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Why do Europeans drive on the right? (All Questions Answered)

If you’re someone from outside of Europe, you may have wondered why Europeans drive on the right side of the road. This is one of the most often asked questions among travelers, especially those considering renting a car during their trip.

Being German, I was always used to seeing cars driving on the right-side, but ever since I moved to Pakistan, it’s now the exact opposite.

Quite strange at first, it has now become a norm for me to drive on the left side with the steering wheel being on the right side.

But what exactly is the reason behind this European driving practice? Well, there are many myths to this.

About 90% of the world’s population uses their right-hand, which makes it self-explanatory why the majority, including Europeans, prefer the right side of the road. 

History suggests that Napoleon’s conquests are the reason why Europeans drive on the right side of the road. The French Empire spread the right-sided driving culture to many parts of Europe. 

As Napoleon was left-handed, he found it easier to attack enemies by the sword with his left hand while riding his horse on the right side. 

In the UK cars drive on the left side of the road.

The United Kingdom and countries that were part of the British empire remained left-side drivers.

From then, the trend among European nations has been towards driving on the right side of the road.

If you’re interested to know more about this driving practice, I have all the answers to your why, when, what, and who.

Most European Countries drive on the right side of the road.

Why did Europeans choose to drive on the right side of the road?

If you take a closer look at history, it was quite common to travel on the left. Until today, it is not entirely clear what really changed this standard.

The most common to this is: it’s Napoleon’s fault.

Napoleon’s dominant hand was left so he was more comfortable riding on the right side of the road. As a conqueror of most of Europe, Napoleon’s preference spread throughout the region, including Germany, Switzerland, Poland, and Belgium making the “rightism” standard.

Still, Europe has not always been an entirely right-driving region.

After the end of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1918, the resulting countries like Austria, Romania, Hungary, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, and Ukraine switched from left to right.

Over the course of time, more and more European countries switched from left to right. Many of them simply adopted the driving side of their neighboring country.

Another explanation suggests that since about 90% of the world is right-handed, the majority is more comfortable on the right side. Thus, most countries drive on the right.

Many suggestions on driving left or right side of the road, dwell around chariot races, yet researchers are not entirely certain.

The history and origin of driving on the right side

Nearly 75% of the world’s population drive on the right side of the road. The rest of the world are left-side drivers. This practice still perplexes many which force a question to arise: How did this driving manner of left and right start?

Some say that this driving practice dates back to ancient Rome. Romans used to steer their chariots and carts with their left hand to use their dominant hand (right) for defense and attack against enemies. Therefore, Romans used to drive on the left.

This practice is carried over to medieval Europe, where later, in 1773, Britain made left-side traffic mandatory by enacting the first law. Yet, France and many other European nations preferred the right side.

Researchers also believe that over the course of the 18th century, right-side driving may have become more common due to the introduction of four-horse carriages. 

Instead of sitting on the coach box, the coach men would sit on the left rear horse to spur his team of horses to the right using a whip in his right hand. That way, it was more beneficial for carriages to pass on the left, ultimately giving rise to right-side driving.

Napoleon was a left-handed French Emperor and he is also known for conquering most of Europe.

Another story is about Napoleon. It is believed that the French military leader Napoleon who was left-handed, preferred to ride his horse on the right to gain a stronger military tactic towards enemies. 

By riding on the right he would be able to free up his dominant hand (left) to have an advantage during possible attacks. As a result, Britain, and France spread their driving ways to their respective colonies.

Besides these major influences, especially after World War 1, more and more countries started to drive on the right side.

Henry Ford’s Model T (1925) has its steering wheel on the left and is suited for driving on the right side of the road.

Why do Americans drive on the right side of the road?

America’s driving custom was heavily shaped by Henry Ford’s Model T, which featured the steering wheel on the left, indicating the driver will have to drive on the right side of the road. Numerous countries like Canada, Spain, Italy, Scandinavia, and eastern Europe followed America’s lead.

