Countries in the world follow two different traffic practices. One hundred and sixty-five countries and territories use the left side of the road or left-hand traffic (LHT) while the rest 75 countries and territories use the right side of the road or right-hand traffic (RHT). Automobiles in the LHT countries are right-hand drive, which means the steering wheel is on the right side of the vehicles. Vice versa, the vehicles in the RHT countries are left-hand drive.
Japan, the UK, New Zealand, Ireland, India, and many other countries follow the LHT rule, while most European countries and the United States follow theRHT rule. Have you ever thought about the reason behind these two traffic rules? Could the whole world not follow just one rule?
What Does History Say about Car Driving Rules?
There are scads of myths explaining the reason behind the world dividing between these two traffic rules.
Right-hand driving could be the direct result of almost 90% of the world population being right-handed. Many countries practicing right-hand driving are former British colonies. There are interesting theories regarding why they used the left side of the road for riding horse carriages and vehicles.
Sword fighters and knights were still treading the paths of England during the days of English Feudalism. Those right-handed warriors preferred staying at the left side of the road to keep the right side free so that they could draw the sword to an approaching enemy without facing any obstruction. Also, staying on the right side was a safety measure as it would protect them from bumping into another man’s scabbard, the thin sword sheath used to be attached to the left side of a fighter’s body.
Another theory is that the rule came from horse mounting practices. Horses are mounted from the left, which makes the process easier. With the reins in the right hand, it was easier to ride the horse on the left side of the road.
Historical evidence suggests that left-hand driving was mostly the result of the opposition to British rule. The great French emperor Napoléon Bonaparte enforced left-hand driving in several European countries after conquering them. Great Britain was his political rival. So, it made sense that they did not follow suit. The United States followed the Napoleonic driving rule in an attempt to deny of its British roots.
Why Does Japan Follow the Right-Hand Driving Rule?
Britain enforced the right-hand driving rule in all of its colonies, and most of them did not change that even after the end of colonialism. For this reason, most African and Indian subcontinent countries use the right-hand driving.
But Japan was never under British rule or a part of the British colony. Why did they chose the right-hand driving then? The truth is they chose Britain companies to make their railway. For this reason, all Japanese vehicles are right-hand drive.
There are rules and laws in driving that we have come to accept and take for granted without thinking much about them, while many have very interesting backstories as to why these rules and laws were created and enforced. The automotive industry has a long history with many stories to tell. Check out this curious and laughter-inducing list of 20 Funny and Weird Traffic Laws in the US that will have you wondering “Why?”