CarTalk.com Blogs Car Info Our Show Deals Mechanics Files Vehicle Donation

UK/US road directions

How did we end up with right/left in the US and Left/Right in the Uk for car directions on highways?

Look at the bottom of the page under HISTORY. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Right-_and_left-hand_traffic

Tester

Maxie88, this is a very long story, but I’ll try to summarize my version. Since most people are right handed, and in ancient days most travel in Europe was on horse back on often dangerous paths, a rider wanted to be ready to use his sword or dagger to defend himself. That dagger was kept on his left in its sheath.

When passing another rider, it made sense to be ready to defend yourself, so you passed the other rider ON THE LEFT so as to be able to stab him with your right hand side. In the ancient game of Jousting, thatis still the case.

Much research in Europe reveals that tracks into a Roman quarry, for instance in Swindon, UK had the deepest ruts on the left, with the fully loaded carts coming OUT of the quarry. The shallow tracks going IN were also on the left.

In other words, the whole "Western world drove on the left until… Napoleon, who was left handed, changed the rules. Napoleon was a product of the French Revolution as well, and he changed many things, including which side of the road we (Europe)drove on.

Since Napoleon never conquered Britain and Sweden, those countries kept driving on the LEFT.

In early colonial days, Americans probably rode on the left as well, as dictated by the colonial powers. With the French Revolution, the US sided with all things French, and changed to the other side (right hand). Others will post that this chnage was caused by the position of the brake on an American stage coach and wagon, where the brakeman sat on the right, and the driver on the right. There may be some truth to that as well.

The British created a world empire where everyone drove on the left, while the French, Dutch, Spanish and Portugese created their own empires that drove on the RIGHT. So the world go divided between the 2 camps.

Several countries are mysteries; Canada remained a British colony till 1867 and is still a part of the Commonwealth. Why did they not stay on the left side? The explanation might be tht living so close to the US it made more sense to go along and drive on the right as well.

Some Ex-British colonies that once drove on the left now drive on the right. In Africa, some that are close to ex-French and Spanish colonies changed to drive on the right.

Japan used to admire anything British before the US became a world power. So it made sense for them to adopt the left side. China chose otherwise, since the British caused them the most damage during the opium wars.

Sweden stayed on the left side until 1965, I believe when they made a New Year’s Eve changeover to the right, with the usual Swedish precision.

http://community.cartalk.com/posts/list/21/706809.page

Scroll down to mine and Docnik’s discussion.

Don’t take this as gospel but this is what I’ve read. Originally the U.S. built right hand drive vehicles and as soon as the gas tank was filled we discovered the benefits and enjoyment of racing. Since the racers drove counter clock wise it was a better balance and safer to move the steering wheel to the left side. In a convoluted way this evolved into the U.S. driving on the right side of the road.

Again, do not take this as gospel absolute truth.

And possibly the French heritage in Canada?