Why Some Countries Drive on the Right and Some Countries Drive on the Left
Today I found out why some countries drive on the right and some countries drive on the left.
The origin of this varies based on the time period and country, but primarily throughout history people used the “keep-left” rule. It has only been very recently that the world has predominately switched to the “keep-right” rule.
The first real archaeological evidence of a keep-left or keep-right type rule for a road, originates in the Roman Empire, which shouldn’t be surprising as they built a lot of massive, well trafficked roads spanning Europe and thus would have needed to establish certain rules governing how people were to interact on the roads. So which side did the Romans use? Archaeological evidence suggests it was common for the Romans to drive on the left side of the road. This was first discovered in 1998 where a Roman quarry in Swindon, England had grooves in the road going away from the quarry on the left side that were significantly deeper than those on the right, due to the added weight of the stone. It is not precisely known why they would have chosen this side, but it is probably similar to one of the main reasons this practice continued into the middle ages.
During the middle ages the roads weren’t always very safe for travelers; meeting people coming the other way on the road was something best done defensively. Historians then believe the keep-left rule was adopted because, on a horse, if you were right handed and you met some unsavory company on the road, you could draw your weapon, typically attached to your left side, with your right hand and bring it to bear quickly against the person who is going the opposite way of you on your right; all the while, controlling the reigns with your left hand. Then of course, if you happened to meet a friend on the road, you could more easily offer your right hand in greeting without needing to reach across your body when on horseback. People on horseback then also typically ruled the road, so everybody else followed suit.
This keep-left rule was so common that, in 1300 AD, Pope Boniface VIII decreed that all pilgrims headed to Rome from wherever they were coming from should abide by the keep-left rule of the road along their journey. This then held across most of the Western World until the late 1700s.
What ended up happening to force the switch in the 18th century were teamsters in the United States, who would drive large wagons with a team of horses, as the name implies. These wagons tended to dominate the road and force everybody else to abide by the rule of the road they were using. Very importantly, in many of those old, large American wagons, they did not include a seat on the wagon for the driver. Rather, the driver would typically sit on the rear left most horse, when the driver was right handed. This allowed them to easily drive a whole team of horses with a lash in their right hand.
This then forced the issue of having oncoming traffic on your left as the drivers would want to make sure any part of their team or wagon didn’t collide with oncoming traffic. When sitting on the rear left most horse, this was much easier to do when using a keep-right rule of the road. Just as important, if you wanted to pass a wagon in front of you, or at least see further down the road when you are sitting on the left side, it is much easier done if you are using the keep-right rule; this would give you much greater visibility of oncoming traffic when sitting on the left of your wagon. Gradually, this system spread so that by the late 18th century, the first laws in the United States were passed, starting in 1792 in Pennsylvania, where the rule of the road was now officially a keep-right rule. This quickly spread throughout the United States and Canada.
So how did this spread through Europe? It started with France. The reasons why the French switched to a keep-right rule instead of the traditional keep-left rule aren’t completely clear. Some say it is because the French Revolutionists didn’t want anything to do with anything that had ever been Pope decreed. Others say it was because they didn’t want to use the same rule of the road the English used. Still others say it was entirely Napoleon’s doing. The reasons why he may have done this, if that is the case, are even murkier ground. Whatever the case, France switched to the keep-right system. Napoleon then spread this system throughout the countries he conquered. Even after he was defeated, most of the countries he had conquered chose to continue with the keep-right system. The most important of these countries, as far as eventually further spreading the keep right system, was Germany. Fast forward to the 20th century and, as Germany conquered countries in Europe, they forced their keep-right system onto those countries.
England never adopted this method primarily because massive wagons, as became common in the United States, didn’t work well on narrow streets which were common in London and other English cities. England was also never conquered by Napoleon or later Germany. Thus, they kept the classical keep-left rule of the road that had endured for hundreds of years before. By 1756, this was actually made an official law in Britain. As the British Empire expanded, this keep-left rule, as a law, spread throughout the world. This hasn’t endured in most of the former British ruled countries, primarily thanks to Germany and the growing popularity of the keep-right system. There are still a few though, probably the largest of which, by population, is India.
