Origins of Right Hand Side Driving

Why do most of the world's countries drive on the right side while Great Britain, and former British colonies, do so on the left? There are several theories around why right-hand driving became the norm in most countries and, in this article, we’ll share some interesting facts with you.

Driving on the left side: The British way

a knight on his horse with his lance

The main reason why the United Kingdom adopted the left-hand drive traffic regulation is due to historical reasons. If we go back to the Middle Ages, horsemen would ride their horses and carriages on the left side of the road so that their right hand was free to defend themselves in case of an unexpected attack from the enemy.

This tradition was kept throughout the centuries up to the moment of the first vehicle's inception. That's why, even today the United Kingdom and former British colonies such as India, Australia, New Zealand and other countries located in Africa still follow the left-hand side traffic regulation.

Then, why do most countries drive on the right side?

a black and white painting of Napolean Bonaparte

Great Britain’s reasons to follow this tradition make perfect sense. So, then, why did most countries adopt the opposite approach?

There are several theories as to why Europe adopted the right-hand driving traffic regulation and, as many believe to be true, it had to do with the fact Napoleon was left-handed and followed his own logic. It's also said that he simply did it to go against what the United Kingdom was doing.

The inception of vehicles and change in traffic regulation

The truth is that all these theories date back to a period where vehicles had not arrived yet. However, with the inception of automobiles, the United Kingdom still chose to follow the left-hand driving approach while the rest of the world opted for the opposite.

Initially, when the first car models arrived, drivers sat in the middle. However, and with the purpose of making driving easier, vehicle manufacturers decided to move the steering wheel to the left side. This way, drivers were able to see all incoming traffic better.

Most countries have adopted the ride hand drive traffic regulation because 85-90% of the population is right-handed. It's only logical to think that their strongest arm is the right one and, hence, it will be easier to change gears on manual vehicles.

It's also said that for right-handed people it's natural to enter a roundabout from the right, looking left.

One last reason why most countries adopted this traffic regulation has to do with the fact that they also wanted to take cyclists and motorbike riders into consideration. Both of them mainly use their left hand to signal their turns, while they use their right hand to hold the handlebar when they’re on the road.

Fun facts about traffic regulations around the world


As we’ve shared throughout this article, most countries in the world have kept the right-hand drive traffic regulation.

The United Kingdom and its former colonies have kept the left-hand drive. This way, in addition to Great Britain, Ireland, India, Hong Kong, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Malta or Maldives drive on the left side of the road.

However, there are some former colonies that eventually adopted Europe’s traffic regulation, and this includes the United States and Canada, even though initially they had followed Great Britain’s tradition.

But it gets funnier, as there are some countries that have never been a British colony and yet adopted their traffic regulation. Do you know which countries those are? Japan, Indonesia, Thailand and the Virgin Islands.

Lastly, there’s there a small corner in the world that belongs to the United Kingdom and yet, has chosen to drive on the right side of the road. This place is known as Gibraltar, currently a British colony, and it’s located in the Iberian Peninsula. It borders with Spain and, just like its neighboring country, follow the right-hand drive.

These are some of the historical and fun facts about traffic regulations. As you know, it's mandatory to have auto insurance to drive in the United States. You can get a quote today by calling 1-800-INFINITY or by visiting our website.

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