Who’s Got it Right?

Driving on the Left or the Right?

Across the world, 75 countries drive on the left and 165 on the right. A high number of countries from the former British Empire make up those 75, with many exceptions like the United States, Canada and Belize. All Spanish speaking countries in the world drive on the right. Please correct me if I’m wrong. : ) (En español más adelante.)

In fact, only two countries in the continental Americas do not drive on the right; Guyana and Suriname. That seems an impressively 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 Pan-American Highway. Panama also switched sides to join the trend. In South America, Argentina switched to the right, as did Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, and Uruguay. The Pan-American Highway linking North and South America was completed in 1923.

In the Caribbean, 19 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, Monserrat, British Virgin Islands, and most surprisingly the US Virgin Islands! Thanks to Trina for researching the history. We discovered there was a Dutch and a Danish Virgin Islands. Both drove on the left, even when their home countries switched to the right. When the Danish Virgin Islands passed from Denmark to the US, the side of the road for driving did not change.

Who 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.

Horse Drawn Carriage/Carrito con caballo Photo: R. Cuningham

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. More likely is was the large carts where the driver sat upon the back left horse and controlled the team with the right hand, which is 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 and the Pan-American Highway may be why many Spanish-speaking countries favor the right-side for traffic.

Model T Ford Photo: R. Cuningham

All right, then why doesn’t Canada drive on the left with their close connection to England? They did 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!) from nearby (Detroit).

Thanks to our car-loving kid for inspiring this topic. As we drove to school they asked, “Why do we drive on the right-hand side?”

Steering Wheel/Volante Photo: R. Cuningham

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.

¡Olé! –Rebecca

Modified from November 14, 2019.

¿Qué es correcto?

¿Conducir al lado izquierdo o en el derecho?

En el mundo, 75 países conducen en el carril al lado izquierdo y 165 en el derecho. Un número alto de naciones del Imperio inglés anterior están en los 75, con muchas excepciones como los Estados Unidos, Canadá y Belice. Todos los países hispanohablantes del mundo conducen en el lado derecho. Favor de corregirme si estoy equivocada.

De hecho, sólo dos países en las Américas continentales no conducen en el carril derecho; Guyana y Surinam. Parece un estándar bastante uniforme, pero no fue así siempre. Varias naciones en Centro- y Sudamérica cambiaron el lado para conducir en el último siglo. En Centroamérica, Belice ahora maneja a la derecha, por causa de la Carretera Panamericana. Panamá también hizo el cambio, para juntarse al rebaño. En Sudamérica; Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay y Uruguay cambiaron a la derecha. La Carretera Panamericana juntando norte y sudamerica se completó en 1923.

Auto clásico estacionado a la derecha Photo: R. Cuningham

En el Caribe, 19 países siguen la tradición inglesa: Anguilla, Antigua y Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Bermuda, Dominica, Granada, Jamaíca, Santa Lucía, San Vincente, Granadinas, San Cristoból y Nevis, Trinidad y Tobago, Monserrat, Islas Vírgines del Reino, y lo más sorprendente, ¡las Islas Vírgines de los Estados Unidos! Favor de dejar un comentario si sabes la historia sobre la última.

¿Quién empezó estas tradiciones para conducir? Historiadores dicen que con los soldados marchando de los romanos, los griegos y los egipcios inició. Como hay más personas diestras que zurdas, los soldados prefirieron estar de pie a la izquierda y luchar con su arma en la mano derecha. Esta preferencia seguía para las tropas en caballo.

Las 13 Colonias que empezaron los Estados Unidos conducían sus caballos en el lado izquierdo al principio. Después, quizás en parte para hacer rebelión en contra de la Corona, cambiaron a la derecha. Más probablemente, es por los carritos grandes que empezaron a usar en que la persona conduciendo se sentó en el último caballo a la izquierda y controló el equipo con la mano derecha. La persona conduciendo quería evitar el choque de ruedas con un vehículo en el otro lado que le estaba pasando, así el tráfico cambió al lado derecho para la seguridad y una vista mejor.

