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Why Do We Drive On Different Sides of the Road?

March 16, 2020
 Why Do We Drive On Different Sides of the Road?

Originally, almost everybody traveled on the left side of the road. However, their mode of transport was very different from today… think… four legs instead of four wheels!

It made sense for Medieval swordsman on horseback to keep to the left to have their dominant right arms closer to their opponents. Mounting and dismounting was also easier from the left side of the horse (as it still is today), and safer from the side of the road rather than in the centre.

Should we be asking… “Why did people stop travelling on the left”?

It began changing in the late 16th century when large wagons pulled by several pairs of horses were used to transport products in France and the United States. In the absence of a driver’s seat inside a wagon, the driver sat on the rear left horse, with his right arm free us use his whip to keep the horses moving. Since the driver was sitting on the left, he wanted other wagons to pass on his left, so he kept to the right wide of the road.

The British Government refused to give up their left-hand driving habits, and in 1773 introduced the General Highways Act, which encouraged driving on the left. Meanwhile post-revolution France, under their left-handed ruler Napoleon, embraced a permanent move to the right side of the road.

Amidst all this driving confusion, the British and French were colonising their power across the globe, insisting that the countries they occupied drove on the same side of the road. This explains why former British colonies such as Australia, New Zealand and India drive on the left, whilst former French colonies such as Algeria, Ivory Coast and Senegal drive on the right.

When Henry Ford built his Model T in 1908, the driver’s seat was on the left, meaning that cars would have to drive on the right hand side of the road to allow front and rear passengers to exit the car onto the curb. This influenced a change in many countries – Canada, Italy and Spain changed to right-side driving in the 1920s, and most of Europe followed suit in the 1930s.

In the early days of motoring, when Vanuatu was governed by both the French and the British, the French drove on the right side of the road and the British on the left.

On the same roads, at the same time!

The problem was settled by agreeing that the next person to drive off an incoming ferry boat would determine which side of the road everyone in Vanuatu would travel on.

The next person off the boat was a French man and so everyone in Vanuatu had to drive on the right hand side of the road.

Today, driving in Vanuatu is still on the right side of the road.