How to Choose the Driving Lane?

This year, the Samoan drivers were surprised by their government’s decision to force the whole nation to switch to driving on the left side of the road. The official switch over was in effect at 6 am on 7 September 2009.

The New York Times reported that cars having steering wheels will be allowed on either side for now by the Samoan government. In fact the steering wheels is not a bigger issue, it is the nation’s buses that have doors mounted on the right side meaning that the passengers would have to board and get off from the middle of the roads.

Driving Lane

Samoa has become the first country in 40 years to change driving sides and they claim that the reason is related to economy. The Samoan government believed that the country wanted to become self supportive by finishing their dependence on costly left hand vehicles that were imported from the USA as it is cheap to import vehicles form countries such as Australia and New Zealand that also have a system of driving on the left.

This interesting story will make one wonder how countries decide the side of the road on which their citizens will drive. A question comes to a mind why the drivers in the United States drive on the right side of the road.

A good article has been published on the website of Mental Floss says that because of four ways, countries have decided traditionally to choose a particular side of road for driving.

Reasons for left-side driving

1. The Pope:

Pope Boniface VIII passed a decree in 1300 AD that pilgrims headed for Rome should keep on the left. During this period, road travelling was a common practice that started with the Western world feudal societies who were cautious of other travelers. They used to drive on left side and kept their sword arm between themselves and other travelers, because of their fear of others on the road.

2. Government Laws

A city ordinance in 1756 ordered the traffic on London Bridge to keep to the left. Historical data shows that places under US and French influence kept to the right while those countries and territories under the influence of British Empire kept to the left.

Reasons for right-side driving

1. Right-hand Rules

As most of the people are right-handed, there are some who believe that there is a natural trend to keep to the right.

2. The Left-hand Driver’s Seat

During the era of 1700s, farmers in United States and France started using wagons for transporting their goods. There was not too much space in these wagons for people to sit so drivers sat on the rear left horse, this was the start of the left-hand driver’s seat. Some are of a view that drivers began riding on the right hand side of the road as it was considerably safer because wheels of the oncoming traffic could be seen. This practice was revived in the start of 1900s when Ford company released the Model T equipped with a left-hand driver’s seat.


3. Napoleon & Hitler

Napoleon was left-handed and this was the reason he wanted everyone to approach him from the right so his sword arm could be kept between him and anyone he met. This was a practice that had already started before the rule of Napoleon, his troops were loyal to follow his orders and extended his influence within his realm and across Europe.

When Eastern European countries were invaded by Hitler, he ordered everyone to drive on the right. Territories of Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Vienna that historically used to drive n the left side of the road now drive on the right.

Still Confused?

The website Mental Floss suggests that you may not be alone. Still, there are places like the US Virgin Islands where left-hand cars are allowed to drive on the left side of the road.

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Filed Under: Driving & Parking


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