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Left or Right - What side do you drive?

Updated on August 17, 2012
The sword hung on the left side and was drawn by the right hand.
The sword hung on the left side and was drawn by the right hand. | Source

What's the right side of the road to drive?

Before we began driving cars and jeeps it was horse drawn carriages. And before the carriages, it was just the horses.

In fact it was the Horses and the Cavalry in particular which gave us the left hand side of the road drive. The sword of the horse rider would hang on the left side so that he could draw it clear from the saber with his right hand.

What particularly did they hang the sword on the left? Most men were right handed and so they tended to use the arm for the sword and the left hand to hold on to the reigns of the horse to control it. There were some exceptions who were left handed and wore the sword on the right side, but they were rare.

So if you were riding on a dirt track and were approached by an unfamiliar stranger it would be wise to stick to the left side of the road and have a hand on the hilt of your sword. That way your left hand could easily take over the reigns and the right hand could draw the sword to face the potentially hostile stranger. This habit carried forward when horse carriages came into play. So the horse rider now sat in a carriage but still preferred to stick to the left side of the road. And I use the term road loosely as it actually involved just traveling over dirt tracks at that point of time.

Horse drawn carriage
Horse drawn carriage | Source

From horses to horsepower

Naturally when the "Horseless carriages" that ran on a motor first appeared they tended to follow the horse drawn carriages and moved on the left hand side of the track as well. Soon the condition of the roads and the engines of the cars both improved a great deal. Still they were following the left hand drive and the steering wheel was still placed on the right hand front seat of the car. So how come we are now faced with half the world driving on the left hand side and the other half on the right hand side of the road?

The United States of America was the first country to begin driving their cars on the right hand side of the road.They also did a number of other things that differentiated them from the ways of the old country. One such example is the humble light switch. In UK you put the light switch on by toggling the knob down, but in USA you put the lights off by toggling the knob down. Any how, to get back to the road side story.

As per Wikipedia "All U.S. states and territories except the U.S. Virgin Islands drive on the right. The first keep-right law in the United States, passed in 1792, applied to the Philadelphia and Lancaster Turnpike. New York in 1804 and New Jersey in 1813 also enacted keep-right rules. Only the formerly British thirteen colonies historically drove on the left; the historically French, Spanish, Russian and Hawaiian portions of the United States all drove on the right by the time they were annexed by the United States."

In fact the Ford Model T was the first American car that offered the right hand driver by having the driver's seat in the left front. It was followed by Cadillac and the rest as they say is history.

So what about the rest of the world?

Most territories of the United Kingdom, both former and current tend to still drive on the left hand side of the road. That's no matter where you go in the commonwealth of nations you will usually be driving on the left hand side of the road. Some decided to celebrate their independence by switching to right hand side driving. It was a kind of defiant measure that said, hey look at us, we don't have to follow your road rules any more, we got our own new ones. And now despite many efforts to regularize traffic rules, each individual country is reluctant to shift to a uniform set of traffic laws.


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    • old albion profile image

      Graham Lee 5 years ago from Lancashire. England.

      Hi cashmere. An extremely interesting hub. I had not really thought about this subject. Thank you.


    • cashmere profile image

      cashmere 5 years ago from India

      I guess its equally distressing for those from left side driving countries to visit Denmark :)

    • elle64 profile image

      elle64 5 years ago from Scandinavia

      In denmark we driv in the right side of the road- so when I got to countries where the y drive in the left side- I always sit and think there will be an accident....

    • cashmere profile image

      cashmere 5 years ago from India

      Reena, bang on, the last bit didn't get saved...will complete it.

      Thanks Ruchira and MarleneB

    • Reena Daruwalla profile image

      Reena Daruwalla 5 years ago from INDIA

      Fascinating! Really liked that. But is the post incomplete?

    • MarleneB profile image

      Marlene Bertrand 5 years ago from Northern California, USA

      Hi Cashmere, I really enjoyed reading your hub. I can imagine there was a lot of confusion in the beginning where people would get in their vehicle and start off driving on the wrong side of the road. Very interesting information.

    • Ruchira profile image

      Ruchira 5 years ago from United States

      Great read, cashmere.

      It was good to know about the origins.

      voted up as interesting

    • cashmere profile image

      cashmere 5 years ago from India

      Mechanization takes its toll I suppose :)

    • algarveview profile image

      Joana e Bruno 5 years ago from Algarve, Portugal

      Hi, Cashmere, actually in Portugal we drive on the right hand side, but it wasn't always so...

    • cashmere profile image

      cashmere 5 years ago from India

      Thank you for stopping by. Does Portugal drive on the left hand side?

    • algarveview profile image

      Joana e Bruno 5 years ago from Algarve, Portugal

      Hi, Cashmere, interesting info, I had never thought of the why, but it's interesting to find out the reasons behind actions, namely this matter of driving on the left or the right. Have a great day!