culture Why Do We Drive on the Right Side of the Road?  

Candice Darden
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Why drive on the right? It has been long debated over the course of human history which side of the road it's more advantageous to drive on - and the type of culture and mode of transportation ends up combining in influence to dominate the laws governing the rules of the road for a particular nation. So... why do we drive on the right side of the road?

Horse-drawn wagons were common in early America, but exactly how much did wagons influence the American choice to drive in the right lane of the road? A lot, it turns out. And what unique part did Henry Ford (best known for inventing the first automobile, the Model T) play in influencing the age-old question, "why drive on the right?"

Also examined: why earlier civilizations preferred driving on the left side, and why driving on the left is still common in my places around the world. Buckle up for this fascinating history lesson about why we preferred to buck the system and check out the reasons for driving on the right side of the road.

Wagons in Early America Were More Easily Driven with the Driver on the Left


Wagons in Early America Were M... is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list Why Do We Drive on the Right Side of the Road?
Photo: Carle Vernet/Public Domain

Before wagons had designated, built-in seats for drivers, most wagon drivers simply sat on the horse furthest to the left. Due to visibility (especially when it came to passing other wagons) and most drivers being right handed, wagon drivers preferred this set up because they could, according to Today I Found Out, "easily drive a whole team of horses with a lash in their right hand." 

The First "Keep Right" Rule Was Passed in Pennsylvania in 1792


The First "Keep Right"... is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list Why Do We Drive on the Right Side of the Road?
Photo: Courtesy of Dave Hall/Shorpy/Public Domain

As the population of the newly founded United States grew, traffic steadily increased, bringing about the need for traffic laws for the sake of public safety. The first "keep right" rule, passed in Pennsylvania, helped eliminate unnecessary accidents by making it illegal to drive on the left side. This new law steadily spread throughout the rest of the existing US and into Canada, though because Canada was still a British territory, most driving in the country was on the left side of the road until the 1920s. 

Henry Ford Designed His Model T to Be Driven on the Right Side of the Road


Henry Ford Designed His Model ... is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list Why Do We Drive on the Right Side of the Road?
Photo: Conrad Poirier/Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du QuĂ©bec/Public Domain

When Henry Ford placed the steering wheel on the left side of his Model T, drivers had no choice but to drive on the right side of the road. Although the "keep right" rule had been passed in PA in 1792, Ford's decision helped to forever cement driving on the right side of the road. Since his Model T automobiles were overwhelmingly popular, and many new roads were paved thanks to their popularity, Ford proved to be one of the most influential individuals when it came to the rules of the road.

So... Why Are Some Countries Left-Driving and Others Right-Driving?


So... Why Are Some Countries L... is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list Why Do We Drive on the Right Side of the Road?
Photo: Theodor Josef Hubert Hoffbauer/Public Domain

The answer to this is complicated, and involves a lot of history. In France, they drive on the right, but used to drive on the left on account of complex class-based codes. At one point, parts of France were right-driving while others were left-driving. The English have always driven on the left, and because the British never adopted the enormous, multiple-horse carriages that made right-side driving easier than left-side, that never changed. 

The spread of the British Empire brought left-side driving to Africa, Australia, and even Japan. Russia was a left-driving country until the 19th century, at which point it switched to the right. You could probably write a book, or at least a very long article, on why and how people drive in countries around the world