Driving on the left side


And IIRC, that also was reinforced by the oh-such-fun activity of jousting. Folks carried their spears in the right hand, and rode the horses to the left so that they had a clear shot at their opponent without having to aim the spear over the horse’s head.

Curiously, in the US Virgin Islands folks drive US-standard cars but drive on the left. It seemed a pretty dangerous way to go about things, but in Charlotte Amalie cars never seemed to go more than 5mph anyway.

The column includes the claim:

Which isn’t actually true; the truth is much weirder. Sweden switched because it was surrounded by right-side drive countries and cross-border traffic was becoming common enough to make the switch a real problem. The odd truth is that Swedes had been driving left-hand drive cars for years… down the left side of the road. And I’ve never heard a good explanation why they would do such a strange thing.

Come to think of it, maybe they switched because they were tired of the jokes from smartarsed Norwegians :wink:

Actually, in all the art I can find, it seems that medieval jousters kept to the right, and did cross the lance over the horse. I know that modern jousters do.

Backfired though, since now, whenever anyone mentions the switch, we claim they started it a week earlier for busses and lorries, as a test.

Boy, I wish I could remember where I heard it: that in London, back when Dick Whittington was Lord Mayor, an ox dropped dead as it’s dray was crossing London Bridge. To clear the blockage, traffic incoming to the city was diverted to the left, whilst outgoing had to bear to the right. This started the tradition, and it just kind of stuck.
And now I find out it’s codswallop … :mad:

Old joke from Benny Hill: He was a TV news reader, and announced: “Parliament has declared that England will be switching over to drive on the right side of roads, following the practice on the European mainland. They have said the change will be made gradually.”

I do not believe you recall correctly. The horse always passes the other with the shield closest, duh. Damn hard to shield yourself when your lance arm is right next to the opponent. :smiley:

I do not believe you recall correctly. The horse always passes the other with the shield closest, duh. Damn hard to shield yourself when your lance arm is right next to the opponent. :smiley:

Most british people are right handed and are capable of driving cars with manual gearboxes. When you go to change gear, you are, therefore, keeping hold of the steering wheel with your strongest hand (right hand), ensuring that if you unexpectedly hit a bump you are more likely to remain in control of the vehicle. Totally sensible really and explains why our roads, although being some of the busiest, are amongst the safest in the world.

Since most American’s don’t understand the benefits of using a manual gearbox over an automatic gearbox, and couldn’t actually master the technique as it requires a huge quantity of brainpower, it doesn’t really matter what side you drive. In addition, it goes against the entire “American-Way” as it may actually burn the odd calorie, which goes against your general desire to become obese. :wink:

RichB, you can suck a big fat dick. I’ve seen plenty of fat asses in my travels to Britain, and if it really makes a difference if you drive with your right or left hand, well, I’d love to see the study on that.

RichB and jiminycricket53. Welcome to the boards, but if you don’t learn the rules, your visits will be rather short.

You’re in a forum called CoCC–Comments on Cecil’s Columns. Insults to other posters don’t belong here, whether they be sneaky(RichB) or blatant(jiminycricket53).

If you find a post that you think is out of order, report it to the mods. That’s the little triangle with the exclamation point in it in the upper right hand corner of the offending post. Do NOT get in a pissing match outside of the PIT.

Get it? Good.

samclem moderator in General Questions

While I doubt your seriousness here, this entire theory falls down when you look at the safety records of India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Thailand, Malaysia and Ireland, all of which drive on the left, but have poor safety records (Ireland’s in relation to Europe, not the other countries listed).

To be fair, looking at films of Indian roads and traffic for a start, there appear to be one or two factors operating there that are not controlled for in a straightforward correlation of handedness with road safety. :slight_smile:

I seem to recall advancing a similar theory to RichB’s in a letter to a magazine that won me a nice pen for letter of the month, only without invidious comparisons to other nationalities, and I personally managed not to make a complete tool of myself (which, of course, does not logically imply that anyone else in this thread has made a complete tool of himself).

Whilst we are talking of insults, I seem to remember that the actual question was:

“Why do people in Britain and some of their former colonies drive on the left side of the road? Is it just a case of clinging stubbornly to an outdated tradition, such as the confusing English system of measures? by Billy Bob, Memphis, Tennessee.”

Personally, I see that being a rather scathing attack on my nationality and country. So in response to “samclem” and others, surely the tone of the questions should be amended not to cause insult in the first place infering that we are all rather quaint and backward. How rude! It is, afterall, a webpage that recieves many international responses. I was just answering in the same tone, throwing in a few stereotypes like the question asker.

