The ‘Right’ Right of Way

To those of you who have travelled, I’m sure you’ve been a part of this equation at some point or another. (1 pub + X beers + 1 left-hand driver + 1 right-hand driver) = Argument about rules of the road. But equipped with little knowledge and a few soda pops, this argument typically doesn’t get anywhere. What drunken arguments do?

The evolution of the “right of way” is actually quite practical. In simpler times, when men got to play with swords, it was just plain sensible to keep to the left. Most people are inarguably right-handed, so this placed the right hand in an opportune position to offer a greeting or reach for the sword when approaching oncoming traffic. The use of horses were also more manageable since it is easier to mount and dismount a horse from the left, which in this case leaves the rider doing so on the side rather than in the middle of traffic.

In the late 1700’s large freight wagons were used to transport farm supplies pulled by many horses. The driver would position himself on the left so his right hand would be in a position to whip his horse power. Consequently, it was sensible that he insist traffic to pass on the left so he could ensure his wheels were clear. Napoleon and the birth of the American automobile further progressed the right movement. If you want the full history, go to

In fact during the 60’s Britain considered switching over, but the immense cost and conservative attitudes were too great to overcome. Being an island didn’t hurt either. Actually, if you observe the countries that have maintained the left of way, geographic isolation is common. I was surprised (but not after I thought about it for more than a second) to find that Canada drove on the left until about 1920. Of course Newfoundland didn’t change over until about 1950 (not surprising).

While the left of way can lay claim to being the original ‘rule of the road,’ the last time I checked I wasn’t driving to work in a horse (well I did own a Mustang…), nor did I carry a sword (chuckle). However, simply because the majority of the world drives on the right (about 66%) does not make it the better alternative.

After talking to some friends in the UK, it seems that pedestrian traffic actually yields to the right of way, contrary to their road rules. On the other hand, most of its left driving colonies apply the left of way in all forms of traffic. This has been confirmed for Australia, Thailand and Malaysia.

If we are arguing simply based on pedestrian traffic, both sides have an equal argument. Though we can agree that hands are more accessible when keeping left, most people are right-handed in all things – I’m thinking sports now specifically. A right shot or a right foot doesn’t play on the left-wing; they play on the right because it’s more natural to approach on the right. While I hate using “feeling” as an argument, I think you can agree that most activities “feel” more natural when performed on the right, walking included – sports are just an obvious example. To further validate my point, I’m left-handed (you’re more convinced now right?).

In terms of vehicular transportation, I think it’s completely dependent on the vehicle. If you didn’t notice, we currently drive cars. Now, assuming you are a ‘good’ driver who drives with two hands on the wheel and maintaining that most people are right-handed it would be sensible that a vehicles controls would be to the right of the driver – what was once a whip is now a stick-shift. So it follows that the same reasons people moved to the right of the road originally still exist.

Yes, people have the capacity to be ambidextrous and obviously have the brain capacity to operate a vehicle using their left hand for the controls. But, if we are going to choose one over the other, it seems that right hand driving is the more sensible option. And let’s be honest, the RIGHT of way sounds better (unless you don’t speak English).

So before you Take Off give right-hand cars a reason to exist.




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2 responses to “The ‘Right’ Right of Way

  1. I just read this in a Paris hostel with my Australian source. Amazing research and arguement. We are speechless except for the occasional Wow or Ohhh or Hmm… Very well done. You are quite the fascinating and thorough blogger.

  2. Thanks. Sidenote: Facebook has made you disappear.

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