Post by Joanna on Jan 30, 2019 14:24:12 GMT -5
Why Do Brits Drive on the Wrong Side of the Road?
Have you ever wondered why the British drive on the wrong side of the road? Believe it or not, there is historical precedence and it’s all about keeping one’s sword hand free!
In the Middle Ages, you never knew whom you were going to meet when traveling lonely roads. Most people are right-handed, so if you kept to the left, a stranger would pass to your right and your right hand would be free to dispatch him with your sword if necessary. (Similarly, the stairways in medieval castles spiral clockwise going up so that defending soldiers would be able to stab downward around the twists, while attackers, i.e., those ascending the stairs, would be at a disadvantage.)
Indeed, the “keep to the left” rule goes back even farther in time: Archaeologists have discovered evidence suggesting the Romans drove carts and wagons on the left and it is known that Roman soldiers always marched on the left. This “rule of the road” was officially sanctioned in AD 1300 when Pope Boniface VIII declared that all pilgrims traveling to Rome should keep to the left.
This continued until the late 1700s when large wagons became popular for transporting goods. Such wagons were drawn by several pairs of horses and weren’t equipped with a driver’s seat. Instead, in order to control the horses, the driver sat astride the horse at the left rear, thus keeping his whip hand free. Sitting to the left however made it difficult to judge traffic coming in the other direction, as anyone who has driven a left-hand drive car along the winding lanes of Britain knows. These huge wagons were best suited to the wide open spaces of Canada and the United States and the first keep-to-the-right law was passed in Pennsylvania in 1792, with many states and Canadian provinces following suit. In France, a decree in 1792 ordered traffic to keep to the “common” right and Napoleon later enforced the rule in all French territories.
But in England, there wasn’t much call for these massive wagons and the smaller British vehicles had seats for the driver to sit behind the horses. Because people are right-handed, the driver would sit to the right to keep his whip hand free. Traffic congestion in 18th century London led to a law requiring all traffic on London Bridge to keep to the left in order to reduce collisions. This rule was incorporated into the Highway Act of 1835 and adopted throughout the British Empire.
There was a movement in the 20th century toward the harmonization of highway laws in Europe and a gradual shift began from driving on the left to the right. The last Europeans to change from left to right were the Swedes, who bravely made the change overnight on Dagen H (H Day), September 3, 1967. At 4.50 a.m., all traffic in Sweden stopped for 10 minutes before restarting, this time driving on the right.
With the exception of nations once part of the British Empire or heavily influenced by the British, most countries today drive on the right. Among the most notable that drive on the left, other than the UK and Northern Ireland, are Australia, India, Indonesia, Japan, Kenya and several other African nations including South Africa, New Zealand, Pakistan, and several Caribbean islands. The only location under US control where people drive on the left is the US Virgin Islands.
Sources: Ellen Castelow, Historic UK, and WorldTravel.