Before I get onto driving, lets look at the “confusing English system of measures.” We, principally, don’t use them anymore! They were confusing! We have rather eagerly jumped on the metric system. The only ones that are used now are miles (would be too many signs to alter!) and pints (yes, this is because we like our “outdated tradition” of pints for our Ales inour little quaint pubs! I believe America still uses the former “confusing English system” whilst we have long gone past the use of other measures, some of which America seems to be holding onto rather tightly (e.g ouces - what the hells that all about?).

Onto driving now, is “Billy Bob,” and anyone else who considers we should change, so completely stupid to consider that the UK could ever now actually change the side of the road that we drive upon?

For starters, here are seven very significant reasons why it could not be done:

  1. The cost would be phenominal, and who would pay for it? Would Billy Bob put his hand in his pocket to bring us “into line” with America? Or Europe? Of course not.
  2. The civil engineering works would take years, as principally every junction would have to be altered and road signs swapped.
  3. There would have to be a slow swapover, perhaps by regions, as the infrastructure was changed (see points 1 & 2).
  4. When it was completed, everyone’s cars would be the wrong way around!
  5. The carnage on the roads that would follow would be horrendous. Can you imagine what would happen when someone forgot and entered a six lane motorway going the WRONG WAY???
  6. It would be totally unworkable. You try teaching 60 million “stubborn” people to look the other way before pulling out of a junction or crossing the road!!!
  7. Why would we want to? It doesn’t affect anyone?

So, to summmarise, its a stupid idea that no-one wants, would be unworkable for decades, and would be too high in monetary and human cost to carry out. Leave us to hold “stobbornly” onto our “outdated tradition.”

In comment to “jjimm” on the “safety records of India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Thailand, Malaysia,” there can be ABSOLUTELY NO COMPARISON to those countries!!! The UK roads are a MODERN network (technically, anyway), whilst only limited areas of the other “comparison” countries are so. The comparison is, therefore, rather stupid. I will not, therefore, even bother to comment on it.

However, to enforce my point on whether the UK (lefties) is any safer that for the rest of Europe (mostly righties), please see at your leisure:


This site, which is the official road reporting site for the European Commission, reports accident and death rates through out the European Commission (now 25 countries). Of these 25 countries, by population, the UK is the fourth safest. This means that 20 counties have worse driving standards who drive on the right. And in comment to Ireland, they are on the Europena average, so surely are not that bad anyway. Again, it is principally in rural areas where the road accident figures increase. I think you will find, therefore, that I had a very valid point on our safety standards!

RichB, “Billy Bob” wrote that question in 1988. It’s a little late, perhaps, for such ire, especially his light-hearted crack about “English” measurements, which is merely what our transatlantic cousins regularly call “imperial”.

My comment was specifically with regard to your “right handed people steering” argument, which I don’t think stands up within your small sample of the EU. The UK places a huge emphasis on road safety in comparison with many other EU countries. I suggest that this is the reason for our astonishing fourth place (behind two right-hand driving countries), and Ireland, which doesn’t, is Ireland on the mean.

Do calm down.

I would like to offer Billy Bob the benefit of this doubt: In his crack about the English system of measures, he was probably talking about his own (and my) countrymen. I think all us Americans are aware that the UK doesn’t cling to that system, while we certainly seem to have a deathgrip on it in the US. So he was using a local example to show that if Cecil’s answer was indeed that clingishness (yep, I just made up that word) was the reason, it was not something unique to Britain.

Yes, he may actually have been trying to avoid the exact insult that RichB seems to have found in his question.

I’d also like to point out that he never suggested that the UK or any part of the Commonweath should attempt to change their road rules at this late date. That suggestion seems to be another thing that RichB sees in the question that I do not.

Your reasoning for driving on the left is a causality fallacy. Even if the UK was the safest place in the world to drive, it does not mean that this is due to the practice of driving on the left. I would imagine many English civil engineers would disagree with your reasoning, siting logical well designed roads. By your reasoning, your logic is cancelled out if any of the 3 countries on your list are safer and drive on the right.

Standardisation is a good thing. America needs to embrace the metric system and countries that drive on the left need to change as well. America needs to change because it’s logical. The English (and former colonies) need to change since they are the minority. It may take a very long time, but eventually standardisation will prevail.

Also, I would like to comment on your insults to other posters. Even if you perceive insults and sarcasm being directed towards your countrymen, try to set a good example of your people by being the bigger man. It only makes you seem more childish by responding to vague insults with more insults, instead of logic.

One billion Indians can’t be wrong :wink:

Nitpick: it’s “British”, not just “English”. ALso, Japan isn’t a former colony.

But I agree, it would make things a lot more convenient for us, and would drastically reduce the cost of vehicle purchase in the global marketplace. According to this, the spilt is currently 66%/34% to the righties. That’s still an awful lot of people and infrastructure on whom to impose such a drastic change, and I suggest a realistic timescale for such a change would range from “never” to “when hell freezes over”.