Why do you need left-hand traffic and how did people travel in the old days?

The human community seeks to unite, erasing borders, breaking down language barriers and improving vehicles. Nevertheless, we still measure the distance in meters and feet, remove hats in some temples and always wear in others, drive along the right and left side of the road.

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In fact, the problem of different directions of movement is much deeper than it might seem at first glance, and the history of the division of the planet into roads with left- and right-hand traffic is very interesting and mysterious.

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In which countries is left-hand traffic adopted?

Who is driving on the left side of the road?

Each student will easily answer this question – the British and the Japanese travel incorrectly on their islands, without disturbing anyone particularly. In fact, almost a third of the world’s population travels according to the rules of left-hand traffic, but this figure was achieved largely due to the densely populated India and Pakistan, the former British colonies. If we talk about roads, then a traveler who has decided to travel the whole world far and wide will have to travel about 20% of the time on the left side of the road.

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How did you travel in antiquity?

As in many other areas of human life, the most ancient information is provided to us by the Romans, who managed to restore order and organization in almost everything. Many archaeological finds indicate that in ancient times it was customary to move on the left side of the road. In particular, the deeper left ruts leading from the Roman stone mines tell us that empty carts drove up to the right, and loaded ones moved towards the left side. In addition, several images of scenes with riders traveling were found, which is also carried out according to the rules of left-hand traffic.

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What are the advantages of left-hand traffic?

Left side traffic

If we talk about ancient times, it is customary to mention, first of all, about a possible conflict on the road. Most people are right-handed and would prefer to attack the oncoming rider, being on the left side of the road, however, already in the late Middle Ages, knights in tournaments gathered according to the rules of right-hand traffic, protecting the left side of the body with a shield.

Left-hand traffic also makes it easier to mount a horse on the left side, as most right-handed people do, especially with a sword or other weapon mounted on the left side. When driving in a city with sledges with a high coach driver seat, an additional nuance is important – moving on the left side of the road, the charioteer will not touch the passers-by with a whip on the sidewalk when chasing horses.

Separately, it is worth mentioning the formation of traditions of left-hand traffic in Japan. For the ancient samurai, driving away and even walking on foot to an armed stranger on his left side automatically indicated danger, and an attempt to approach a warrior in this way immediately led to a fight. Hence the unspoken rule, according to which travelers had to adhere to the left side of the road, heading to Tokyo, and vice versa – the right side when leaving the city.

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Right-hand traffic

Despite the mass of interesting historical prerequisites, the main reason for the transition of most countries to the right-hand traffic still became physiological features. Thus, the right-handed chariot felt much more confident when the carts were moving, when they directed the horses to the right with a stronger hand. The same thing applied to the feeders who steered the steering oar of small vessels, which led to the modern global rules for diverging at sea – it is necessary to skip the interference on the right, even if it is an English or Japanese ship.

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War and Politics

The mass transition to right-hand traffic is associated, first of all, with Napoleon Bonaparte. During the French Revolution, practically everything that could be changed was changed, including the side of the movement: according to the decree of 1789, the left side became bourgeois-rotten, and the right side became popular. Napoleon, being left-handed and preferring to ride a horse on the right side, such a decree not only supported, but also demanded his strict observance in all the conquered territories. Since then, the direction of movement has become not just a rule for driving on public roads, but has become a very important aspect of geopolitics. In particular, countries actively opposing Napoleon (Britain, Portugal and Austria-Hungary) continued to use the left-hand movement, and the allies of France (Holland, Switzerland, Germany, Italy, Poland, Spain) moved to the right side.

As for the Russian Empire, in 1812, as part of the Campagne de Russie, Napoleon’s troops had no time to choose the side of the road, it was more important to distinguish this road from rough terrain. At the same time, a decree on right-hand traffic for drivers and carriages was signed by Empress Elizabeth back in 1752, while the first European document regulating the direction of movement dates back to 1756 – this is an English bill on traffic on the London Bridge, which threatened everyone with a fine of a pound of silver who will ride, adhering to the right side.

Naturally, the confrontation of European states (mainly France and Britain) was reflected in the organization of traffic in the colonies. So, in the United States, almost all major cities switched to the right-hand traffic towards the end of the 18th century, when the victory in the war for independence from the British crown was won and, accordingly, French influence was strengthened. But Canada, for example, up to the beginning of the 20th century, remained partially left-handed.

If we talk about states that, for one reason or another, have changed their direction of movement, we should mention several significant examples. For instance:

  • The mass of the British colonies, upon gaining independence, switched to the left rudder: Sierra Leone, Gambia, Nigeria, Ghana;
  • Portugal switched to left-hand traffic only in 1928, abandoning political traditions in favor of the convenience of transport links with Spain and the rest of Europe;
  • The Japanese prefecture of Okinawa was only right-handed from 1945 to 1977 due to the presence of the American military contingent;
  • Korea abandoned the left-hand drive imposed by the occupying Japanese regime in 1946;
  • Sweden switched to right-hand traffic only in 1967, which led to transport collapse on day “H” (DAGEN H)


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Special machinery

Civil vehicles for left-hand traffic have a steering wheel on the right side, and for right-hand traffic – on the left. However, some vehicles do not meet these requirements due to their functional tasks. For example, the Moskvich-434P domestic postal and courier car was specially designed with right-hand drive so that the driver can safely leave the cabin. The BelAZ dump truck, on the contrary, comes with a left-hand drive even in countries with left-hand traffic contrary to safety standards – the rhino is hard to see, but this is not its problem.

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