If you liked this article, you might also enjoy our new popular podcast, The BrainFood Show (iTunes, Spotify, Google Play Music, Feed), as well as:
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- The Origin of the Red/Yellow/Green Traffic Light System
- The First Car Accident
- The First Speeding Ticket
- International regulations for preventing collisions at sea decree that all water traffic should keep to the right when two sea craft pass one another going opposite directions. The reason for this was that historically the steering oar for ships was on the right hand side of the boat. Thus, by passing each other port to port (keep-right), they would protect the steering oars from colliding as would have been possible had they adopted a keep-left rule.
- In aircraft, the “rule of the road” is keep-right when passing oncoming air traffic. Interestingly, in dual-control airplanes, the captain always sits on the left side of the plane as you might expect, but in helicopters, the captain sits on the right hand side.
- Many early cars had the driver’s seat in the center of the car rather than on one side or the other. Gradually, car manufactures began putting the seat on one side or the other. Some chose to put it on the side closest to the curb so that people could more easily avoid scraping buildings, curbs, etc. Other car manufactures would put it on the opposing traffic side to help reduce car to car collisions, which would tend to be more deadly.
- Many early American motorized vehicles actually placed the steering wheel on the right hand side of the car, even though America used the keep-right rule. This practiced finally was put to an end largely due to Henry Ford; he preferred the left side steering wheel. Ford cars thus adopt the left hand side steering wheel. Due to their popularity, this effectively squashed the right hand steering wheel cars in America.
- According to research done in 1969 by J.J. Leeming, keep-left countries have a much lower collision rate than keep-right countries. It is thought the reason behind this is that most people’s right eye is their dominant eye. Thus, the right eye in keep-left traffic is the one closest to oncoming traffic and so should reduce collisions. Another theory as to why this might be is that most people are right handed, so when driving a manual transmission car in a keep-left country, most people’s dominant hand is on the steering wheel; this could help in a person’s ability to maneuver accurately.
- The people of Timor drive on the right in East Timor and the left in West Timor… Ambidextrous drivers. 🙂
- Most horse riders and cyclists will naturally mount the horse or bike from the left hand side. In the cyclist’s case, this is why most bike chains and gears are on the right side of the bike so that the rider can walk along on the left side of the bike and not worry about getting pants or shoe laces caught in the gearing while walking beside the bike.
- September 2009 Issue of Time Magazine
- Why Do the British Drive on the Left
- Why Do American’s Drive on the Right Hand Side of the Road?
- Right and Left Hand Traffic
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Another interesting factoid: when Norway changed from left-hand to right-hand driving they did so in steps. At first only cars and motorbikes changed to driving on the right hand side of the road, while trucks and buses were required to continue driving on the left hand side for an additional week.
Jesus…that sounds like chaos…
Kris is just joking. In Norway we got right hand drive already in 1793. But his joke has its origins from Sweden which switched as late as 1969.
That’s a good one. Lol
When I was in East Timor (2000) everyone drove on the left (sometimes in the middle) side of the road. Perhaps your information is old, as it is possible that East Timor drove on the right prior to 1975 when it was a Portuguese colony.
Also in 2009 Samoa switched to driving of the left-side of the road.
My understanding was that in pre-Revolutionary France, the aristocrats kept left and the commoners kept right. Come the Revolution, nobody wanted to look like an aristocrat for fear of an appointment with Mme Guillotine, so everyone started to keep right.
There’s something wrong with your map. Most Asian countries like Singapore and Malaysia drives on the right side, not on the left like what your map has suggested
Wrong. Malaysia drive on the left as does singapore.
In Stockholm, Sweden, there’s a quite intricate inter-change/junction which is in everyday called “Slussen”. This was constructed before Sweden switched from left to right-drive traffic and so was designed to be able to handle both ways.
