why do the british drive on the left

Have you ever wondered why the British drive on the left? There is an historical reason for this; itвs all to do with keeping your sword hand free! In the Middle Ages you never knew who you were going to meet when travelling. Most people are right-handed, so if a stranger passed by on the right of you, your right hand would be free to use your sword if required. (Similarly,
staircases spiral in a clockwise direction going upwards, so the defending soldiers would be able to stab down around the twist but those attacking (going up the stairs) would not. ) Indeed the вkeep to the leftв rule goes back even further in time; archaeologists have discovered evidence suggesting that the Romans drove carts and wagons on the left, and it is known that Roman soldiers always marched on the left. This вrule of the roadв was officially sanctioned in 1300 AD when Pope Boniface VIII declared that all pilgrims travelling to Rome should keep to the left. This continued until the late 1700s when large wagons became popular for transporting goods. These wagons were drawn by several pairs of horses and had no driverвs seat. Instead, in order to control the horses, the driver sat on the horse at the back left, thus keeping his whip hand free. Sitting on the left however made it difficult to judge the traffic coming the other way, as anyone who has driven a left-hand drive car along the winding lanes of Britain will agree! These huge wagons were best suited to the wide open spaces and large distances of Canada and the US, and the first keep-to-the-right law was passed in Pennsylvania in 1792, with many Canadian and US states following suit later. In France a decree of 1792 ordered traffic to keep to the common right and Napoleon later enforced the rule in all French territories. In England there wasnвt much call for these massive wagons and the smaller British vehicles had seats for the driver to sit on behind the horses. As most people are right-handed, the driver would sit to the right of the seat so his whip hand was free.

Traffic congestion in 18th century London led to a law being passed to make all traffic on London Bridge keep to the left in order to reduce collisions. This rule was incorporated into the Highway Act of 1835 and was adopted throughout the British Empire. There was a movement in the 20th century towards the harmonisation of road laws in Europe and a gradual shift began from driving on the left to the right. The last Europeans to change from left to right were the Swedes who bravely made the change overnight on Dagen H (H Day), September 3rd 1967. At 4. 50am all traffic in Sweden stopped for ten minutes before restarting, this time driving on the right. Today, only 35% of countries drive on the left. These include India, Indonesia, Ireland, Malta, Cyprus, Japan, New Zealand, Australia and most recently, Samoa in 2009. Most of these countries are islands but where land borders require a change from left to right, this is usually accomplished using traffic lights, cross-over bridges, one-way systems or similar. British racing champion Stirling Moss launches British Master Driver tests in London, 1967 (Pic: Jim Gray / Getty Images) Let s be honest, this question is only phrased this way to appease the two-thirds of the drivers of the world that now drive on the right-hand side of the road. The real question, the question that deserves to be asked, is this: why did everyone else stop driving on the left? Taking the left hand side in traffic is a habit that goes back hundreds of years, possibly as far as the ancient Greeks, Egyptians and Romans, but certainly to an era when people habitually carried swords when traveling. As around 85-90% of humans are right-handed, passing on the right-hand side would leave carriage and cart drivers more open to attack from people coming the other way. Knights with lances, squires with knives, peasants with pitchforks, everyone had to be ready for a dust-up at a moment s notice, and that meant keeping to the left so you could get a good swing at your assailants.

Granted, this did mean they were more vulnerable to be attacked from the pavement, but no system is entirely foolproof. In 1773, the British Government introduced the General Highways Act, which encouraged horse riders, coachmen and people taking their vegetables to market (while carrying swords) to drive on the left, and that was that. The Highway Act of 1835 later reinforced this, making it the law of the land. However, things were slightly different elsewhere. Russian authorities, for example, had already noticed that their people tended to favor the right (maybe swords are less of a worryPif you have to wear heavy coats all the time), so their first edicts on the topic were that they continue to do so. The pre-revolutionary French were on the left, but having revolted, they moved overPas part of a general reordering of all society, and when Napoleon took over the army and began invading nations, he ordered them to stay on the right hand side too. Popular myth suggests this was also because he was left-handed, but there were other advantages; it would prove unsettling for his enemies, it would show him to be a great military tactician, and it would irk the British. Perfect! Everyone else kept left, but with increasing traffic on the roads in mainland Europe, this began toPcause confusion, and slowly, over the course of the next hundred years or so, the European nations began to move over too. Also, this divergent approach occurred at a time when the British and the French were very busy colonizing the world. Every country occupied by the Britslike Australia, New Zealand, India and the West Indieskept to the left, and the ones occupied by France moved over to the right. The Americas were split, withPthe new arrivals from Britain, Holland, Spain and Portugal keeping to the left, and the French colonies insisting on the right.

However, two vehicles were about to force this situation to change. In the late 1700s freight wagons (including the great ) became more and more popular, particularly in America. These were pulled by a chain of horses, arranged in pairs. The best place to sit in order to control these mighty beasts was on the back of the left-hand horse at the back, so you could whip the others with your right hand. With the postilion driver in position, the best way for one wagon to pass another without accidentally banging wheelsPwas the right hand side of the road. And where the wagons went, everyone else followed. So driving on the right became more common. And then the motor car arrived. While original designs for cars put the driver in the front and center of the vehicle, it wasn t long before the advantages of having the driver able to see down the middle of the road became clear. And in those countries where car manufacturing became an essential industry for export (America, this means you), right-hand-drive vehicles with the steering column on the left quickly became a worldwide norm, forcing relative latecomers like Sweden to give in and move over too. Although it s interesting to note that this arrangement does favor the left-handed driver somewhat, as their dominant hand is the one that never leaves the steering wheel. A right-handed driver in a British car spends a good deal of their time steering with his or her right hand while fiddling with the gear stick with their left, which seems the safest way. This may account for the relative popularity of stick-shift gearboxes in British cars to this day. Oh and one last thing. In Japan, they historically drove on the leftpartly by choice, partly because British engineers built their railway network to be left-hand driveuntil 1945, when U. S. rule forced the Okinawa Prefecture to switch to the right. They returned to the left in 1978. See more:

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