Why does the UK still Drive on the Left Hand?

Why do people drive on different sides of the road in various countries? Perhaps even more crucial is to know how these differences came to be.

Several historical situations must be taken into consideration in order to understand the answers to these questions. In my opinion, the answers are fascinating because of their wide range of topics, from large-scale protests to the most complicated topics of daily life. So, let’s take a closer look at how this difference happened.

The Start of Left and Right Driving

The Left Hand Traffic

According to a few historical accounts, left-moving traffic may have existed in history. Why drive left? Well, this was primarily out of convenience, which appears to be a theme at this time.

Source: needpix

One of the most well-accepted facts about human nature is that most people have a preference for using their right hand for everyday tasks. Horses, the old means of transportation, were used by two groups of people in the ancient world.

Traders: with two horses in the middle, a right-handed person seated in the middle prefers the carriage to lean toward the left since this provides greater control and more room for the driver.

Knights: In order to draw the sword with his right hand, a right-handed warrior would keep the sheath on his left side. Warriors couldn’t mount their horses from the right side because of this. As a result, soldiers and other fighters began to ride their horses from the left side. As long as soldiers travel in big groups in well-coordinated patterns, this strategy would be adopted by all of them.

It was nearly universally accepted as a rule of thumb because of the preponderance of right-handed persons across the world. In the end, Britain was the most common adopter of this system.

It even passed laws in the 1700s regulating traffic flow on the left side of the road. Military personnel and merchants have long been the only two major groups to be considered when creating traffic laws.

The Right Hand Traffic

The introduction of capitalism and the Industrial Revolution in the late 1700s and early 1800s resulted in new manufacturing techniques and a boost to the economy as a whole. Merchants and dealers could no longer handle the volume of products they were producing in their little carriages.

Source: Pixabay

It all started with the introduction of freight wagons. A team of horses was required to pull massive transport containers known as freight wagons. The wagon driver would sit on one of the horses on the left side, allowing him to handle the other horses with his right hand because the wagons did not often have a central driver’s seat.

Thus, the carts automatically shifted to the right side of the road so that the driver could manage the horses and drive appropriately.

Source: Wiki Commons

The most common interpretation for the right traffic switch is that Napoleon was responsible for that. People who knew him well say his preference for driving on the right side was because he was a left-handed person. And one of the advantages of conquering Europe is that you get to dictate how people drive.

However, this appears to be a myth. Some people claim that a revolutionary declaration arguing that because the aristocracy rode on the left, the revolutionary thing to do would be to ride on the right.

Nobody appears to be able to say for sure. Similarly, the United States drives on the right side of the road. When it was still a British colony, the locals drove on the left, but after their revolt in 1776, they abandoned all links to the country’s colonial rulers they could find. However, the arrival of European settlers who had been subjected to the brutality of the French also contributed to the change.

Important Numbers

In total, 163 countries and territories have right-hand traffic, whereas 76 countries have left-hand traffic. There are a number of former British colonies that drive on the left, the most notable of which include South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand.

Only four countries in Europe still use the left side of the road, and they are all considered as islands. They include the United Kingdom, the Republic of Ireland, Malta, and Cyprus.

  • Most Swedes (83 %) voted against a change in driving practice from left-to-right driving. Regardless, the new policy was put into effect by the authorities.
  • 66.1 % of the global population is based in countries that use a right-hand drive traffic.
  • Finland switched from left to right in 1858, making it the first country in the world to do so.
  • Namibia and Samoa are the only countries to have made the move from right to left.

Why is the UK not switching to the Right?

The British government projected that switching from a left to a right-driving system would cost £264 million at the time, or almost £4 billion in today’s money. However, it’s been about forty years after this estimation.

For instance, you may add a zero to the £4 billion number. The AA estimated a few years ago that converting British road signage from miles to kilometers would cost £750 million. Nothing, just the distance markers. Consider how many additional signs would have to be relocated or altered to accommodate a left-to-right flip — and that’s only the beginning.

What about the actual switching process? Right-hand driving can’t be introduced in little doses, town by town. The entire nation must make the transition at the same time. In Sweden, all private traffic was prohibited between the hours of 1 a.m. and 6 a.m. Even in the middle of the night, it would be a mess to attempt to do that in Britain.


Our choice of which side to drive on is not as meaningless as one may believe. In light of the United States and other major countries switching to right-side driving, the decision over which side of the road to drive on has come to symbolize a desire to belong to a larger group. Sweden, for example, was the only European country to keep left-driving traffic after the Second World War.

A great deal of international pressure was placed on the country because of its trade agreements and a desire to fit in with the rest of the continent’s cultures. As of 1967, all traffic in the country was migrating to the right side.

Due to the lack of regulations in ancient times, driving was purely a question of convenience. In the mid-17th century, Britain made it a law. Convenience was still a factor in some towns’ decision to switch to right-side driving, while other nations looked at the broader political and historical backgrounds.

In other words, the next time you’re caught in traffic, you can rest assured that somewhere else in the world, someone traveling on the other side of the street is similarly frustrated by the jam. Even if we don’t all drive on the same side of the road, chances are we have more in common than we realize!

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