Perhaps it doesn’t sound interesting here, but if you ever drove a car in Slussen you’ll know why I find this a nice piece of interchange design…
Britain and India(because of British rule) drive on the left side. Old British bikes have the gear shift lever on the right side – This arrangement is correct for left driving countries because when you make a very tight U-turn on a bike (turning to the right), you occasionally place the right foot on the ground. Not having the foot on the brake means riders of left-shift Japanese bikes tend to grab the front brake in an emergency, toppling the bike.
@Jon: I don’t know about everywhere; but Malaysia and Singapore keep left.
@Vivek: I don’t ride a motorcycle; but Japan keeps left. I would have thought Japanese bikes would be designed to cope with people riding on the left.
“Dominant” is the correct spelling, not “dominate”, as used twice in this article.
@Maire: Good catch on the “dominate” typo. I used it once correctly as the verb form, but used it twice incorrectly as an adjective, which obviously, as you say, is “dominant”, which is the adjective form of “dominate”.
Whilst we are into nit-picking, there is no ‘g’ in “Reins” (of a horse). Sorry. 🙂
I believe “Reigns” refers to the period of rule of a king or queen (in the plural of course).
To digress, as a old-timer UK motorcyclist, I often pondered the reasons of Japanese gear/brake reversal when we both keep to the left. The normal camber of the road dictated that it was easier to drop the right leg when stopping.
Additionally, the old British gear model was ‘up for first’ and the change to the ‘down for first’ caused quite a lot of stalls and ‘interesting’ noises from the gearbox at speed for some time, and when coupled with the reversal, quite a few unintentional hard brakes when meaning to change into top. Motorcycling in the 60’s was an ‘exciting’ time.
…as in “dominant” eye and “dominant” hand. Also, the word is “predominantly” in the first paragraph, not “predominately.”
@Maire: Actually, your “predominantly” correction is up for debate. Both predominantly and predominately are correct, though the former has gained in popularity recently with the latter, which I used, previously being preferred. You can read more on that here.
The reason the teamsters would ride the rear left horse, is that right handed people prefer to mount a horse from the left side.
I was led to understand that the French aristocracy started the keep-right rule when they adopted the idea of the driver sitting on the left horse in stead of the carriage. It enabled the passengers to get a better view, without looking at the back-side of the driver, and allowed others to more easily see the passengers.
In Japan, they go on the left because of the roads from when Samurai roamed. They carried their swords on their left side, since most were right-handed and in Japan if you were (and sometimes still) left-handed it was frowned upon as being incorrect and it would be force-corrected.
As a Samurai, for someone to touch your sword meant that you would fight to the death. Samurai thus walked to the left so that swords would not accidentally clash. After the Samurai were gone, this continued to today where they still drive on the left.
…this story may be complete bullshit, but it is what my japanese teacher told us and it makes sense to me.
I’ve heard this too.
I will add that the reason that sword were so important to Samurai was that they were usually handed down from father to son, and also were believed to carry the samurai’s warrior spirit. It’s because of this that it was inappropriate to touch someone else’s sword (without permission) and to strike their scabbarded sword with yours was considered the same as striking the samurai himself.
I’ve also heard that some young men spoiling for a fight would deliberately try to strike someone’s sword as they passed on the right.
A letter published in the (London) Times some decades back suggested that in Japan people were initially free to walk or drive carts on whichever side of the road they preferred, and there wasn’t enough traffic for this to be a problem until Japan was forced to open up to the rest of the world. The increased traffic led to chaos, and the British ambassador mentioned to the Emperor that back in London, there was a rule making people stay on the left side. The emperor clearly thought this was an excellent idea, and adopted it for his own roads.
every country’s generally accepted accounting laws dictate which side of a double-entry ledger is for debits and which is for credits. curiously, every country which drives on the left keeps their debit and credit columns on opposite sides from those countries which drive on the right.
It seems to affect other aspects of life too.
Curiously, I have noticed that whichever side of the road one drives on, so it seems to determine the position of the dominant person in bed.
The default position in the UK (RHD) is the right and the left in the USA (LHD). (Looking from the head of the bed).
