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Driving on the Right Side or the Left: Unraveling the Global Mystery of Road Rules

Image: Ricky Esquivel

The world is a patchwork quilt of driving customs. Some countries drive on the right side of the road, while others prefer the left. Ever wondered why? This article peels back the layers of history, culture, and pragmatism to reveal the intriguing reasons behind this global driving divide.

Historical Origins:

The roots of left and right-sided driving can be traced back to ancient times. In ancient Rome, where many of our modern road systems find their origins, soldiers were trained to march on the left side of the road, allowing their right arm (most people being right-handed) to be free for combat. This practice influenced much of medieval Europe.

The British Influence:

The British Empire, one of the largest colonial powers, played a significant role in shaping driving customs. In the 18th century, teamsters in the United Kingdom began hauling farm products in big wagons pulled by several pairs of horses. To ensure their free arm had space, teamsters would sit on the rear left horse, holding the reins with their right hand. This position made it easier to navigate and control the team. The practice extended to the colonies, including countries like Australia and India, which still drive on the left today.

The Age of Enlightenment and Standardization:

During the Age of Enlightenment, many countries started to standardize their road systems. France, in particular, played a pivotal role. In 1792, they enacted a law that declared all vehicles on the road should keep to the right side. Napoleon Bonaparte, who was left-handed, preferred this system as it allowed him to wield his sword more effectively against oncoming foes. Countries under French rule or influence adopted this right-sided system, which is why much of Europe drives on the right today.

Exceptions to the Rule:

While the majority of the world drives on the right, there are intriguing exceptions. Countries like the United Kingdom, Australia, Japan, and India have stuck to their left-sided traditions. Interestingly, this choice often defies geographical proximity. For instance, despite being surrounded by right-driving countries, the UK maintains its left-sided tradition.

Modern Influences:

In contemporary times, factors such as road safety, tourism, and urban planning also influence driving customs. Countries may switch sides during political changes, as seen in Sweden’s switch from left to right in 1967. Additionally, the rise of globalization and international tourism has led some countries to adopt right-sided driving to align with their neighbors and accommodate tourists more familiar with right-side driving.


The choice of driving on the right or left side of the road is a testament to the intricate tapestry of history, culture, and practicality that makes up our world. As you navigate the roads, whether on the right or left, remember that each lane has its unique story, connecting us to the rich heritage of our global society.

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Road Rules
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