As you can see, several historical influences contributed to the driving style we know today. The majority kept right while others favored left.

European countries that do not drive on the right

Even though most of the world and nearly all of Europe drive on the right, there were a few countries that didn’t want to join the club.

The United Kingdom, Ireland, Cyprus, and Malta are the only European countries that do not drive on the right. All of these island nations are left-side drivers. Furthermore, Ireland, Cyprus, and Malta were former parts of Britain. So it is pretty much self-explanatory why they have the same driving side rule as the UK.

Looking beyond Europe, you will find people driving on the left in countries like Australia, New Zealand, Pakistan, Japan, India, Thailand, and more. 

Make sure to check the detailed list down below featuring each country of the world and their driving side.

Is it safer to drive on the left or right?

165 countries and territories drive on the right, while 75 countries and territories drive on the left side of the road. With the vast majority favoring the right side, does it make the right side more safe?

You have to keep in mind, whether someone drives the car on the left side or the right, the steering wheel is placed on the opposite side. This is to place the driver closer to the center of the road. 

It ensures better vision for the driver to see oncoming vehicles, safely overtake cars, and board or let off passengers without any harm.

Let’s take a look at the advantages and disadvantages of driving on the left and right and judge for yourself what you think is the safer side.

Pros and Cons of driving on the left side

Driving on the left side with the steering wheel on the right seems to be convenient for parallel parking.

Also, it is easier for the driver to get in and out of the car as he can do so from the side of the pavement. Due to the steering wheel being on the right in left-driving countries, passengers can easily board the vehicle from the pavement.

Because the majority of the world is right-handed, those may consider it a disadvantage to be driving a car with your less dominant hand, especially when changing gears.

Pros and Cons of driving on the right side

Researches suggest that countries who drive on the right with the steering wheel on the left are less prone to car accidents as compared to those with the steering wheel on the right. Countries who drive on the right believe this is the right way of driving. 

Since the majority of people are right-handed, it is much easier to shift gears while the left hand remains on the steering wheel. 

In general, there are no major advantages or disadvantages within either driving left or right side of the road. It all depends on what driving style you are used to and what is legally accepted in your country. 

Both left-hand driving and right-hand driving are designed to ensure maximum safety and benefit during traffic.

Steering Wheels’ Position and Rules of the Road are related.

Why is the steering wheel on the left side in right-driving countries and vice versa?

You may have noticed that in countries where people drive on the right side, the steering wheel is placed on the left side. 

Similarly, in places where left-side driving is standard, the steering wheel is built on the opposite side.

The main reason behind this is a natural progression of advantage and safety during traffic.

During the early days of cars it was discovered that, when the driver was sitting side-by-side with a passenger, the best position was towards the middle of the road.

For example, in most European countries where people drive on the right, the steering wheel is placed on the left. That way, the driver is closer to the center of the road enabling a better view towards traffic and a better gauge on how to safely pass oncoming cars.

Secondly, it also makes it much easier and safer for passengers to enter the car from the pavement.

This is the main reason behind the steering wheel being on the left in right-driving countries and vice versa.

List of all countries of the world and their respective driving side

On this world map, you can see what countries of the world drive on which side. Red-colored countries drive on the right, whereas blue-colored countries drive on the left. Source

You may notice that most left-driving countries are former British colonies as Britain itself drives on the left side. 

Below, you will find a list of every country and its respective driving sides.

