Driving on the left side of the road

Dear Cecil,

In your response to why folks in Britain drive on the left side of the road you stated that, ‘In the Middle Ages you kept to the left for the simple reason that you never knew who you’d meet on the road in those days. You wanted to make sure that a stranger passed on the right so you could go for your sword in case he proved unfriendly.’

Pardon my ignorance since I don’t use a sword much these days but wouldn’t it be better to have folks pass on your LEFT side? I assume most folks back then as today were right handed and would use this hand for swordplay and the left hand for holding shield. So wouldn’t they want to keep the stranger on the same side as their shield to allow their right hand to pull out their sword unhindered and slay thy foe?
Anyway you can explain this a bit better for me? Just curious…thanks

Issaquah, WA

This is actually in response to one of Cecil’s columns: Why do the British drive on the left?

This forum is for the Mailbag, which are not columns by Cecil but simple offerings from his Staff.

Therefore, I have closed this topic and moved it to the forum called COMMENTS ON CECIL’S COLUMNS.

Closed topic? Did you forget something?

Yeah, if they had a shield…
Besides, if they were in full battle regelia etc they would be on horse as well, and have a bunch of squires etc etc.
The point was that solitary travelers, minstrels, traders, etc, would probably just have a sword (or a knife, or a big stick even) to defend themselves from whoever they might meet, and being right handed would want to be on the left of the road. They probably wouldn’t be carrying a shield along with them though…they’re really heavy, not to mention sort of awkward (if carry it slung on your back it gets in the way of your pack, and you can’t get to it in time, if you carry it on your arm it’s just heavy and you probably wno’t need it anyway. a sword you can just sling on you belt and forget about until you need it…)


Actually, in the middle ages, nobody kept to any side of the road. When a keep-to-one-side rule was instituted in Rome in 1300 (a year when a big tourist boom was expected), it was heralded as an astonishing innovation. (See the Inferno.)

John W. Kennedy
“Compact is becoming contract; man only earns and pays.”
– Charles Williams