If you've just driven the "Le Shuttle" automobile train (that carries cars) between Britain and France, or are cruising across the border between China and Pakistan or China and Hong Kong—watch out!
Are you driving on the right (correct) side of the road?
The practice of left-hand driving started long before the car. In Roman times and beyond in Europe, people on horseback (or chariot) wanted to stay to the left in case they chanced upon an opponent or thief. Then they could use their right arm with a sword or other weapon to attack and defend.
It also became the custom to mount horses from the left, a way to protect the animals from swords riders wore on their right side. To this day, children learning horseback riding are taught to mount horses from the left side. And in traffic, it is of course safer to mount a horse from the side of the (the left) as opposed to the middle.
But in the 1700s, things got weird. People began transporting farm goods in wagons drawn by teams of horses. These simple wagons had no seats, so drivers would ride the rearmost horse on the left, so their right hand would be free to whip all horses.
Then when two wagons passed, drivers wanted to keep right so they could better guide the wagons so as not to have wheels catch or other problems.
In the early 1800s, the British made it left-side drive law, while in
Today many former British colonies such as
Henry Ford’s Model T automobile, introduced in 1908, changed everything. Ford made a car the common people could afford, and they did; suddenly the American dream included owning an auto for weekend road trips, and Ford's assembly line made it possible.
Importantly, Henry Ford put the driver’s seat on the
left of the car—meaning they would be driven on the right side of the road. The new vehicle set the trend. It quickly convinced countries such as
Over time, as Sweden learned, it becomes difficult or impossible to change things like this. Any suggestion of switching would instantly divide people politically—literally the left vs. the right.
By John Sailors, OffKey.
(C) 2022 by John Sailors. All rights reserved.