CountryDriving side
AfghanistanRight
AlbaniaRight
AlgeriaRight
AndorraRight
AngolaRight
Antigua and BarbudaLeft
ArgentinaRight
ArmeniaRight
AustraliaLeft
AustriaRight
AzerbaijanRight
BahamasLeft
BahrainRight
BangladeshLeft
BarbadosLeft
BelarusRight
BelgiumRight
BelizeRight
BeninRight
BhutanLeft
BoliviaRight
Bosnia and HerzegovinaRight
BotswanaLeft
BrazilRight
BruneiLeft
BulgariaRight
Burkina FasoRight
BurundiRight
CambodiaRight
CameroonRight
CanadaRight
Cape VerdeRight
Central African RepublicRight
ChadRight
ChileRight
ChinaRight
Hong KongLeft
MacauLeft
ColombiaRight
ComerosRight
CongoRight
DR CongoRight
Costa RicaRight
Ivory CoastRight
CroatiaRight
CubaRight
CyprusLeft
Czech RepublicRight
DenmarkRight
DjiboutiRight
DominicaLeft
Dominican RepublicRight
East TimorLeft
EcuadorRight
EgyptRight
El SalvadorRight
Equatorial GuineaRight
EritreaRight
EstoniaRight
EswatiniLeft
EthiopiaRight
FijiLeft
FinlandRight
FranceRight
GabonRight
GambiaRight
GeorgiaRight
GermanyRight
GhanaRight
GreeceRight
GrenadaLeft
GuatemalaRight
GuineaRight
Guinea-BissauRight
GuyanaLeft
HaitiRight
HondurasRight
HungaryRight
IcelandRight
IndiaLeft
IndonesiaLeft
IranRight
IraqRight
IrelandLeft
IsraelRight
ItalyRight
JamaicaLeft
JapanLeft
JordanRight
KazakhstanRight
KenyaLeft
KiribatiLeft
KosovoRight
KuwaitRight
KyrgyzstanRight
LaosRight
LatviaRight
LebanonRight
LesothoLeft
LiberiaRight
LibyaRight
LiechtensteinRight
LithuaniaRight
LuxembourgRight
MadagascarRight
MalawiLeft
MalaysiaLeft
MaldivesLeft
MaliRight
MaltaLeft
Marshall IslandsRight
MauritaniaRight
MauritiusLeft
MexicoRight
MicronesiaRight
MoldovaRight
MonacoRight
MongoliaRight
MontenegroRight
MoroccoRight
MozambiqueLeft
MyanmarRight
NamibiaLeft
NauruLeft
NepalLeft
NetherlandsRight
New ZealandLeft
NicaraguaRight
NigerRight
NigeriaRight
North KoreaRight
North MacedoniaRight
NorwayRight
OmanRight
PakistanLeft
PalauRight
PalestineRight
PanamaRight
Papua New GuineaLeft
ParaguayRight
PeruRight
PhilippinesRight
PolandRight
PortugalRight
QatarRight
RomaniaRight
RussiaRight
RwandaRight
Saint Kitts and NevisLeft
Saint LuciaLeft
Saint Vincent and the GrenadinesLeft
SamoaLeft
San MarinoRight
São Tomé and PríncipeRight
Saudi ArabiaRight
SenegalRight
SerbiaRight
SeychellesLeft
Sierra LeoneRight
SingaporeLeft
SlovakiaRight
SloveniaRight
Solomon IslandsLeft
SomaliaRight
South AfricaLeft
South KoreaRight
South SudanRight
SpainRight
Sri LankaLeft
SudanRight
SurinameLeft
SwedenRight
SwitzerlandRight
SyriaRight
TaiwanRight
TajikistanRight
TanzaniaLeft
ThailandLeft
TogoRight
TongaLeft
Trinidad and TobagoLeft
TunisiaRight
TurkeyRight
TurkmenistanRight
TuvaluLeft
UgandaLeft
UkraineRight
United Arab EmiratesRight
United KingdomLeft (with some exceptions)
United StatesRight (with one exception)
UruguayRight
UzbekistanRight
VanuatuRight
Vatican CityRight
VenezuelaRight
VietnamRight
Western SaharaRight
YemenRight
ZambiaLeft
ZimbabweLeft
A list of every country, which side of road drivers drive.

This article is

written by Asma Schleicher and edited by Efe Genit. Asma is a creative writer with German and Pakistani roots. She is an analytical writer with a degree in business administration. In this blog, she mostly writes about cultural, travel, and fashion-related topics reflecting her real-life experiences. You can also check Asma’s profile in Upwork.