Driving On The Left Or Right: Which Is Better?

It can happen”. That has been President Donald Trump’s response to the fatal accident in August near a British military base in Northamptonshire involving the wife of an American diplomat. He’s also suggested that it’s “very tough” for anyone from the US driving in Europe as the roads there are “contrary” – despite the fact that all European countries (except the UK, Ireland & Cyprus) drive on the right, the same as in the US. Furthermore, Trump appears to exonerate visitors to the UK who veer onto the wrong side of the road and instead attributes the blame to Britain’s “different system”.

Drive France.com”, which provides advice for UK residents taking their cars to the Continent, has cited the case of a French tourist, Emmanuel Lillaz, who crashed his hired vehicle into a baker’s van in a village in Devon while driving on the right. Unlike Trump’s fellow citizen, who has claimed diplomatic immunity and returned to the USA, Lillaz apologized, was subsequently fined £500 and had his licence suspended for a year by Exeter Crown Court.

British residents going abroad, of course, face a similar problem. According to a survey conducted by the Royal Automobile Club (RAC), the greatest fear of 26% of those questioned is driving by error on the wrong side of the road or going around a roundabout the wrong way – and indeed 10% admit to having done so. Statistics issued by the insurance company Churchill, reported by the “motor1.com” contributor, James Fossdyke, indicate that 2% of British motorists have mistakenly deviated to the left in Spain in the past five years and that 10% of them have experienced a “near miss” while driving abroad.

Although almost 75% of countries now drive on the right, a study by the British civil engineer, Professor J.J.Leeming, in 1969 concluded that those with left-side driving have a lower level of traffic-related accidents. His explanation for this was that the right eye of humans is usually sharper and clearer than the left one, drivers use it more to watch traffic coming from the opposite direction and hence being on the left side is safer.

In historical times, it seems, the majority of travellers preferred the left of the road, because (asserts worldstandards.eu) “most people are right-handed and it was easier to protect themselves from attack”. The trend to the right-hand side began in the 18th century, following America’s independence from Britain in 1783 and the French revolution in 1789, before which the aristocracy had priority on the left-hand side and the poor were restricted to the right. After the storming of the Bastille, it became more advisable to pretend to be part the peasantry. Countries subsequently conquered by Napoleon in 1805, such as Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg, were forced to change to the right.

Until the 1930’s, Barcelona and some parts of Spain drove on the right, whereas Madrid and other areas kept to the left. It was a similar situation in Italy: Its first Highway Code on 30th June 1912 specified that all vehicles had to drive on the right, but Rome only implemented this regulation on 1st March 1925 and Milan on 3rd August 1926. Portugal also moved from left to right during the 1920’s. Austria, Czechoslovakia and Hungary all changed to the right after being annexed or invaded by Hitler.

The global shift to the right side continued throughout the 20th century: Gibraltar (1929), Panama (1943), Argentina (1945), Philippines (1945) , China (1946), Taiwan, North & South Korea (three former colonies of Japan, which has stayed on the left, as have Thailand and Indonesia) in 1946, Sweden (1967), Iceland (1968), Burma (1970). Canada moved completely to the right after the 2nd World War. Previously, the territory under English (rather than French) influence had remained on the left side.

Although the majority of former British colonies, including Hong Kong and Guyana in South America, continue to drive on the left, some of them in Africa, such as The Gambia, Sierra Leone, Nigeria and Ghana, have switched to the right to conform with neighbouring French-speaking countries. For similar reasons. Mozambique, which is bordered by six English-speaking nations, has remained on the left.

One big concern for European Union nationals living in the UK is the post-Brexit status of their EU driving licences. The current situation is that both they and European Economic Area (EEA) citizens, as well as those from “designated countries” such as Australia, Canada and New Zealand, can drive in the UK until their document expires or they reach the age of 70. One possibility is that both they and British residents going to Europe will also need to acquire an International Driving Permit (IDP). The USA is not on the “designated” list, hence anyone from there can only drive in the UK for a maximum of 12 months, after which they must obtain a provisional licence and take a theory and practical driving test.

Filed under: Society, Travel | Posted on October 21st, 2019 by Colin D Gordon

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