Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Right Or...

...Wrong Left

That driving on the wrong, sorry left, side of the road in Thailand made me wonder how many and which countries do indeed drive on the left and why?
A little google-ing and here’s part of the answer:

About a quarter of the world drives on the left, and the countries that do are mostly old British colonies. Up to the late 1700's, everybody traveled on the left side of the road because it's the sensible option for feudal, violent societies of mostly right-handed people. Jousting knights with their lances under their right arm naturally passed on each other's right, and if you passed a stranger on the road you walked on the left to ensure that your protective sword arm was between yourself and him.
Revolutionary France, however, overturned this practice as part of its sweeping social rethink. A change was carried out all over continental Europe by Napoleon. The reason it changed under Napoleon was because he was left handed his armies had to march on the right so he could keep his sword arm between him and any opponent.
From then on, any part of the world which was at some time part of the British Empire was thus left hand and any part colonized by the French was right hand.

In America, the French colonized the southern states (Louisiana for instance) and the Canadian east coast (Quebec). The Dutch colonized New York (or New Amsterdam). The Spanish and Portuguese colonized the southern Americas. So the British were a minority in shaping the 'traffic'. The drive-on-the-right policy was adopted by the USA, which was anxious to cast off all remaining links with its British colonial past.

Austria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and the Channel Islands changed sides from left to right to conform to German practice during World War II. The last European country to convert to driving on the right was Sweden on September 3rd, 1967. And more recently, the Falkland Islands drove on the right during the period of Argentine occupation in the early 1980s (they are driving on the left side of the roads again!).

China changed to the right in 1946.

FYI: Egypt had been conquered by Napoleon before becoming a British dependency, and its traffic goes to the right. About Japan, the English minister to Japan achieved the coup of his career in 1859 when he persuaded his hosts to make keep-left the law.

Only 74 countries drive on the left side of the road. If converted to population, 34% (2 billion) drive on the left and 66% (4 billion) drive on the right. Right side wins. Left-side drivers do indeed drive on the WRONG side of the road… and all that because of the French!

Pick your side

Drive on the left side: Anguilla ; Antigua and Barbuda ;Australia ; Bahamas ; Bangladesh ; Barbados ; Bermuda ; Bhutan ; Botswana ; Brunei ; Cayman Islands ; Channel Islands (Guernsey, Jersey, Alderney, Sark, Herm, Jethou, Lihou, and Brecqhou, Ecrehous rocks and Les Minquiers) ; Christmas Island (Australia) ; Cook Islands ; Cyprus ; Dominica ; East Timor ; Falkland Islands ; Fiji ; Grenada ; Guyana ; Hong Kong ; India ; Indonesia ; Ireland ; Isles of Man; Jamaica ; Japan ; Kenya ; Kiribati ; Cocos (Keeling) Islands (Australia) ; Lesotho ; Macau ; Malawi ; Malaysia ; Maldives ; Malta ; Mauritius ; Montserrat ; Mozambique ; Namibia ; Nauru ; Nepal ; New Zealand ; Niue ; Norfolk Island (Australia) ; Pakistan; Papua New Guinea ; Pitcairn Islands (Britain) ; Saint Helena ; Saint Kitts and Nevis ; Saint Lucia ; Saint Vincent and the Grenadines ; Seychelles ; Singapore ; Solomon Islands ; Somaliland ; South Africa ; Sri Lanka ; Suriname ; Swaziland ; Tanzania ; Thailand ; Tokelau (New Zealand) ; Tonga ; Trinidad and Tobago ; Turks and Caicos Islands ; Tuvalu ; Uganda ; United Kingdom (England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland) ; Virgin Islands (British) ; Virgin Islands (US) ; Zambia ; Zimbabwe.