Good Morning, and welcome to Saturday Surprise on Sunday! Time just goes too fast for me, and I keep letting Saturday sneak up on me without realizing it has done so. But that’s okay … we can have just as much fun on a Sunday morning, yes? I hope you are all having a lovely weekend! Recently, I was having a discussion with one of my UK friends, and I truly do not remember why the topic even came up, but I mentioned something about them driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road. He, of course, suggested that I simply call it the ‘other side’ of the road, for who’s to say which is right and which is wrong. So, of course, that opened the lid to my curiosity box, and I had, suddenly, a burning desire to know how it came to be that we here in the U.S. drive on the right side, and the Brits drive on the wrong left side. And it turns out to be rather a fun story, so I thought it would make a nice Saturday Sunday morning diversion.It turns out that driving on the left side dates back to the days of feudal societies. Yes, yes, I am aware that Karl Benz and Henry Ford had not yet invented the automobile, but they rode horses (not Karl & Henry, but just people in general), and since most people are right-handed, swordsmen preferred to keep to the left in order to have their right arm nearer to an opponent and their scabbard further from him.So that’s a fairly logical explanation for the left side, but how did some of us come to switch to the right side?
In the late 1700s teamsters in France and the United States began hauling farm products in big wagons pulled by several pairs of horses. These wagons had no driver’s seat; instead the driver sat on the left rear horse, so he could keep his right arm free to lash the team. Since he was sitting on the left, he naturally wanted everybody to pass on the left so he could look down and make sure he kept clear of the oncoming wagon’s wheels. Therefore, he kept to the right side of the road.
Additionally, in France, until the French Revolution in 1789, the aristocracy travelled on the left of the road, forcing the peasantry over to the right, but after the storming of the Bastille and the subsequent events, aristocrats preferred to keep a low profile and joined the peasants on the right. Then when Napoleon began conquering other nations, the habit of driving on the right extended to other nations such as Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Germany, Poland and many parts of Spain and Italy. The states that had resisted Napoleon kept left – Britain, the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Portugal. Although by the 1800s, the trend was leaning toward driving on the right, Britain not only repudiated it, but in 1835 made left-hand driving mandatory, and the countries that were part of the British Empire followed suit. In the early years of the English colonization of North America, driving on the left was the norm. But once the U.S. gained its independence, just like the child finally freed from the bonds of its parents’ rules, that quickly began to change, and Pennsylvania was the first state, in 1792, to pass a law making driving on the right mandatory.And if you really want something confusing … Spain had no traffic regulations prior to the 1930s … some drove on the left, some on the right. In the 1960s, Great Britain also considered changing, but the country’s conservative powers did everything they could to nip the proposal in the bud. Furthermore, the fact that it would cost billions of pounds to change everything round was not much of an incentive… Eventually, Britain dropped the idea. Today, only four European countries still drive on the left: the United Kingdom, Ireland, Cyprus and Malta.Currently there are 166 countries that drive on the right, compared to 74 countries that drive on the wrong left. Which do you suppose is safer? I rather doubt that safety has as much to do with side of the road as it does with fitness of the drivers, but world standards has put together an interesting infographic to try to tie it down.
And now, folks, your burning question about who drives on which side of the road and why, has been answered. Go enjoy your weekend (what’s left of it), fire up the charcoal grill, invite a few friends over and relax, for tomorrow is … well, you know.
This one’s for you, Keith!