Driving on the Right Side of the Road

Why Do We Drive on the Right

According to Guinness: The Book of Answers:

‘Of the 221 separately administered countries and territories in the
world, 58 drive on the left and 163 on the right. In Britain it is
believed that left hand driving is a legacy from the preference of
passing an approaching horseman or carriage right side to right side to
facilitate right armed defence against sudden attack. On the Continent
postillions were mounted on the rearmost left horse in a team and thus
preferred to pass left side to left side. While some countries have
transferred from left to right, the only case recorded of a transfer from
right to left is in Okinawa on 30 July 1978.’

Notes from listeners

People in much of the Far East pass each other by stepping to the
left, and it has nothing to do with swords or Romans – or even cars or
chariots. They do it for religious reasons. The right side of the body is
the clean side and the left side is the unclean side. By moving to the
left when you meet someone coming the other way you present your right
side to them. In Nepal, for example, it is good manners even to walk
backwards past a prayer wall to keep your right side towards it if there
is no way to walk by it on the other side. The clean/unclean idea about
the sides of the body is to be found very widely in different cultures,
not just in the Far East. The Romans have given us the word ‘sinister’
from their word for ‘left’, and we ourselves associate ‘right’ with
things that are good and correct. Surely, the Romans went on the left as
a matter of religious etiquette.

Just consider a single horse rider and their method of mounting their
steed. The great majority of riders mount a horse by putting their left
foot on the stirrup and swinging the other leg over. (If you don’t ride a
horse, think of getting on a bike!) If mounting from a bank at the side
of a lane or from a mounting block the rider will then find themselves
facing down the road on the left-hand side of the highway (however
narrow). What more natural than to ride off on the left and to negotiate
oncoming traffic by keeping to the left?

America: by the time Europeans went there in numbers they defended
themselves with firearms rather than swords, and it was probably more
important to pass a stranger on horseback left side to left side. This
made it easier to turn in the saddle and cover your back. It also helped
the person riding ‘shotgun’ on the stagecoach. The matter was eventually
resolved by Henry Ford. His ideas of mass production deemed that not only
was the famous Model T Ford to be available only in black, but it was
only to have the steering-wheel on the left.

It seems likely that the reason for the placing of the steering-wheel
on the right side of the car was for the purposes of competition. Almost
all motor racing circuits are driven clockwise; thus the driver is placed
on the inside of the track for most of the time. In Italy, even after the
advent of driving on the right-hand side of the road, the majority of
sports cars were built with their steering-wheel on the right, in case
they were to be used in competition.

The reason Napoleon decreed that his troops should march on the
right-hand side of the road was as follows. During the Napoleonic period
vast numbers of troops were moving around Europe. When two columns passed
each other on the narrow roads of the time, with their muskets or pikes
slung over their right shoulders, these weapons would crash into each
other and cause disruption and delay. The obvious solution was to make
the troops march on the right-hand side of the road so that the weapons
were slanted away from the approaching column.

Source: http://www.guinnessworldrecords.com/

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