In the world, 75 countries drive on the left and 165 on the right. A high number of countries that were in the former British Empire make up those 75, with many exceptions like the United States, Canada and Belize, to name a few. All Spanish speaking countries in the world drive on the right. Please correct me if I’m wrong. : )
Only two countries in all the continental Americas do not drive on the right; Guyana and Suriname. That is a fairly uniform standard, however it was not always that way. Several countries in Central and South America changed sides of the road over the last century. In Central America, Belize now drives on the right, because of the Panamerican Highway. Panama also switched sides. In South America, Argentina switched to the right, as did Brazil, Chile, Panama, Paraguay, and Uruguay.
In the Caribbean, 16 islands follow the British custom: Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Bermuda, Dominica, Grenada, Jamaica, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Trinidad and Tobago. So many islands! [Correction: I missed three, Monserrat, British Virgin Islands, and most surprisingly the US Virgin Islands! Please leave a comment if you know the story for that last one. Thanks to our neighbor Dave for providing this information. -R]
What created this left/right separation for driving? Historians track it back to soldiers marching: for example, the Romans, Greeks and Egyptians. Since more people are right-handed than left, soldiers would prefer to stand on the left and fight with their weapon in their right hand. That continued for troops on horseback. The 13 Colonies that began the United States drove their horses on the left. It may have been partially rebellion against the Crown that made them change sides, but large carts where the driver sat upon the left horse and controlled the horses with the right hand are credited with the change. The driver wanted to avoid colliding wheels with a vehicle going the opposite direction, so traffic switched to the right hand side for safety and a better view.
What about Spanish-speaking countries? Napoleon had a great influence over Latin America for a short time in the 1800s, when he conquered Spain. He was left-handed and preferred traffic on the right-hand side to favor his sword hand. My theory is, this may be why many Spanish-speaking countries favor the right-side for traffic.
All right, you say, then why doesn’t Canada drive on the left with their close connection to England? They used to until the 1920s. They changed in order to match the United States. That would allow them to have a less expensive source of automobiles (not imported from across the pond) with steering wheels on the correct side (the left!) nearby (Detroit).
Thanks to our car-loving kid for inspiring this topic one morning this week! As we drove to school they asked, “Why do we drive on the right-hand side?”
Do people drive on the left- or right-side of the road where you live? Have you ever driven on the other side? How was it? Tell us your thoughts.
Gracias for reading Fake Flamenco. ¡Olé! –Rebecca