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Ever Wondered Why Some Countries Drive on the Left and Others on the Right? We’ll Tell You

Daniel Kim Views  

In countries like South Korea and the U.S., vehicles drive on the right side of the road, but in the U.K. and Japan, they drive on the left. While this may seem bizarre to us, about 35% of the world’s population lives in countries where cars drive on the left.

Since the very beginning, most cars drove on the left side. This was due to the different modes of transport in the past. Medieval knights on horseback rode on the left side of the road to keep their right arms closer to their opponents. Mounting and dismounting a horse was also easier from the left side, and riding on the right side would place riders in the middle of the road when dismounting.

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The shift to driving on the right occurred in the late 1700s. Large wagons pulled by multiple pairs of horses became common for transporting agricultural products. Wagon drivers sat on the rear left horse to easily wield a whip with their right arm. Sitting on the left side made it easier to guess what direction passing wagons were coming from. Since they often passed on the left, this led to right-side driving.

However, the British government refused to change its lanes and introduced a road rule in 1773 that mandated left-side driving, which was officially legislated in 1835. On the contrary, post-revolutionary France permanently embraced right-side driving by the order of the left-handed ruler Napoleon.

As driving directions became divided into the left and the right, Britain and France expanded their power across the globe, fighting tooth and nail over colonies. As a result, British colonies like Australia, New Zealand, and India adopted left-side driving, while French colonies like Algeria, Ivory Coast, and Senegal adopted right-side driving.

Driving on the right became the global norm after Henry Ford launched the Model T in 1908. With the driver’s seat on the left, passengers exited to the right, solidifying right-side driving. Many countries that had driven on the left switched to the right, with Sweden being the last to change in 1967.

So why does Japan drive on the left? During the Meiji Restoration, Japan modeled itself after the constitutional monarchy of the U.K., adopting left-side driving along with road construction techniques, which is a convincing explanation.

Originally, South Korea drove on the right, but the Japanese colonial government changed it to the left in 1921. After liberation in 1945, the U.S. military government reinstated right-side driving for vehicles while pedestrians continued to walk on the left. To enhance the convenience and safety of pedestrians, the Road Traffic Act was amended and established right-side walking as well in 2009.

Daniel Kim
content@viewusglobal.com

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