One of the questions you are likely to ask when planning to drive in a foreign country is whether driving is on the right or left-hand side of the road. In the United Kingdom, driving is on the left-hand side. This practice is largely followed by many commonwealth countries (former colonies of Britain). However, in countries such as the United States, Canada, and the Russian federation; it is the opposite.
To answer this question, it is imperative to take a journey back in time long before the discovery of the modern car.
There are more nations that drive on the right-hand side than on the left-hand side. It also goes without saying that many nations in its history have adopted right-hand side driving for various reasons. This can be traced to two events: the French revolution of 1789 and the introduction of wagons for transporting farm products in the United States and France in the late 1700’s.
The wagons were hauled by a pair of several pair of horses which had no driver’s seat. The driver sat on one of the left rear horses so as to make it easy for him to use his right hand in slashing the horses. Another reason for this sitting position was to enable him makes sure that he avoided, and kept clear on oncoming wagons. Therefore, the right-hand side was the natural place to seat.
The French revolution of 1789 also played a pivotal role in entrenching this practice not only in France, but also other European countries and by extension other countries of the world. Before the revolution, the ruling class and the feudal lords used to travel on the left hand side of the road and the peasants were forced to use the right-hand side. After the revolution, using the left-hand side of the road was no longer the way to go as the aristocrats preferred being associated with the peasants.
This ultimately led to the introduction of “keep-right-rule” in Paris in 1794. Later on, Napoleon military fetes helped to entrench this practice in the following countries: Belgium, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Poland, Russia, Switzerland, and large parts of Italy and Spain. Later colonization by the aforementioned countries introduced this practice to its colonies. Today, 167 countries drive on the right-hand side.
Left-hand driving came naturally as people used to travel on the left-side as it was seen as a sensible way of travelling in violent and feudal societies. Another reason was the fact that it is easier and safer to mount and dismount a horse (primary way of travelling then) on the right hand side for a person wearing a sword on the left. Naturally, when a person mounts on a horse on the left, the preferred way of ridding is on the left.
Driving on the left is the way to go in former British Empire with the exception of Egypt. Britain is credited with the introduction roads and with it traffic rules to many of its former colonies some of which have remained unchanged to date.
The bug for change to the right-hand side hit many countries especially with the fall on colonialism. Even Britain contemplated changing to the Right-hand side in the 1960’s, but this suggestion was quickly dismissed by conservative forces in the government who saw it as a scheme to eradicate British heritage and customs. Another reason why this idea never saw the light of the day was cost implication of such a change.
Today, the following European countries drive on left-hand side: Cyprus, Ireland, United Kingdom, and Malta. The latest country in the world to shift to join the left-hand driving club is Samoa which changed from right to left-side on September 2009. In total, 75 countries in the world drive on the left-hand side.