This seems to be continued throughout the Left – Right Hand drive world.
I wonder why?
Could it result from teen-agers’ usual psitions when necking in a car?
@Jon, the map reflects which side of the road is used, not on which side of the car the person sits. Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, all drive in the left lane (keep left rule). Indonesia and Vietnam show as left and right respectively, but in my experience that’s only a suggestion, hardly a rule!
Regarding your answer as to why the “ride/drive left” rule was maintained in Medieval England. The correct answer is: The swords of knights were very heavy. You could not easily use it against someone on your right because you could not get momentum going with such a short swing (Inertia rules.) Also, you have the risk of cutting your horse’s head or neck if you swing at something on the right and miss. In battle a knight would prefer to swing his sword over the horse’s head and to the left. This gives a full 180º of arc or swing to gain momentum and no risk to the horse if you miss. So it is friendly for two knights to pass each other staying left. Neither can easily strike at the other. As for Romans, they followed the practice of Egypt and the Persians of the driver of war chariots standing on the right with the warrior or archer on the left. Take a look at any of the ancient depictions of such scenes and you will see what I mean…driver always on the right. The “why” if this practice may have something to do with the normative relative status of the driver and the archer. The driver was usually high status and the prejudice against “left” goes way back
A right-handed driver prefers to hold the whip in his right hand. Standing on the right, you can give the whip momentum by swinging it backwards along the side of the chariot. Standing on the right, he would hit the archer or the chariot. This is still the position in all horse drawn vehicles where the driver sits on the vehicle rather than on one of the horses. See the stage coaches in both left and right driving countries. You need room alongside the vehicle to swing your whip.
Thankfully at least the article points out that driving on the left is the default position. Many ignorant people consider that Britain, Ireland, Australia, NZ etc. drive on the “wrong” side of the road. As many of us know, it is those who drive on the right side of the road who drive on the “wrong” side of the road, insomuch as driving on the left is, and always has been the default position in a world dominated by right-handed people.
@Kieran Tolly: While I personally don’t care about whether people drive on the right or left side, I’m glad the British still do if only so that when they complain about Americans still using the “Standard” system (derived from British units), rather than the Metric (which admittedly is in fact superior), I can reply with “We’ll switch to the metric system to go along with most of the rest of the world, when you go along with most of the rest of the world and switch to driving on the right side.” 😉
We British don’t really use metric either. Officially yes, but in actuality… we weigh in ounces, pounds and stones, and measure in inches, feet and miles.
I think we just don’t like change: http://thinkmetric.org.uk/usenow.html
You have left out really sexy measurements such as Link, Chain, Furlong etc which are much more evocative than the metric system.
These comments must drive you nuts! I love these articles. Right or wrong, they are a great read. Everyone knows better about everything, it’s a bit like religion. My God is better, so I guess it’ll never end.
Please keep taking these comments/opinions on the chin and keep up the great work. I try to never miss your articles.
Backing up Tim’s comments with regards to Timor, I was there in 2000 as well and we drove on the correct (left) side of the road and all of the local vehicles that I recall seeing were right (correct) hand drive.
Canada didn’t switch to the “right” side until the 30’s when cross-border traffic became hazardous.
@Bob: Thanks for the more specific info on when Canada switched to driving on the right. 🙂
British Columbia switched in around 1920.
For once and for all, the American way is the right way.
Boats have always passed each other like cars on our traffic lanes, You get on a horse, drive a wagon and get in an American car from the left. Jousting is a good example of the “natural” side to pass a stranger. Besides, it puts the gear shift under your dominant “better” hand. BTW here in Pennsylvania one used to be able to tell if a farm was owned by a German or “English” family by the way their field was plowed. German plows through the dirt out of the farrow to the opposite side of English plows; something to do with not only the plow blade but were they put their strongest horse and what hand they preferred to hold the reins. Do you think it’s a coincidence that driving on the left makes people much, much less likely to import an American made car?
