Why do UK Motorists Drive on the Opposite Side of the Road?
Here in the United States, it’s easy to forget that there are certain countries in the world that drive on the opposite side of the road to us. While the first country that springs to mind is the United Kingdom, it’s by no means the only country to drive on the left-hand side of the road. Other left-hand drivers include motorists in India, Pakistan, South Africa, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Tanzania, Botswana, and Guyana—mostly former British colonies. In fact, 35% of the world’s population drives on the left-hand side of the road, but the question remains…. Why?
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To answer that question, we have to go back in time to before the late 1700s. While there were no cars at this time, people tended to travel on the left because most people were right-handed, and therefore carried their weapons on the right side. In a more feudal time, this meant that travelers were protected from strangers they passed on their travels, and were able to defend themselves at a moment’s notice when necessary.
This all changed, however, when left-handed Napoleon began conquering countries across Europe. Napoleon preferred carrying his weapon on the left and riding on the right, and so countries colonized by France tended to adopt this habit. Thus, when cars were invented it only seemed sensible to continue traveling on the side of the road to which countries were accustomed.
When America adopted right-hand driving, many countries followed suit, because American cars were considered some of the most reliable on the market, and American cars were built to drive on the right. From then, right-side-driving countries outnumbered left-side-driving countries, so it was easier for those left to adopt the habit of driving on the right.
However, 35% of drivers around the world is still a large number, even though the majority of countries drive on the left. And it looks unlikely than Britain or any of the aforementioned countries will change to right-side-driving, since it would cost billions to change the existing infrastructure.