Getting used to Left Side Drive
Recently when in driving around my home town, Dartmouth Nova Scotia, twice I pulled the car out and went to the left side of the road, rather than the right. This shocked me because in England I am a pedestrian 95% of the time, and the times I am in a car I’m a passenger. The fact that I’ve become so used to left side drive, that even when driving on familiar roads, my inclination is to go to the left is a bit of a shocker.
Compare this to my first week in London when about to step off a curb on Oxford Street to find the person behind me had grabbed my jacket collour to save me from walking in front of a double decker bus, luckily for me they had seen I looked the wrong way! They saved my life as the bus went by millimetres from my nose. So I have come a long way.
Why are some countries left, and some right?
I recently came across the reason why they drive on the left in the UK and the right in Continental Europe. It turns out that in when jousting competitors need to keep their sword/javelin hand free when meeting the oncoming horseman. This rule also applied to day to day life when walking or riding, passing on the left meant you kept your fighting/protective arm facing any possible threats.
As most people are right handed this meant passing on the left was the dominant way. The left side drive rule was first officially made compulsory in Britain in 1722, the congestion on London Bridge had become so bad that Lord Mayor ordered that all traffic should keep to the left.
However on Continental Europe Emperor Napoleon was in power and he was left handed, and he demanded that his army’s march on the right. This meant that any part of Continental Europe under his control at the time rearranged and took up keeping to the right side. This tradition is reflected in parts of North America (French parts of Canada, New York and the Southern States) which were first colonized by those from Continental Europe. When America won the War of Independence they kept right side drive as a way of casting off any British links left that they could. The right side dominance spread further when Ford came along with mass produced cars, lead to the American dominance in car manufacturing which lasted for many years.
I fear that I many never again have complete confidence when crossing the street as there is always a slight hesitation and doubt if I am looking the right way or not. After 5 years in the UK I am now apparently becoming accustomed to left side drive. Now riding a bike in London, well that is a whole other post!
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