Have you ever wondered why some countries drive on opposite sides of the road? If you’ve ever watched a British television show or movie, then you know they drive on the left side of the road. Even the steering wheel is on the opposite side of the car.
In America, everything is the opposite. Drivers keep to the right lane and the steering wheel is reversed. Changing this habit when traveling has been the cause of many a trucking accident, but the history behind this phenomenon is an interesting one.
A Look at History
Today, roughly 35% of the world drives on the left side of the road. That 35% is primarily made up of what were once or still are British colonies. It might seem strange, especially with the rest of the world choosing the opposite, but that’s how nearly everyone traveled in the past.
Believe it or not, traveling on the left made the most sense when society was more violent than modern times. Most people are right-handed, which means driving on the left would allow them to handle a gun or sword with accuracy.
The tradition dates back to medieval England, when knights would face off in battle or participate in a joust. At the same time, these knights often wore their scabbards on the left. Imagine the embarrasment of whacking someone with the hilt of your sword on accident.
Fast-forward to the 1700s where Americans were hauling farm products on horse-led wagons. These individuals began sitting on the left, keeping their right arm free to lash the horses and keep production moving. Since they were on the left, it only made sense for other wagons to pass on the left.
In 1752, Russia would adopt the left-seated position as well. The French also adopted this style after the Revolution of 1789. Fast-forward again, and Napoleon’s conquest would bring left-seated riding to half of Europe. That would change after World War I as governance over parts of Europe shifted.
Why Not Adapt?
With most of the world agreeing that driver’s side is on the right, why didn’t Britain follow suit? Quite simply, they just chose not to make the change. That’s why India, Australia, and other former colonies continue to drive on the left. Japan’s traffic is the same way, but that is by coincidence.
It’s awkward to completely change your driving habits when visiting a country that drives on the left side of the road, but it’s a change you might have to make when traveling abroad. In the event that you do make a mistake, it’s vital that you speak to a lawyer if you’ve been accused of a crime.
If you’re nervous about it, don’t be. Most drivers find making the switch more natural than you might think. You’ll adapt in no time. If nothing else, now you know why some countries drive on the right and others on the left.