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Why Do We Drive on the Left in the UK

Currently we are among the 35% of the world’s population who drive down the left side of the road. In fact, most of these countries were previously colonised by Britain. It’s truly fascinating to consider what started this custom and while we still stick by it today.

Beginning in Darker Times

Back in the day, the vast majority of travellers chose to stick on left hand side of the road. This was the wisest option when living during our feudal days. Things could often get ugly, sword fights between travelling parties was common. Since most of us are right handed it made perfect sense. Your scabbard would have already been furthest from opponents, and then a drawn sword would be within easier striking distance. Not to mention you would be less likely to accidently clubber a friendly passing traveller with your scabbard.

For the great distances, many would also be travelling on horseback. For the righties, mounting and dismounting the horse from the left side is much easier. Therefore by travelling down the left hand side you could get on or off safely at the side of the road, avoiding incidents with passing traffic.

Rise of the Right Side Drivers

During the 1700s, France and the US began frequently transporting farm produce using multiple horse driven wagons. Riders would sit on the left rear horse, freeing their right hand to whip the horses. Checking the clearance of passing traffic was paramount, passing on the left side made this easier.

The events following the French Revolution of 1978 were highly influential for right hand driving in Europe. Napoleon’s campaigns spread their driving custom to many European countries including the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Poland, Germany, even Spain and Italy.

The countries that managed to keep Napoleon at bay included Great Britain, Portugal and the Austro-Hungarian lands. Their left side driving would then be safe for over a decade.

Over time, most of the European countries began to switch to the right. American cars began exporting internationally on a large scale. Since they were built for their roads, the driver’s area was located on the left. Countries that relied upon their production of cars felt the pressure to jump to the right side.

Those Who Are Staying Put

During the 1800s many countries were rapidly expanding their transport systems and roads. Many now needed to set their choices in stone. For Britain our driving laws were largely established in 1835. Many of our colonies followed this custom too, including parts of Africa, India and Australasia.

Switch over to the right was seriously considered in Britain during the 1960s. This notion was quickly scrapped, it would have been far too costly to modify all of our transport networks. Since there is little justification to switch we are going to stay put. Presently we are one of the four remaining European countries still driving left. The other’s, if you were wondering, are Ireland, Malta and Cyprus.

published: 28/08/2015 09:16:14

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