Why Don’t We All Drive On The Same Side Of The Road?

Have you ever wondered why motorists in all countries don’t drive on the same side of the road? If you live in the United States, you will drive on the right hand side of the road. Head across the Atlantic to the UK and Ireland, and people there drive on the left.


Britain’s European neighbours all drive on the right, just like in the US. Why is that so? And why can’t we all drive on the same side of the road?

Back in 2009, motorists living in the Pacific island of Samoa switched from driving on the right to driving on the left. One of the main reasons for doing so is due to the cost of importing left-hand drive cars.

It is cheaper for Samoans to import cars from neighbouring Australia and New Zealand. Those countries drive on the left. At the time, there was a lot of public outcry as motorists worried about confusing new road layouts and crashing their cars.

Roughly two-thirds of the world drive on the right. There are many theories why we don’t all drive on the same side of the road. Here are some of the most-common theories.

The Napoleonic influence

One popular theory suggests that we have Napoleon to thank for the left-right divide. The French rode their horses and carriages on the right-hand side of the road since the early 19th century.

Some sources speculate that aristocrats drove on the left before the French Revolution. One thing is for certain, and that is Napoleon brought right-hand traffic to the countries that he conquered. Those countries include Russia and Germany.

Nations that escaped conquest, such as Great Britain, continued their tradition of left-hand driving. Britons still drive on the left today.

Hitler’s influence

German-occupied Austria and Czechoslovakia assumed left-hand driving under instructions from Hitler. Those two countries had planned to do this before the war.

The British influence

In the United States, road users didn’t always drive on the right. By the late 18th century, horse riders pulling large carts (i.e. teamsters) began travelling on the right. That was contrary to the original tradition of driving on the left, as was the case back in England.

Many former and current Commonwealth countries drive on the left as they do in England. Those countries include:

  • Australia;

  • New Zealand;

  • India;

  • Pakistan;

  • South Africa;

  • Malaysia.

Some people remark at how odd it is to see right-hand drive British-made vehicles in left-hand drive formats. Something to ponder on your next used Range Rover Sport buy, perhaps?

Henry Ford’s influence

When Ford started mass-producing cars in the early 20th century, he built left-hand drive cars only.

Despite that, many US Postal Service vehicles are right-hand drive rather than left-hand drive. The reason for that is so employees can collect and deliver mail quicker.

The Samurai influence

Some countries in Asia, such as Japan, were never part of the Commonwealth. Japan is a country that drives on the left, just like the UK.

Experts suggest that this dates back to Samurai times. Warriors wore their swords on the left to avoid injuring people they walked past.

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