Why do we Drive on the Left Hand Side in the UK?

The UK has one of the most advanced car markets in the world with virtually every make and model available for sale in the domestic market. Yet intriguingly the UK drives on the other side of the road compared to many other countries including its near neighbours in continental Europe. A quick search on the internet reveals that actually around 30 to 40 per cent of the world drive on the left hand side of the road


How did this situation arise and what is the history surrounding which side of the road different countries drive on.


Undoubtedly colonisation plays a major part in determining whether countries drive on the left or the right. Countries which were British colonies will typically drive on the left hand side of the road reflecting the British influence on the development of the transport infrastructure. Previous conquerors and rulers play a key part in how road infrastructure was developed, however there are some interesting examples where this is not the case.


Japan drives on the left hand side yet is not a former British Colony. According to the website http://www.worldstandards.eu ,’Goes back to the Edo period (1603-1867) when Samurai ruled the country.’ The website goes on to explain that in the late 1800s legislation to formalise which side of the road people drive on was introduced and at that time the British were heavily involved in developing and constructing Japan’s railways while influencing the Japanese on other aspects of their transport infrastructure.


In 2009 Samoa took the highly unusual step of changing driving sides. Despite being located close to a number of countries which drive on the left Samoa’s road network had been developed for driving on the right. This had made Samoa dependent on expensive left hand drive vehicles imported from the USA. The change was made to reduce the cost of vehicles for Samoans by allowing cheaper right hand drive cars to come in the country from its near neighbours New Zealand and Australia.


With the economic impact, infrastructure change costs and potential safety issues involved in a change of driving sides there is unlikely to be further countries looking to change driving sides unless there are truly exceptional circumstances. The next big impact on transport infrastructure will be the changes to do with the move towards greener, electric vehicles which require recharging and this will play a significant part in determining the design of roads and cities going forward.

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