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Why do the British drive on the left?

sie 19

You’ve just arrived in London from Poland. You’ve come to the city center and now the only thing you want to do is crossing the street, the street without traffic lights. “A piece of cake” you think after quick look at empty street from behind your right arm. “No car, so I can cross it.” You’re just about to take a step when speeded vehicle just passes you by with a tires’ screech from your left side. Have you ever had a situation like that? Welcome in the UK, a country with left-hand traffic (LHT)!

Recently, many Polish people consider left-hand traffic to be a real oddity and an eccentricity of the British. Meanwhile nobody knows it but these rules were compulsory also in Poland only 100 hundred years ago! Today, about 65% of the world’s population live in countries with right-hand traffic and 35% in countries with left-hand traffic. About 90% of the world’s total road distance carries traffic on the right and 10% on the left.

So, in which countries besides the Great Britain can we notice LHT? Of course in all British colonies, but also in Ireland, Cyprus, Malta, Australia, New Zealand, India, Hong Kong, Republic of South Africa, Japan, Indonesia and Thailand. In total, there are as many as 75 countries or areas! And you’ve probably thought it’s a domain only of Englishmen, haven’t you?

What’s surprising, it’s a fact that formerly, left-hand traffic was popular in most countries all over the world! It’s believed, that in the Middle Ages the travellers on horseback generally rode on the left side of the road. It’s because a horseman would thus be able to hold the reins with his left hand and keep his right hand free – to defend himself with a sword (only if necessary).

Who had then changed the rule of the road in the European countries? That person who conquered from keep-left to keep-right was… great Napoleon! Some justifications are symbolic, such as that Napoleon himself was left- (or right-) handed, or that Britain, Napoleon’s enemy, kept left. Starting from that moment, Europe, gradually, was “passing to the right side”. In Poland, LHT was compulsory till the end of annexation, in Sweden till 1967 (in the picture the day of changing) and in Iceland till 1968. You should know that left-hand traffic was in force also in cases of trains’ and trams’ tracks. That’s why the trams in Cracow started to move on the right side not until 1925!

Luckily, the car with a steering wheel on the left side has still the pedals and gears placed normally, like in Polish vehicles. But what is funny? It’s a fact that even if somewhere there is left-hand traffic, on the roads there is still a rule of right hand! Don’t try to even imagine driving in the UK where are many, many roundabouts!

(DG)

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