Driving on the wrong side of the road

An endless source of discussion with international friends is the division of the world into countries that drive on the left and countries that drive on the right. Which side is “wrong”?

For my US friends, Australia drives on the “wrong side”. We feel the opposite.

My understanding is that up to the 17th century, all rode on the left. In fact, in 1300AD, Pope Boniface VIII stated that all pilgrims heading to Rome should keep left. Napoleon reversed this. Some say because he could. Others say because he was left-handed and others so he could confuse or spite the English! Whatever the reason, most ex Uk colonies plus Japan drive on the left and the rest of the world on the right.  Five provinces in Canada used to drive on the left but all swapped by 1940s. Sweden switched from left to right in 1976 and Samoa switched from right to left in 2009, leaving their cousins in Western Samoa still driving on the right.

The humourous jesting has a dark side though. Tourists to the UK, Australia and New Zealand are killed as a result of forgetting which side to drive on. Some tips to consider:

1. Think local
When traveling to a country which dries on the opposite to your usual residence , be vigilant. Continuously think and remind yourself and your children to think about which side cars are driving on. This may save your life when crossing roads on foot, for example.

2. Book an automatic
It is easier to get used to driving on the other side of the road if you are not changing gears ( note New Caledonia doesn’t have any manual/stick shift cars available)

3. Wait 24 hours
Avoid driving immediately upon arrival . Take 24 hours to rest and acclimatise to the new situation. Watch other drivers carefully during that time.

4. Think about where you start
Avoid starting driving in the middle of downtown of a busy city. For example, take public transport out to a suburban lot or pick the car in a smaller village or town

5. Check Controls
Before starting the engine, play with the indicators and windscreen/windshield wipers a few times. There is nothing worse that trying to merge and instinctively switching the windscreen wipers on because they are swapped around! See where the petrol release is. Note that almost every term for a car differ between the USA, the UK and Australia. eg a trunk in the USA is the boot in the UK.

6. Practice
Drive slowly a few times around the car park where you pick the car up from. Practice parking, turning corners and using the car controls

7. Give yourself some room
If you are nervous, keep to quieter roads unto, you are ready. Plan to Travel less distances. Stay on the slow lane. Note that you may find that you gravitate to the part of the road you are used to.

8. Support each other
Driving is stressful. I have seen couples and friends come to blows on international drives. Help each other to stay safe but avoid being overly critical

According to Wikipedia two third’s of the world’s population and 72% of the world’s total road distance carries are in “right side” jurisdictions and the remainder in left. Countries that drive on the left are listed below. Every other country drives on the right.



Antigua & Barbuda
British Virgin Islands
Cayman Islands
Channel Islands
Eire (Ireland)
Falkland Islands
Hong Kong
Isle of Man
New Zealand
Northern Ireland
Papua New Guinea
Samoa (not Western Samoa)
Solomon Islands
South Africa
Sri Lanka
St Kitts & Nevis
St. Helena
St. Lucia
Trinidad and Tobago
Turks and Caicos Islands
US Virgin Islands (although most of the cars are US left hand drive!)
St. Vincent & Grenadines


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  1. Most of them are islands. They need to get with the programme and drive on the right. The average UK.Irish driver would save a bundle on car cost.

  2. Hey Nick. Love you to announce to the drivers of the 31 million cars in the Uk they need to swap sides!

  3. I’d like to know how they would save money on car cost, just by driving on the other side?????

  4. and if you open the WRONG front door of your rental and want to save some dignity i believe you have two choices:

    1) if you are carrying ANYTHING (even a newspaper) set it on the seat, shut the door, and walk around to the drivers side as if you’d planned it

    2) if you’ve actually SAT DOWN in the wrong seat and suddenly noticed the absence of a steering wheel (don’t laugh….it happens alot!) don’t panic. shut the door. put on your seatbelt. open the window. and act like you are waiting for the driver to join you. look at your watch repeatedly. drum your fingers on the dash. look impatient. after a suitable waiting period (maybe five minutes!) unstrap, get out, glare around you, and loudly announce “fine…. find your own way home” and get in the correct driver side and drive away. Time consuming yes, but…..

  5. Having lived and worked (and driven) in 4 right hand drive countries and 3 left hand drive countries – plus visited and rented cars in several others, right-hand drive makes the most logical sense to me.

    The reason is that the vast majority of people are right handed. Therefore, in a manual transmission car, the gears that you would use most often (1st and 2nd) are closest to you. Conversely, 4th, 5th and higher gears are further away. Intuitively, things that you would use most often should be nearer to you than things that you don’t.

    Not sure how any of this affects cost or money, but to me there is a logical “right” (pun intended) answer.


  6. I rented a car and drove on the left in Mauritius. Having an automatic (despite the cost) made things much easier! I can’t imagine driving on the left with a stick!

  7. I thought it was related to a martial concept. When carrying a sword, being on the right hand side is considered less hostile as you expose your more vulnerable (left hand) side.

  8. when we were in st. thomas as part of a cruise stop, they taught us this:
    “the left side is the right side; the right side is suicide”
    really helped when we rented a jeep!

  9. Looking at the map, it’s pretty obvious driving on the right side is the best side to drive on. A great majority of the world drives on the right side.

  10. Chris, I have done your newspaper trick a number of times. I have placed my wallet there, change there, all in the desperate illusion that I intended to open the passenger side door the whole time. I like your second piece of advice!

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