Left-Side Driving: Ancient Days & Modern Road Network

tunnel with a sign drive on left

It might be surprising for many people that approximately 30% of the global population drives on the left. Most of these countries that drive on the left are the primitive British colonies. It may confuse the rest of the world, but there must be some good reasons behind it. It is important to make yourself familiar with the traffic side of any country especially if you are looking forward to visiting it. In today’s world, 76 countries are driving on the left side of the road.

Feudal Societies

In the primitive days, almost everyone used to travel on the left roadside since it was considered the wisest option for the feudal communities. Considering the fact that most swordsmen were right-handed so it was important for them to keep their right arm closer to the opponent while staying on the left side. At the same time, it was a safe option for other people around minimizing the risk of being unintentionally hurt. The practice of left-hand traffic was originated back in ancient Rome to defend against any expected and unexpected enemy attacks. Romans used to hold their carts and chariots using the left hand and keep the weapons in the right hand to fight against the enemies.

Napoleon Military Tactic: Left-Side Road Traffic

Well, when we talk about the underlying reasons – one of the common names often heard is Napoleon. He was left-handed riding on the right side considered it to be a threatening military strategy. Both Britain and France put forth their driving styles to the corresponding colonies. Therefore, many ancient British regions make for a few left-hand traffic countries today. With the increase in vehicle production and overall global traffic, many countries swapped to the right-hand traffic to go with their neighborhoods. Even though the shift was significant, Britain's love for the left side road traffic is still there.

In the year 1596, when the Dutch entered Indonesia they brought their left-side driving practice along with and merged this into the culture. However, when the French conquered the Netherlands, the Dutch soon shifted to the right. Still, certain colonies such as Suriname and Indonesia kept themselves on the left. It’s interesting to know these thought-provoking facts. Isn’t it? Yet, this is not the case with all the colonies. For instance, Canada initially decided to drive on the left but later followed the right driving practice in the French-controlled Quebec.

The European Road Network

The answer to this popular question – why some countries drive on the left remains still vague. Some people may call it inflexibility, the reason why the United States of America still prefers measuring in feet and inches. However, a logical reason might be the momentum. Popular cities such as London are designed in a way to facilitate left-hand driving so switching to the right is not a simple job. At the end of the day, we may want to agree that changing road rules and regulations is both complicated and expensive. Considering the increasing number of vehicles every day, it is even more challenging.

We can say that there is no one definitive answer from where the concept of left-sided driving has originated and is being followed today – yet there are certain theories. One commonly known theory takes you back to the days where people used to travel on a horse. The left-sided position makes it easier for the warriors to draw their weapon particularly the sword as we have mentioned above. One more theory highlights its origin in the year 1722.

This was the time when the law was approved to reduce heavy traffic on London Bridge. The law suggests that inbound traffic should be on the west side of the bridge keeping the outbound traffic on the east side. In 1835, British Parliament put forward the Highway Act enforcing the left side traffic rule to the British Empire. While many other European countries sooner or later switched to right-sided traffic particularly in the 20th century, the United Kingdom and many of its colonies still drive on the left side of the road.

Here is the list of countries that drive on the left:

  1. Anguilla
  2. Eire
  3. Malaysia
  4. Solomon Islands
  5. Uganda
  6. Australia
  7. Fiji
  8. Singapore
  9. Sri Lanka
  10. US Virgin Islands
  11. Bhutan
  12. Falkland Islands
  13. Malta
  14. South Africa
  15. United Kingdom
  16. British Virgin Islands
  17. Macau
  18. New Zealand
  19. Swaziland
  20. Zimbabwe
  21. Cayman Islands
  22. Malawi
  23. Samoa
  24. Thailand
  25. Bangladesh
  26. Guyana
  27. Mozambique
  28. Tonga
  29. Cyprus
  30. Grenada
  31. Nepal
  32. Tanzania
  33. Barbados
  34. Japan
  35. Seychelles
  36. Turks & Caicos Islands

Evidence from primitive Roman road networks reveals that Romans used to drive on the left roadside. This practice reaches all across the empire. One more theory suggests that since right-handed is a dominant trait, it’s easier to drive on the left. Although there is no textual evidence, it still makes logical sense. From the time when horses and carriage were the modes of conveyance, it was always more convenient to drive on the left.

Likewise, driving a vehicle on the left side is considered to be safer for right-handed individuals. The driver stays in the middle of the road with the seat on the right side of the vehicle. This makes your right eye to be in the center of the vehicle helping in coping with the oncoming traffic. Also, it let your dominant hand on the wheel as you change gears (for manual vehicles) or while playing some music.

Well, there is another interesting fact you would like to know. The Japanese were never subjects of Britain, still, they used to drive on the left roadside. This can be associated with the Samurai heritage. The renowned warriors always kept their right hand free to hold the sword. By 1872, this unofficial practice became official – one can link it to Britain helping the Japanese in building their railways. By the year 1924, this custom was protected in law. There is no subjective answer or reasoning about left-side driving. What do you think about it?

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