WHY IS IT...?

Jul 27th, 2003, 04:49 PM
  #1  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jul 2003
Posts: 2,707
WHY IS IT...?

A poster today (largs) asked about driving in the UK and this reminded me of something that has bugged me for some time:

Why do the Brits drive on the left while most other places use the right side?

I was led to believe that for self-defense, it was thought best to have one's right hand free and this led to left side usage. But this was also true on the continent as well and also, why did the English not bring this custom with them to their new American shores?

Can anyone shed some light on the important (for me) question?
TuckH is offline  
Jul 27th, 2003, 05:48 PM
  #2  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 1,778
Merely for balance, and not really answering the question, but the Japanese, Australians, New Zealanders, Fijians, Indians, Indonesians, Sri Lankans, Nepalis, Pakistanis, Thais, Malaysians, Singaporeans, Hong Kongers, and Irish all drive on the left. That's merely countries I've been to and noticed, but I imagine there are numerous African countries which drive on the same side, and likely some Middle Eastern ones, some with sizeable populations.

As it is, those who drive on the left listed above, plus the British, already come to nearly 1.8 billion people.

I remember vividly a photograph in a school text book showing the day Sweden or Norway (I have forgotten which) changed sides in around 1974, I think. It looked like chaos. I also have friends in France of some antiquity who have kept their first Delage (French made) motor car, and the steering wheel is on the right.

And while we're firmly off the question, it might amuse you to know that a few years ago it was fashionable to have an imported car. The Mini was particularly popular (and very suitable for Japan's road and parking situation), not to mention convenient since Japan and the UK drive on the same side of the road. But the problem was that a right-hand drive car didn't look foreign enough. So the young trendies imported left-hand drive versions.

Peter N-H
http://members.axion.net/~pnh/China.html
PeterN_H is offline  
Jul 27th, 2003, 06:30 PM
  #3  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jul 2003
Posts: 2,707
Yeah, it was Sweden in '74 and they changed because of the Volvo exports, I believe. Boy, you've been around (and know the population count)! Thanks.
TuckH is offline  
Jul 27th, 2003, 06:47 PM
  #4  
ed
 
Join Date: Feb 2003
Posts: 510
There are theories galore as to why the UK, and therefore other countries drive on the left but the most intirguing one has to do with Japan.

The Emperor imported a Rolls-Royce and the steering was on the right. Therefore everyone afterwards drove on the left. O
ed is offline  
Jul 27th, 2003, 07:03 PM
  #5  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 34,738
You forgot Burmuda
I always thought that all the countries that England colonised had left side driving.
Could it have anything to do with those high hedgerows?
Scarlett is offline  
Jul 27th, 2003, 07:07 PM
  #6  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 47,841
And the Bahamas.

Didn't it originally have something to do with which side carriages opened up on and which side of the road it was best to drop the ladies off on so they didn't get splashed by mud kicked up from other carriages?

Or am I losing my mind?
StCirq is online now  
Jul 27th, 2003, 07:22 PM
  #7  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jul 2003
Posts: 2,707
Scarlett, England DID colonise the US of A. StCirq, you're postings are always so reasoned that it's hard for me to think of your mind getting lost! Please don't let that happen.

Sorry, but hedgerows and mudsplashing applies to either side of the road, right? When jousting, those right-handed knights had to approach each other from the left. Then, when the Pilgrims landed...
TuckH is offline  
Jul 27th, 2003, 07:22 PM
  #8  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 11,212
Left hand drive had to do with keeping your sword arm, or right arm, on the outside and available to defend yourself. Thus, while on horseback you kept to the far left side of the road. It carried forward to vehicular traffic in Britain and its territories or colonies.

Europe reversed this "keep to the left" rule under Napoleon who was left handed.

adrienne
adrienne is offline  
Jul 27th, 2003, 07:39 PM
  #9  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 34,738
Yes, Tuck, but Americans are always so Revolutionary in their behavior!!
If someone is driving on the left, then we will drive on the Right!! And we will measure our driving in miles !! not meters..so there~

StCirq, you cannot be losing your mind and doing such good work on Crossword Puzzles!!
Scarlett is offline  
Jul 27th, 2003, 08:20 PM
  #10  
 
Join Date: Mar 2003
Posts: 677
I propose that all countries that drive on the left start driving on the right immediately. But to minimize confusion, they should phase in the transition. Begin by moving buses and large trucks to the right. Other vehicles can make the transition in a few months.
smueller is offline  
Jul 27th, 2003, 08:27 PM
  #11  
 
Join Date: Jul 2003
Posts: 703
To Peter N!

Well said!

On the Sweden changeover in 1967(?): they were at that time the only place where you drove on the right in a right-hand drive car. So it wasn't a matter of changing sides on the road, but only inside the car.

And the Irish tried to change to driving on the left in 1975. They staggered the introduction of the changeover: Week 1 it was buses and trucks; Week 2 it was motorcycles; Week 3 it was cars. This was not a success.
harzer is offline  
Jul 27th, 2003, 08:58 PM
  #12  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 16,067
I'd done some long-ago research for a paper and had discovered a little bit of info on how the US came to drive on the right.