¿Cómo se explica la tendencia uniforme de los países hispanohablantes a conducir a la derecha? Es posible que Napoleón tuviera influencia sobre América Latina, cuando conquistó a España en los 1800. El era zurdo y prefería el tráfico en el lado derecho para favorecer a su brazo de luchar con espada. Mi teoría es que tenga razón está idea, pero más tiene que ver el favorecer el carril derecho en América Latina con la Carretera Panamericana.

Bueno, y con su conexión estrecha con Inglaterra, ¿por qué no conducen al lado izquierdo en Canadá? Cambiaron para emparejar con los Estados Unidos. Así tendrían una fuente menos cara para los autos (no importados de Europa) con volantines en el lado correcto (izquierdo) de cerca (Detroit).

Gracias a nuestre hije para inspirar este tema. En camino a la escuela, nos preguntó, “Por que usamos el carril derecho para conducir?”

Thanks to our car-loving kid for inspiring this topic. As we drove to school they asked, “Why do we drive on the right-hand side?”

Conducen en el lado derecho o izquierdo del camino donde vives tu? Has probado conducir en el lado opuesto en otro país? ¿Cómo te fue? Dínos que piensas.

¡Olé! –Rebecca

Rebecca Cuningham

46 thoughts on “Who’s Got it Right?

  1. In the 1970s when Myanmar gained independence from the UK they switched from left to right overnight. Even today many cars still have a steering wheel on the right side of the car. It’s very scary when they try to pass another car because the driver can’t see oncoming traffic! It’s crazy! Interesting post! Maggie

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thanks for that insight on Myanmar, Maggie! That must have been difficult to change the driving side of the road overnight. Good point about the steering wheels on the right side making passing dangerous. Have you visited Myanmar?

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      1. Sometimes it’s based on the direction you are going to if you are going to ➡️ then you pass from the right side if car is coming in opposite direction. If you are going to ⬅️ then you pass from left if car is coming from the opposite direction. There are many who doesn’t follow this rule

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Although I think the US may have had unfair influence on its neighbors, I’m glad we all drive on the same side of the road so we don’t have the abrupt changes found in Europe. : )

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  2. I can only imagine that Guyana, a former British colony, still drives on the left because it is not yet connected by road with neighboring countries. There is an unpaved jungle road and bridge that connects Guyana’s southern interior region with Brazil, but it’s no Pan-American Highway.

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  3. The right side is always right! 😉 Haha, I’m kidding. I’ve only ever experienced left-side driving in the UK and Japan, and it was so strange to me…one thing I especially remember was I had to look the opposite way (right) when crossing streets, so that vehicles wouldn’t hit me! Messed with my logic a bit, haha.

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  4. Great post and discussion. I live in the UK, so I drive on the left hand side, but originally I am from Russia, so I have experience with the right hand side driving too. I think since the driver’s seat is also in a different place in those countries that drive on the left that makes it ok and it cancels out the problem since drivers still find themselves in the car sitting on that side near the middle of the road. Japan drives on the left, but it never was a British colony. Some say they drive on the left because samurai warriors back in ancient past were passing each other on the right hand side and their swords, which they wore on the left side, made contact. To avoid this, they started passing on the left. It is also said that Japan drives on the left because the British helped Japan with its first railroad and their preference was for the left, so its first cars followed the railway example.

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    1. Thanks for the information, Diana. Interesting in Japan that the swords on the left influenced the pedestrian traffic side. Sounds tricky to transfer from the right to the left sides during your adult life as a driver!

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  5. When I went to England and had to drive, I thought it would be nerve-wracking, but it didn’t take long to get use to it. The hardest thing was as a pedestrian having to look the other way when crossing.

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  6. I am so glad Spain drives on the right side of the road. I could never drive on the left side, I would get killed very quickly I’m sure. Canada was wise to switch to driving on the right side.

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    1. Thanks, Garry! I appreciate your comment and compliment. Thanks for being persistent in hitting the follow button – once in a while it has a glitch I’ve noticed. When that happens I go into my subscriptions, type in the blog name I’d like to follow and join there. I liked the short story I read on your sitevabout the astronomer and look forward to reading more!

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