@Maire: If you’re going to be a rude know-it-all, why stop with one or two spelling errors to demonstrate how brilliant you are compared to everyone else? Go ahead and take your red pen to the whole effing site – we welcome the opportunity to be in the virtual presence of such genius. You could start with the use of “reign” instead of “rein,” which you must have caught since you’re so damn clever. I’m sure someday someone somewhere will be impressed enough by your smug superiority to have sex with you. Then maybe you’ll loathe yourself a bit less and be able to let the odd spelling, grammar, or typographical error slide LIKE THE REST OF US NON-ASSHOLES. Best of luck with that, jerkoff.
It’s obvious from the map that the countries driving on the left had strong British influences.
I liked the article, but last time I checked Australia still followed the keep left rule and was 2 and a half times larger than india. Unless your talking populations then India is larger.
Yes, largest in the sense of population. Fixed.
Savoy Court (the road that leads to the entrance of the Savoy Hotel, London) is the only street in the U.K. where drivers are required to drive on the right. This stems from the early days of hackney carriages (that evolved into the black cab) where the driver would reach his arm out of the driver’s door window to open the passenger’s door (which opened backwards and had the handle at the front), without having to get out of the cab himself.
France & Germany changed the rule a few hundred years ago due to continued animosity towards England because they wanted to be ‘different’. As France & Germany are in Europe and all countries connected by road, the right hand drive side was adopted throughout.
The hate factor among people of the three countries created changes. England changed the name of German Shepherd dogs to Alsations due to not wanting anything referring to Germany.
It is worth mentioning that in Italy, I noticed that there was always a toll-booth available for righ-hand drive vehicles. (I thought they were being very nice to us Brits) until a trucker told me that RHD trucks are quite common in Italy because when navigating the narrow twisting mountain roads, they like to be on the side nearest the drop.
Having then used many of these roads myself, I agree wholeheartedly with their reasoning.
Driving in Europe was a challenge at toll-booths until I fitted an electric window drop at the other end of the cab and used an expanding brace with a purse on the end holding the money.
While attracting quite a few laughs and cheers, in the main, it saved me a lot of time and effort.
Just wondering that why Burma/Myanmar (former British colonial) is currently driving on the Right lane or Keep-Right system. Let me know if anyone know that. Cheers
This is a comment on an old post but I just found this site.
You mention at the end that helicopters are the reverse of aeroplans in terms of seating. The answer to why that is is because fixed wing aircraft were developed in the US while rotary wing aircraft were developed in the UK primarily, hence the designers just followed what they knew!
I suspect there’s a practical reason horses (and thus bikes) are mounted from the left. A right-hand person will carry their sword on their left side to make it easier to drawn. Mounting a horse from the left means the sword hanging down doesn’t get in the way.
The difference between planes and helicopters may have been simply to remind those flying what they were in. Another reason might have bee so the lead helicopter pilot is using his dominant right hand to control the more critical cyclic stick.
One morning in about 1967 the entire nation of Sweden switched from driving on the left to driving on the right.
It is interesting to note that unlike Great Briton, which is insular, Sweden borders on Norway, which was already a drive-on-the-right nation prior to Sweden’s switch. This neccesitated some interesting traffic contructs at border crossings.
There is very little info about Sweden’s switch in English, and this is essentially everything I know about it.
Oops! I guess the last time I checked was in 2005 when I “Alta Vista-ed” the subject.
Now, there is beaucoup info out there in English about “Dagen H”.
I am aware that when Sweden changed, there was mounting pressure on the UK to change with them. (and to my recollection, 1967 would be a lot closer than 2005, which it most definitely was not).
The argument was that with the mounting volume of traffic, it was a matter that could not be delayed any longer.
Personally, I recall teams of surveyors trundling around the UK checking the road suitability for change, then in typical British fashion, they disappeared, and the subject went cold.
I have never heard of an official reason why we did not change, but I suspect it was financial.
At present, even in France, trains use the left track and NOT the right one, It is the same in all the Continent!
That is not correct, for instance, in Germany and the Netherlands the trains use the right track.
In Timor-Leste (East-Timor), they drive on the left. Can’t speak for West Timor.
