Why is left-hand traffic in England?

(ORDO NEWS) — The British are the pioneers of regular passenger transport. Already by the 18th century, the development of means of transport and the growth of road traffic required the introduction of strict rules, for a start – the separation of flows in opposite directions. And here the trendsetters of technical fashion suddenly found themselves in the left-hand minority.

By and large, the choice of the driving pattern does not in any way affect the safety or convenience of motorists. Difficulties arise when joining two systems and consist in the left or right position of the steering wheel and the passenger door. Why did some countries prefer the right side, while others – the left? This also makes car selling and buying more complicated. Those in the UK with a left hand drive car might feel the need to look for left hand drive car buyers in UK if they find driving right hand cars easier. With the majority of drivers using right hand drive vehicles, driving in right hand traffic, left hand drivers might feel a little out of place. Why the confusion?

Combat hand rule

There are several theories about the origin of unwritten travel rules. In the beginning, they belonged to pedestrians and riders. The armed detachment is more comfortable with the left-sided movement pattern, when the right (combat) hand with the weapon is facing the middle of the road. And it is more convenient for the rider to get off the horse to the left shoulder, so that the scabbard on the same thigh does not interfere. But for a peaceful villager with a load, as a rule, lying on his right shoulder, it is preferable to walk on the right side. This applies to sleighs and carts. The driver’s right hand is stronger, and in order to disperse from the oncoming cart, he pulls the reins to the right, pressing against the corresponding roadside. At the same time, it is more convenient for a multi-seat crew to ride on the left side, so that the coachman does not hit the passenger on the left with the whip.

The first English law on left-hand traffic was passed in 1756. The violator was threatened with a serious fine. Four years earlier, the Russian Empress Elizaveta Petrovna signed a decree on right-hand traffic on the streets of Russian cities, essentially legalizing long-established road customs.

There is also an opinion that the commitment of the British to the left side comes from the then naval code, which ordered the ships to diverge on their port sides. However, another version looks more convincing, one that is more involved in politics.

Political factor

The fact is that in pre-revolutionary France the left side of the road was assigned to the nobility. One of the revolutionary decrees obliged everyone, without exception, to move on the right, “common people” side. The tradition was entrenched, and Napoleon, having come to power, began to introduce right-hand traffic in all the conquered countries. In response, England began to “plant” movement on the left side among its satellites. Traffic has become a political factor. The division continued until the First World War.

The left-sided political demonstration was not even influenced by the fact that the first cars, which appeared at the end of the 19th century, assumed a right-sided scheme by default. They were not controlled by the steering wheel, but by a special tiller-lever, for which they were ironically called “coffee grinders”. The lever was attached to the center of the cab, and the right-handed driver had to sit on the left seat for convenience, just like in a modern left-hand drive car. However, already in 1894, Alfred Vacheron replaced the tiller with a steering wheel, and in 1903, the USA began mass production of cars with a steering wheel, moreover, installed on the left.

To date, 66% of the world’s drivers drive on the right side of the road and 34% on the left. For the most part, the former colonies of Britain adhere to the left-sided paradigm, although there are exceptions. Japan has never been an English colony. Some experts are trying to explain its “leftism” by the custom of samurai wearing a katana in their belt, which is why the sword stuck out far to the left side, complicating movement on the right side. However, in reality, everything again rests on politics. Just for the construction of railways, Japan hired English specialists who classically worked in the left-hand version. Roads followed the trains. But the United States adopted a right-handed scheme to publicly demonstrate its independence from the former overlord.

Today, road antagonism is inconvenient even for the British themselves. In the 1960s, Britain even considered a project to switch to right-hand traffic, but refused due to the too high cost. Changing road signs and other infrastructure alone would cost billions, and the gentlemen remained on the left side of the highway.


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