The Conestoga wagon, also known later as the Prairie Schooner was a major success in frontier transportation going back before the Revolutionary War and much earlier than their heyday during westward expansion. These wagons had no front seat, their holds reserved as much as possible for goods to trade. So, the drivers began sitting on a pullout board that extended from the left side of the wagon. Since you'd pass keeping traffic on the side you could see, everything moved to that pattern and established itself permanently.

Seems most things are based on what was easist at the time. I would imagine land bordering countries with opposite driving sides would have a more difficult transition, trying to move cars to opposite sides of the road as they crossed the border?

Clifton is offline  
Jul 27th, 2003, 09:40 PM
  #13  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 1,778
I wonder why half the planet should change its habits just to please one person?

Crossing from the UK to continental Europe or back, or crossing the border from China to Pakistan, there are vast signs reminding you to drive on the other side of the road. In the UK and France in particular these are repeated intermittently until its thought people will have the hang of it.

I've found when driving a right-hand drive vehicle in several European countries that the main practical difficulty was with overtaking, which required the use of a reliable passenger to indicate when it was safe. I regularly drive in both right-hand drive and left-hand drive countries these days, sometimes switching to and fro several times a year, and I find adjusting to different rules of the road far more difficult than switching sides, which only takes a few minutes' concentration.

The ability to turn right on a red light in a few countries still puzzles me. The whole business in France of right of way being from the right unless that is specifically cancelled by those yellow diamond signs sometimes gets me into trouble, as does the whole business of stopping on roundabouts to allow others to enter from the right. The Four-Way Stop seems to require far more common sense and patience than most North American drivers seem to possess, and is one of the daftest arrangements I've ever come across.

It's not clear why any further countries should think of changing sides, when billions are happy with what they have, and when it's all totalled up the split is probably 45% to 55%, if not nearly equal, and with the rapid growth of the populations of Indonesia and India, and the relatively slow growth in population of developed nations, quite likely to tip the other way before long. Furthermore, one-way systems and motorways/expressways are far more developed since Sweden's change, and a change of side would require massive rebuilding and re-engineering. Why should anyone bother? Those of us who drive on the left might not unreasonably find the commonplace assumption that those on the right are the overwhelming majority, or that driving on the right is somehow superior, to be a little irritating. I suppose that someone will insist next that dull and wasteful automatic gearboxes are made compulsory world-wide. It seems to be getting harder and harder in North America to rent a car you can actually drive, as opposed to just sit in and turn the wheel.

Peter N-H
http://members.axion.net/~pnh/China.html
PeterN_H is offline  
Jul 27th, 2003, 09:48 PM
  #14  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 1,778
You know, the more I do this, the more I realize I shouldn't do it when I'm tired. How I managed to spot the joke in one post but not in another, I don't know. Zzzz...
PeterN_H is offline  
Jul 27th, 2003, 09:50 PM
  #15  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 16,067
Peter,

I wasn't suggesting that anyone change. I've been fine on whichever side as we travel. I just haven't crossed over that point where the border was also a switching point and was curious about the transition. There was no agenda other than the curiosity.

All of my left hand driving experiences have been on islands - Ireland, Australia, Britain - thus no borders to experience.
Clifton is offline  
Jul 27th, 2003, 10:11 PM
  #16  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 1,778
Clifton: I was referring to smueller's humorous message. Being a dimwit I didn't read the end properly and replied in my first line to the first part of that as if it were a serious suggestion (which I've heard, seriously, from a few people in the past).
PeterN_H is offline  
Jul 27th, 2003, 10:17 PM
  #17  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 16,067
Ah, well, consider yourself well ahead of me, as I'd missed his post altogether. Interesting period that would be, transition-wise.

We've been without power here for a week. If you think N. Americans and 4 way stops are interesting, you should see an entire US city voluntarily navigate once all traffic signals have suddenly ceased to exist. We could use a few roundabouts!

I too have bypassed the reasonable hour for sleep. G'Night.
Clifton is offline  
Jul 28th, 2003, 05:26 AM
  #18  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jul 2003
Posts: 2,707
Thanks to the many for the roundabout of ideas (and humor)!
TuckH is offline  
Jul 28th, 2003, 07:13 AM
  #19  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 2,330
I find it odd when I sit in my boat on the lake that it's a right-hand drive, not a left-hand like my car here in the US. I boat on a small lake that doesn't have channels. I wonder if you're in the Missippi river with your right-hand drive boat if you stay to the right bank with boats passing you on the left or stay to the left bank with boats passing you on the right?
indytravel is offline  
Jul 28th, 2003, 07:47 AM
  #20  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 16,067
Indytravel, thinking back to much boating on the Mississippi, it works there like it does most everywhere else in the US. Starboard to starboard (keep left) if I recall correctly. Usually even in the river it's not a big deal in the daytime and not enforced that I ever saw, except with commercial traffic. But, at night, you have a leading red light to port and a green light to starboard, plus a trailing white light to starboard as well and that really does help you figure out the orientation and direction of other boats when it gets dark out on the river. We used to camp out on the island sand bars in the middle of the channel and remember that people seem much more aware of this come night fall. If you see green, go. Red and you (or they) are on the wrong side!


Clifton is offline  

Thread Tools
Search this Thread

Contact Us - Archive - Advertising - Cookie Policy -

FODOR'S VIDEO

All times are GMT -8. The time now is 08:19 AM.