The reason there are right hand and left hand drive cars has nothing to do with the left or right rule.
This issue has to do with royalty and specifically the King. Countries which historically had royalty and therefore a king would be forced to place the steering wheel on the left of the vehicle because no one was allowed to sit to the right of the king… no one.
The design of automobiles stems from the design of coaches or carriages (horseless carriages) where this rule applied initially. In a royal coach, no one would be allowed to sit to the right of the king.
I seriously doubt this.
A king would never ride in the front seat of anything. This was underlined in the design of early motor vehicles where the body of the vehicle was enclosed but the driving compartment was left exposed to the elements, continuing the design of coaches where the driver sat outside of the body of the coach; later, that changed into a partition between driver and royalty for reasons of privacy, and no doubt, exclusivity.
The only exception to that would be when the king drove himself, and that was usually only in private – which paradoxically, demands a right-hand drive vehicle.
I am aware that Queen Elizabeth II drives herself regularly around her private estates (or at least, she did when younger).
A Lot of bunk. 99% of all cars made in the USA between 1900 and 1913ish were Right hand drive just like the UK. John Wayne and all the Westerns drove their carriages from the Right Hand Side. The reason the Yanks changed was because Gear shifters and Handbrakes Use to be on the outside of the “Car” at the right of the driver. When the gearshifts changed to the centre of the car, Americans couldnt use their left hands to change (probably against God or something) and changed seating position. If you look at many pre WW2 GP races, you will also see Italian Alfa Romeo, Maserati etc etc car All Right hand drive. The Americans probably changed due to Anti British sentiment. There is a great Film of riding in San Francisco in 1906 on social media, ALL the cars are Right hand drive, oddly Americans drove anywhere on the road that was convenient and to avoid the tramcars. The left side, right side, they drove anywhere, but ALL with right hand drive cars. So it is NOT the right hand drive countries that are wrong it is the USA and Europe that changed to the Wrong side.!!!!!
I live in florida and my bf is in england LOL so we argued over who started this first.. LOL Im usually right but I guess I was wrong I just KNEW we started it LOLOL
All these wonderful ideas about American roadside predilection are anachronistic. The real reason for the left/right difference dates from carrying swords and shields on horseback. As we know the majority of people are right handed and therefore carry their shields on their left arms an use their swords with there right hands.
The French were more “cowardly” or perhaps “sensible” and preferred to fight over their shields, the English were much “braver” or perhaps “stupid” and favoured a more open attack for fighting or protecting. Therefore the French passed their foe left side to left side i.e. “driving on the right” and the English Right side to right side i.e. “driving on the left”. After that the rest is history.
Nicholas, I agree wholeheartedly to your first sentence. Your next two sentences are plausible, and in its generalization seems consistent with the researched history of the article, which you should have reread before writing your next three sentences, which, ironically, are not only anachronistic themselves but seems to show you thinking in an Anglo/Franco-centric reality (perhaps you were just being silly, if so, then good on ya because I’m sure it many of us reading this laughed).
Many of the countries that still drive left are indeed influenced by English motoring, but not all. Japan has been riding and driving on the left side of the road since before recorded history (even their recorded history). Hence comes the right-sided driving position of their cars, at least the ones built in Japan for use and sale in Japan (and Australia, parts of SE Asia, etc., etc.). Their reason to travel on the left side of the road also goes back to sword carrying, but far earlier than the Europeans, who were probably just still hefting clubs at the time (my attempt at humour if appreciated).
I am still laughing or giggling at Corey’s reply, only five words but so amusing! I also liked the way that Gwyn solved the left side pay booth with his right hand drive car!
When Sweden originally drove on the left they were already driving left hand cars, the idea being that the driver would step out onto the pavement instead of into the road.
Years ago, when in Canada, I was given a lift by an Austrian who told me that Austria drove on the left before WW 2.
I believe that driving or riding on the left is far more natural and safer. Mounting a horse is done from the left, therefore from the pavement or safe side of the road. Mounting a bike is the same. This means always moving ahead rather than having to turn round against the traffic or having to mount from the road side.
