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  • A few years ago, my friend and I went to Hawaii, and we rented a car to get around.

  • Here's me on day one, the car still in the parking lot, looking a little terrified at

  • the prospect of driving.

  • Not because I was tired, or because I hate driving.

  • It was because in Australia, you drive on the left side of the road,

  • whereas in the US, you drive on the right.

  • Most countries in the worldabout two-thirdsdrive on the right side.

  • Which leaves one third that drives on the left.

  • You might be wondering why people who drive on the left don't just switch over to the right.

  • The thing is, left-hand side traffic was the worldwide norm for a long time.

  • So how come a split now exists?

  • Well, the reason boils down to two main factors:

  • One, the fact that most people are right-handed.

  • And two, the fact that countries were using different forms of transportation at the time

  • formalised road rules began to emerge.

  • Back in the middle agesway before cars existedpeople mainly travelled around on horseback

  • or by foot.

  • People kept to the left so they could keep their dominant hand closer to the centre of the road.

  • Remember this was a time when people often carried weapons on themsuch as swords,

  • knives or daggerswhile travelling because of bandits and outlaws.

  • Also, people almost always mount horses from the left sideand it's safer to mount

  • from the roadside than in the middle of the road.

  • This left-side travelling continued for years across the world until about the time of the

  • French Revolution.

  • There was a big class distinction on the roads of France at the timethe wealthy would

  • drive their carriages on the left and force poorer people to travel to the right.

  • But by the end of the revolution, the aristocracy began travelling on the right to blend in

  • with the lower classes, and France's roads effectively became right-side travel.

  • So you had France travelling on the right, and places like England travelling on the left.

  • Throughout Britain it was more a matter of custom than widespread regulation until 1835,

  • when parliament passed a law forcing traffic to keep left.

  • In France, the keep-right rule was established more firmly by this guy.

  • As Napoleon conquered countries across Europe, those countries were forced to switched sides.

  • Meanwhile in the US, one particular wagon was a big driving force for keeping to the right.

  • The Conestoga wagon became popular in the late 1700s, as a way to transport heavy goods.

  • These massive wagons could hold thousands of kilograms worth of cargo, and needed teams

  • of horses to pull them along.

  • There was no driver's seat, so the driver would usually sit on the rear left horseso

  • they could still hold a whip in their right hand.

  • Because of this, the wagons travelled on the right, so the driversitting on the left

  • would have more visibility over the rest of the road.

  • In 1792, Pennsylvania officially passed the first keep-right law in the US, to this turnpike.

  • Twelve years later, New York enforced right-hand travel on all public highways, and it slowly

  • spread across the rest of the US.

  • In time, more and more countries shifted to the right.

  • As they found themselves surrounded by converted land neighbours, it was just easier to follow suit.

  • When the US started putting steering wheels on the left, that became extra incentive to switch.

  • Cars initially had the wheel on the right, following horse-drawn buggies.

  • Ford was the first to put the wheel on the left with the Model T in 1908.

  • Initially, it was just to make disembarking easier.

  • But car manufacturers soon realised it was betterand saferfor the driver to

  • sit more towards the centre of the road.

  • And because the US is such a big car exporting country, this was an extra push for more countries

  • to switch over to the right, so they could use the cars.

  • Obviously not everyone made the switch.

  • British colonies remained on the left, and still do for the most part.

  • And other countries like Japan and Thailand, which were never British colonies but had

  • dealings with the British, have also kept to the left.

  • But most countries switched to the right in the early to mid 20th century.

  • In fact, only three places have switched back from right to left in recent times.

  • In Japan, Okinawa was controlled by the US after WWII and made to drive on the right.

  • It switched back to the left on July 30, 1978, after being returned to Japan 6 years previously.

  • Timor-Leste switched to the left under Indonesian rule in 1975.

  • And Samoa switched over in 2009, so they could import old Australian cars

  • instead of more expensive US cars.

  • The Samoans had a smooth changeoverthey got a two-day national holiday to ease traffic,

  • and a three-day ban on alcohol sales to deter accidents.

  • But they had a relatively small population at the time of about 180,000 people.

  • So what would happen in a country with a lot more people

  • and a lot more that could go wrong?

  • Sweden switched from left to right in 1967.

  • With a population of about 7.8 million people at the time,

  • there was a lot to prepare for H-Day.

  • Road markings had to be repainted, bus stops relocated, intersections and one-way streets redesigned,

  • and about 360,000 street signs changed.

  • At precisely 5am on September 3, Swedes were directed to switch over to the right.

  • The whole process cost 628 million kronorthe equivalent of more than $400 million today.

  • But the country's road networks and infrastructure a lot more sophisticated now than they

  • were 50 years agonot to mention there are a lot more people and cars.

  • A switch nowadays would be a lot harder and cost a lot more.

  • It's the main reason why we won't see another country switching sides any time soon

  • it would be a huge logistical exercise that would cost a lot more than people

  • are willing to spend for something that isn't needed.

  • If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

  • In the end, it only took a day or two for us to be comfortable driving on the other

  • side of the roadand it's probably what travellers will have to keep doing.

  • You may have noticed that most left-side driving countries are actually

  • islands, which helps justify not switching over.

  • For the few that do share borders with right-side driving countries, most of the time it's

  • a non-issue - you'd have to go through customs first, so you'd go through border security

  • on one side and exit out the other.

  • But for a few countries, they've come up with some inventive solutions.

A few years ago, my friend and I went to Hawaii, and we rented a car to get around.

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Why some people drive on the right, and some on the left | Did You Know?

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    詹士緯 posted on 2019/07/24
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