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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
|Antigua and Barbuda||Left|
|Bosnia and Herzegovina||Right|
|Central African Republic||Right|
|Papua New Guinea||Left|
|Saint Kitts and Nevis||Left|
|Saint Vincent and the Grenadines||Left|
|São Tomé and Príncipe||Right|
|Trinidad and Tobago||Left|
|United Arab Emirates||Right|
|United Kingdom||Left (with some exceptions)|
|United States||Right (with one exception)|
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.