A number of assorted facts:
Cars for the Swedish domestic market were LHD even when Sweden drove on the left. I’ve heard two explanations for this: 1) Cars for the domestic market were a small share of Swedish auto production, so it was simpler to build all LHD cars (except for export to keep-left countries); 2) The first cars imported into Sweden were LHD, and the Swedish automakers followed suit.
Until ~1956, Italian-built Lancias for the Italian market were RHD on the theory that when you’re driving along the edge of a cliff with no guard rail, you want to know exactly where your right front wheel is. Lancia also offered LHD as an option. On a LHD Lancia of that period, the trunk-lid badge with the model name will have an S (“sinistra”) suffix.
Samoa switched to keep-left because many Samoans were shipping used RHD cars from Australia and New Zealand to Samoa.
After the fall of the USSR, many Russians imported used Japanese-market RHD cars to the Russian Far East. There was a proposal to switch to keep-left in the Far East, but I don’t think anything came of it. Since you can’t drive between the Far East and western Russia (Trans-Siberian Railway, anyone?), there wouldn’t have an issue of switching between keep-left and keep-right in the middle.
I’ve heard (but not confirmed) that although the Netherlands is keep-right, the Dutch East Indies (which became Indonesia) kept (and keeps) left because the colonial administration bought RHD British cars.
I think Czechoslovakia switched from keep-left to keep-right in the 1930s, but I’m not sure why, or why then.
Another fact that can be added to the bonus facts: The oar was traditionally on the right side; see viking ships. This is also where the word “starboard” comes from – the original (Scandinavian) word for starboard is “styrbord” – styr meaning “steer/steering”.
I take exception with this bit: “Rather, the driver would typically sit on the rear left most horse, when the driver was right handed. This allowed them to easily drive a whole team of horses with a lash in their right hand.” I really suspect that the reason the driver sat on the left rear horse (also called the “wheel horse”,) was that it was customary to mount from the left side, again as mentioned due to the way blades were worn. You can’t mount on the right wearing a blade, except with great difficulty I would imagine. Even today, most horses are used to folks mounting from the left and may balk at an attempt to mount from the right if they’ve not been trained for it although no one has worn a blade with any regularity for a couple of hundred years.
Sorry to be late to the party. Having visited the UK and Ireland, I was struck, not by the “keep Left” rule of driving, but by the apparently agreed upon “keep right” rule of walking. The up escalators were on the right like in the US. People walking along the sidewalk/pavement tended to keep to the right of oncoming foot traffic. If two side by side doors were marked Enter/Exit (indicating one way traffic through the doors, they were arrange for keep right foot traffic. While it didnt require me to think about walking differently, it confused me as I was expecting walk left.
EVERYONE in the world travelled on the left originally, for thousands of years, ever since man could walk, ride an animal/drive a cart/ since man could carry a stone/stick/sword for protection… you’d be dead very quickly if you didn’t.. (those few who didn’t stick to the left of a road or lane were probably left handed!) .
The passenger was always on the inside to the left of the driver of a carriage or cart. It’s not a matter of which country is better than the other, as some have tried to argue in the posts above, it’s a matter of being human and protecting yourself.
Americans only changed to driving on the right with Napoleon’s support, who had changed direction himself, because of his support for the French peasants who obviously had to walk, as all pedestrians do, on the otherside of the road, facing the oncoming traffic, for protection.
Everybody all over the world would have ridden/driven on the right originally.
A giggle from the past: When we were arriving in Great Britain from the Continent, my five year old daughter exclaimed that “they’re driving on the wrong side of the road,” to which I pointed out that they were “driving on the left side of the road.” A good Life Lesson. Of course, the next day, my ex-husband managed to tie the bundle up by driving on the right side, which I corrected just in time to keep us from being mowed down by a giant lorry headed toward us from around a corner.
“controlling the reigns with your left hand”
In America (well, southern-north-America, at least) your escalators are also ‘on the wrong side of the road’. We get on the left hand side escalator.