting that the drivers seat for most small motor boats, say under 30 feet, have the driver sitting on the right.

  • Tarquin Scott

    The OP is pure nonsense.

  • Kenneth Moore

    As highlighted by a contributor. He expected National Geographic to have a better understanding of the terminology of right and wrong etc. However I would also expect National GEOGRAPHIC to be familiar with the concept that England is not the UK!!, Thankfully most of the British contributors have used the correct geographical description! I understand that this is a often used shorthand by Americans but Northern Irish, Scots and Welsh find this infuriating.

  • Jon Hoagland

    The Henry Ford explanation is a red herring. The right handedness of American traffic was established by law among many states in the late 18th century, maybe to allow for teamster freight wagons, maybe as an expression of independence against the British Empire. Whatever the reason even our slang reflects pre-Ford roots to the left sided driver. In America it is referred to as “Calling shotgun”. This reference is to the stage guard who sat to the right of the coach driver. Generally a more desirable position it is fought for by younger passengers and claimed by uttering the phrase “I’ve got shotgun!” or sometimes just “Shotgun!”, although it could have come from watching western movies.

  • Si

    Some of your American contributors have raised the implied argument that operating a manual gear stick with the left hand (ie as you would in right hand drive cars) would be too hard for a right handed driver and, therefore, as most people are right handed, left hand drive makes sense. Three points in response.
    Firstly, shifting a gearstick is not like writing- it is a very simple action, that can be easily performed by your non-dominant hand. Ask any left-handed drivers you know in your country about how difficult they find it. None, I bet. Most ozzies are right handed, and no-one has any issues with manuals. Secondly, regarding which control configuration is most suited for right-dominant drivers (and therefore most people), I would say that while driving, surely controlling the steering wheel is more important than correct gear selection. In a RHD car, the right hand is steering, and the left shifting-ergonomically better if you’re right handed, I would have thought.
    Finally, regardless of your side dominance, when you are changing gears, surely it is easier to co-ordinate your left foot (on the clutch pedal) with your left hand, rather than your right (the opposite side of your body)?
    When I’ve been to America, I cannot help wishing that the motherland custom they had retained was driving on the left side of the road, rather than its anachronistic measurements system.

  • Roman Bogatschow

    Having lived in multiple countries (thanks to US Air Force) and driven on right and on left, and having flown airplanes from the Left seat and the right seat, I can tell you that you can learn to operate from either seat, with time.
    I think that people above have skirted around the fundamental questions about side of the road.
    1. What was the most common side of the road, most countries rode/drove on, and up until what time? The assumption knights preferred riding on the left in order to have their right hands available for possible battle when passing a knight from the other direction–seems plausible,as the folks from England stated, but what about the other countries with Royal/knight systems? Wouldn’t it be logical that France, Germany, Spain, Austria, Hungary would all also logically ride on the left? Okay, so what made the soldiers and the wagoneers/carriage drivers switch to driving on the right?
    2. The switch to driving on the right for most countries had to have occurred toward the end of the 19th century or maybe in the EARLY days of the automobile. The premise that the standardization on the right in America occurred because of wagonners, freight haulers, and stage coach drivers makes sense, but why would the driving habits in America’s old west affect the driving habits in continental Europe between 1850-1900? Somebody up above mentioned the phrase, “Riding Shotgun”, and its true that American stagecoaches sometimes had a rider on top sitting to the right of the driver, wielding a shotgun, as protection against bandits. And since most people held and fired a gun with their right hand (I’m left handed but I shoot with my right), it would make sense for the driver to be on the left (and hense drive on the right side of the road). But in the 18- early19th centuries, guns in Europe were innacurate, and on ships it was common during close quarters fighting to fire “brown Bess”, primitive hand canons loaded with shot that didn’t have to be accurate, just pointed in the general direction of the enemy to strike flesh. Didn’t the carriage drivers in Europe also use something similar to the brown Bess with a coachman on the right? So maybe the riding shotgun concept didn’t come from America first?
    So that would imply that continental Europe had reason to start driving on the right, The system was firmly in place by the start of WW I (France, Germany, Austria, Italy drove on the right), why didn’t England change over with continental Europe? Next question–why do the Japanese drive on the left? They were never colonized by England. In fact, their first influencing contacts with the West were America (and Russia I think) did they have a standard way of driving that evolved from Samrai warriors on horseback? Can someone from Japan answer that?

  • GregB

    “Unfortunate to see the subjectivity enter into this article which shows a somewhat subjective point of view and aimed at a US audience – ‘my way is the right way’ type of view, which unfortunately doesn’t help with building positive opinions of Americans.”
    While I don’t really care who is right I find it funny that it becomes a “my way is right” in some of these comments. Obviously with our recent election of a president America does not care about a positive opinions of the rest of the world. For the first time in my life I cringe everytime our president opens his mouth. If your going to hate America do it because of him not because we drive on the right side or still use the imperial system please. We will become a part of the world in four years… Please hold our seat. JMO of course. If your a trump supporter realize I’m not talking to you because it’s not in tweet form.

  • Si

    Roman, Europeans drive on the right because Napoleon Bonaparte ordered his armies to march on that side of the road. You might say that it’s the lasting legacy of French hegemony in Europe from that time. Traffic moved on the left side of Roman roads, BTW. Sweden, the last holdout in Europe, drove on the left side of the road until 1967.
    Japan chose to drive on the left side of the road perhaps because it aspired to be the Britain of the Orient. Interestingly, Indonesia, although a former Dutch colony, and Macau, a former Portuguese one, both drive on the left.

  • John Kim

    Japan had their railroad first installed by Brits. That’s why they have their driving system to left afaik. There’s plenty of stories including Napoleon and guns, but basically they all had good reasons and there’s also chance that some dude in London felt like it was best for them to drive left, especially when Brits felt like they were the core of the world.(Hence the Greenwich standard time) However shit went south after colonial era, Americans might have felt like their car would be symbolic power to themselves against Britain’s colonial era, historical changes happen sometimes by simple reasons or change in a person’s mind.

  • Robert Kingsbury

    Why do some countries drive on the left side of the road?
    In the past, almost everybody travelled on the left side of the road because that was the most sensible option for feudal, violent societies. Since most people are right-handed, swordsmen preferred to keep to the left in order to have their right arm nearer to an opponent and their scabbard further from him.

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