Here’s why we drive on the left… and should we make the switch to the ‘other side’?


We all know it’s the only sensible way to drive, but have you ever wondered why Brits and a small club of other countries keep to the left?

drive on the left kent

It’s what we do – but do you know why and do you agree we should? Image credit

When it comes to Europe, it’s only the UK and Ireland keeping the left flag flying.

So, why are Brits dedicated lefties while the vast majority of Europe prefer their steering wheels on the wrong side of the motor?

There are many theories of course, but the most widely accepted notion is that the whole issue pre-dates the motor vehicle altogether with its origins in the Middle Ages.

The reasoning is that soldiers would ride on horses along tracks and accepting the majority of us are right handers, their sword (other brutal weapons were available) would be in the correct position to defend against foes approaching from the opposite direction.

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If they’d been ‘driving’ their steeds on the opposite side of the track, they’d be left to defend themselves using their weak arm. This would also apply to their opponent, resulting in a rather dull and half-hearted dust-up.

However, as time passed, road users started to suffer from a new complaint – congestion.

As a result, the Government of 1773 issued the General Highways act urging horse riders and coachmen to keep left to slash jams and the number of collisions.

From here, the Highways Act of 1835 was introduced to make it legally binding for road users to keep to the left and that’s the way it’s stayed ever since.

Who else drives on the left?

We might be an island of leftism within Europe, but we’re not alone. All of these countries also drive on the left.

See more here as covered in the Sun.

  • Australia
  • Channel Islands
  • Cyprus
  • Japan
  • Hong Kong
  • India
  • Isle of Man
  • Ireland

  • Jamaica
  • Kenya
  • Malta
  • Malaysia
  • New Zealand
  • South Africa
  • Singapore
  • Thailand

Could we switch to the right?

Switching to the right could make some cars cheaper, cutting back on manufacturers having to run a separate production line for right-hookers, while also saving a fortune on buying headlight deflectors from cross-Channel ferries, but could we really make the switch?

Most road markings would need to be erased and replaced with new versions swapped to the other side of the road. Signs, traffic lights and configuration of junctions would also need a complete overhaul. Then there’s one-way driving systems to consider.

In one study, it was estimated that simply changing signs to show kilometres rather than miles would cost a staggering £750million.

Motorway junctions and slip roads would also need huge amounts of work – with around one-in-ten needing to be dug up and totally rebuilt, according to one estimate from Benjamin Heydecker of the Centre for Transport Studies at University College London. Try factoring that into your daily commute.

Public transport would also need a huge overhaul, with all buses having to be adapted to have the entry and exit doors switched to the opposite side of the vehicle.

Car drivers would also be put at risk of having more accidents as they’d be further from the centre of the road and judging position relating to oncoming vehicles would become tricky.

As drivers moved over to left-hand drive vehicles, the market for used right-handers would completely collapse – leaving owners with vehicles in negative equity.

So how much would it cost? The Government of 1969 calculated the bill would be around £264 million – that’s about £3.4billion today. However, this is said to be a ludicrously conservative estimate for the current road and motorway network.

So, it would seem that left really is right for Brits .


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4 comments for “Here’s why we drive on the left… and should we make the switch to the ‘other side’?

  1. Ces Cunningham
    November 25, 2017 at 12:11 pm

    Reinforcing the ‘sword’ argument, it is normal practice to mount and dismount a horse from and to the left, if for no other reason than you are then able to utilise the roadside verge rather than the centre of the road. Otherwise you would be forever having to clean mud and other detritus from your boots and would also increase the chance of being accidentally struck by a horse (vehicle) travelling in the opposite direction. Hence it is natural to ride your horse (and more recently drive your car) on the left of the highway. In any event, what reason(s) do all these other countries provide in support of their custom? The balance of argument would appear to be very much in our favour – unless someone knows different!!

    • Matt
      November 28, 2017 at 11:02 pm

      The US reasoning has I think something to do with driving teams of horses – they would sit on the left so that their whip was in their right hand, thus driving on the right made sense for passing.

  2. Mark Phillips
    November 22, 2017 at 11:45 pm

    It is also more natural to be negotiating roundabouts in a clockwise direction

  3. Tim Holyoake
    November 21, 2017 at 6:31 pm

    If we drove on the left , we could shake hands with our friends coming towards us. Driving on the right. Most people are right handed. But you would use whichever dominant hand to defend yourself. If you drove on the right , you drew your weapon to defend yourself and it was easier to face half left to use it.
    Yes, we were friendly. While the Americans were fighting everyone. So… no change there then

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