Today right-hand traffic in the world is more popular, but is not dominant. Exactly 70 countries remain true to the left-hand pattern. Meanwhile, 34% of the population lives in these countries and 28% of all roads are located here.
A few years ago on the roads of Ukraine came across cars with a right wheel. Moreover, specialized car sales websites even had appropriate filters while searching. Fortunately, for the safety of all road users, right-hand drive cars on the roads of our country today is really rarely.
But why in the world there is still no certainty on which side of the road to drive: right or left? There is one indisputable fact – most people are right-handed. Which means that the right hand of the average person is stronger.
Therefore, for example, knights in medieval tournaments held a shield in their left hand. And the spear in the right, putting over the back of the horse. And then they would ride off on their left sides.
The coachman, sitting on the carriage, held a whip in a strong hand. And he whipped the horse on the right side to take the left, was more comfortable. Multi-seat crews, respectively, were more likely to ride on the right side. That is, according to the rules of left-hand traffic. In most cases, however, the decision to segregate was based on the nature of the road. After all, there were no serious objective reasons to choose any side.
As the number of crews on the streets began to increase, there was a need to legally fix right- or left-hand traffic. Surprisingly, the first country in the world where this happened was the Russian Empire. In 1752 a joint decree was issued. The size of the profit for going to the «counter» in the XVIII century history, alas, has not saved.
In another historical version, the first relevant legislation was the English Bill of 1756, which introduced left-hand traffic on the London Bridge. Anyway, it is been since that time that the world was divided into left and right.
England and France
Perhaps if it were not the United Kingdom, all the roads of the world would be right-hand. But the influence of the empire was so great that English traffic rules were established on a good half of the globe. According to one version, the left-wing movement of Great Britain was influenced by shipping rules. On the waters by that time for some reason it was taken to diverge right side.
France was the one that promoted right-hand traffic the most. After the Revolution of 1789, the new government willfully established such rules. And a little later Napoleon during his campaigns consolidated right-hand traffic in the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Switzerland, Poland. In this way much of continental Europe began to ride on the right side. However, on the left-hand stayed countries as powerful Austro-Hungarian Empire, Portugal, Scandinavia, Italy and Spain.
During the 18th and 19th centuries, Britain on the one hand and continental Europe on the other spread its influence. And with him and his own rules of the road around the world. Started a real mess!
The English left-wing movement has established itself in such vast territories as India, Australia, Canada, USA, China, big part of Africa.
Egypt, though a colony of Great Britain, retained right-hand traffic – it was already planted there by Napoleon. Japan saw fit to adopt English rules in 1859, although it was not a protectorate of the United Kingdom.
In Indonesia, Suriname and other Dutch colonies, left-hand traffic has retained since the 16th century. Back then, the Netherlands also rode on the left side. Then Napoleon of the Dutch transferred to the right-hand traffic, but the Pacific islands and remained «left-handed».
Red marked countries with right-hand traffic, blue marked with left-hand traffic.
States went right
But often the former colonies after independence changed the principle of movement – in the peak of the former metropolis. And just to be more comfortable trading with the neighbors. The United States, after gaining independence from Britain, moved swiftly to the right.
The corresponding law was passed in Pennsylvania in 1792, in New York in 1804. Later they were followed by other states. But in Canada, the situation was more complicated. Quebec, which was under the protectorate of France, went on the right side. And in British Columbia and Newfoundland – on the left. All Canada became right-side roaded only after World War II.
In Finland, the «Swedish» left-side traffic was cancelled in 1858 after the country became part of the Russian Empire.
In the numerous Portuguese colonies, the movement, as in the metropolis, was left-sided. In 1920, Portugal made the transition to the right. But not all the colonies followed. For example, East Timor, together with Portugal, has come to the right. But then, in 1975, the rules were changed again (poor Timorese!) under the influence of Indonesia. Now these countries are left-sided.
The camels have the last word
Pakistan, which was surrounded by left-sided countries, at one time wanted to switch sides. But here the decisive «no» said nature. It turned out that the camels, which were the main transport in the country, have become accustomed to the right side of the road and are very difficult to retrain. The transition did not take the place.
It is hard to believe, but even in continental Europe, which now seems to us almost united, for a long time there was no consensus on the «right» side of the road. And we are not talking about the Middle Ages. And about the most everything is XX century.
Thus, in Italy left-hand traffic was practiced until the end of the 19th century. Then the situation began to change, but slowly. In 1912, right-hand traffic was supposedly legitimized at the national level. But on the roads, in full compliance with the Italian brand-name rubbish, the mess continued. Milan, Turin, Genoa, Rome allowed motorists to drive on either side, and tram traffic remained left-handed. It was not until the mid-1920s that the general right was accepted.
In Portugal, the shift to right-side traffic took place overnight in 1920. But in neighboring Spain, there was no unity – in Madrid rode on the right side, but in Barcelona on the left until 1924. It was only in the 1930s that clear state demands emerged.
The Austro-Hungarian Empire practiced the left-hand traffic. However, after the disintegration of the country in 1918 in the general military-revolutionary chaos, the new states showed total unconsciousness. Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Yugoslavia continued to drive on the left. And in Austria there was a right-side road transition, and then not in the whole country.
Only Hitler was able to keep the roads in order. After the capture of Austria in 1938, right-hand traffic was introduced overnight. For the drivers it turned out to be a shock, and the trams were able to rebuild the traffic only after months, and before that they drove «on the intersection». In Czechoslovakia and Hungary, new traffic rules were introduced in 1939.
Russia before the 1917 revolution was a predominantly left-wing country, but the Bolsheviks introduced a single right-wing order. However, all Russian-made cars had a steering wheel on the right side until 1930.
The last mainland country in Europe to retain left-wing movement even after the war was Sweden. Despite the fact that all neighbors drove on the right side, the Swedes maintained their order and imported cars from England. As a result, the inconvenience caused the Scandinavians to make the transition. This happened in relatively recent 1967. And just a year after that, Iceland went from left to right.
United Kingdom, Ireland, Cyprus and Malta
For today only European island countries – Great Britain, Ireland, Cyprus and Malta have retained the left-hand traffic.
Sweden is not the only country that has had to make the transition from one side to the other during a period when traffic was already quite heavy. For example, China, North Korea, and South Korea changed their traffic patterns immediately after the end of the Japanese occupation in 1946. Now they are driving on the right side of the road. But the «suburbs» of China – Hong Kong and Macau – kept the left-hand traffic imposed by the UK.
The most recent example of the transition is the small Pacific state of Samoa. It changed the left-wing traffic rules on the right in 2009. Australia’s proximity allows islanders to import right-hand drive cars. Two additional weekends, Monday and Tuesday, have been declared for such a revolution. Traffic was banned for four days during the weekend. During this time, the police moved the road signs and corrected the markings where it was.
In the UK there are also sometimes calls to move to the continental scheme of movement. However, for the British, who continue to use quite strange for us separate taps with hot and cold water in the bathroom only because of the tradition, such is simply unthinkable. And in the end, it is just very expensive.
Today, there are only two countries in the world that simultaneously use right-hand and left-hand drive cars: Russia and the Bahamas. In Russia, right-hand drive Japanese cars are actively used. And in the Bahamas, despite left-hand traffic, drive cars imported from the USA. With the left handlebars, of course. However, it seems that in Russia, due to the actual ban on the import of “right-hand handlebars” in the coming years, the car with left-hand handlebars will become significantly more.