Why do some countries drive vehicles on the left-hand side of the road while others on right-hand side?

You might have wondered why some countries drive vehicles on the left, whereas others on the right. There are several theories that help explain the concept of driving either left or right. Right-hand traffic is used in more than 165 countries, whereas 75 countries use left-hand traffic. In left-hand traffic, the steering wheel is located on the right, whereas the traffic keeps to the left. Whereas in the case of right-hand drive, the traffic keeps to the right, and the driver sits on the left side of the car. In order to under the left and right-hand traffic trend, we will have to give history a visit.

Why do some countries drive vehicles on the left hand side of the road while others on right hand side


In the past, everybody used to travel on the left side of the road as that was the most sensible option for violent feudal societies. Furthermore, since most people were right-handed, the swordsmen preferred to keep to the left so that they could use their right arm in case of an attack. Moreover, a horseman finds it easier to jump onto the horse from its left side, wearing a sword. Later, individuals such as Napoleon Bonaparte and Empress Elizabeth in 1752 officially made it clear to keep traffic on the right.

Around 35% of the world population that drives on the left today were mostly old British Colonies. However, Japan was never a part of the British empire, but its traffic also keeps to the left. The Japanese follow this habit back to the Edo period. It was until 1872 when the rule was more or less officially declared. That was also the same year when Japan’s first railway was introduced. With the help of the British, a huge network of trails spread across Japan and were, of course, kept to the left.

Why do countries drive on the right?

Many analysts are off the view that left-hand drive is the future of traffic. However, we can still see that most countries still drive on the right. Why? The standard explanation for this is that Napoleon was the one who introduced this trend. He was a left-handed individual himself and found himself most comfortable on the road’s right-hand side. This theory somehow seems to be a bit of myth, but many argue that since aristocrats rode on the left, it was only natural to drive on the right.

Has any country switched to the left recently?

The most recent country to make the switch was Samoa. It actually shifted from going right to left, mainly because it could import cheap vehicles from the left-leaning countries such as Australia and New Zealand. Although the country experienced a huge political challenge but the country successfully implemented the decision.

It is said that drivers of horse carriages in Britain, before the invention of motor car, had found it convenient to drive on left-hand side as it prevented the horsewhip from getting entangled in the hedge on the right-hand side. According to another legend the genesis of this tradition lies in the convenience it gave to bodyguards riding in the vanguard of the king’s coach in wielding their swords or aiming and firing their pistols with right hand in case of need. This English tradition was subsequently implanted in subject countries like India with the result that in about 50 countries motor vehicles are driven on the left-hand side.

On the other hand it is said that Napoleon marched his armies on the right-hand side of road, and as the conqueror of almost entire Europe he ordered driving on the right-hand side so the vehicles in most of the countries of Europe are driven on the right-hand side. Sweden was the only country in Europe which followed left-hand side driving rule for many years. But from September 3, 1967 the Swedish Government also adopted right-hand side driving rule. About 6,000 traffic lights and 3,60,000 road signs had to be changed all over the country for this purpose. Finally, on the dot of predetermined hour all the motor vehicles on the road stopped for a moment and then switched the sides. See the accompanying photograph above, taken at that time in Stockholm, the capital of Sweden.

In the end, the answer to left and right-hand traffic regulation lies in history. It was basically a trend that had started and adopted by armies to keep them safe while passing through vulnerable locations. Whereas, the countries that drive on the left were a part of the British Empire and therefore adopted the same method. Each country had its own reasons, and they prefer to stick to them even today.