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Discover Why Americans Drive On The Right And The UK On The Left

Have you also wondered why Americans drive on the right and the UK on the left? What might be even more surprising is that it's not mere preference.

Author:Xander Oddity
Reviewer:Dr. Felix Chaosphere
Mar 06, 20241.8K Shares30.4K Views
In the tranquil expanses of Pennsylvania's Amish country, Peter Valdes-Dapena, CNN's intrepid explorer, embarked on a quest to unravel a curiosity that has puzzled many—why Americans drive on the right and the UK on the left.
Born during a 2015 London trip, led Valdes-Dapena to a former tobacco drying barn in Conestoga, Pennsylvania, where an unassuming Conestoga wagon awaited, holding the keys to the historical roadmap.

The Conestoga Wagon's Role

John Stehman, president of the Conestoga Area Historical Society, greeted our curious traveler and shed light on the Conestoga wagon's pivotal role. Crafted in the early 1700s with its distinct arched cloth roofs, these wagons symbolized America's westward expansion. However, the real revelation lay in the wagon's controls—strategically placed on the left side, guiding the driver toward the middle of the road with the wagon on the right.
As trade flourished between Lancaster County and Philadelphia, the establishment of the Philadelphia and Lancaster Turnpike Road in 1795 mirrored the Conestoga wagons' right-side dominance. This early highway became the blueprint for the American road system, fostering a tradition of right-side drivingthat persists today.

Henry Ford's Model T

Contrary to popular belief, Henry Ford's influence on right-side driving in the United States wasn't a groundbreaking shift. The introduction of the Model T in 1908, featuring a left-side steering wheel, merely aligned with existing driving habits deeply ingrained in American road culture. Even by 1804, New York had already mandated right-side driving on all roads, emphasizing that road orientation was an evolving phenomenon that predated the automotive era.

Napoleon's Left Turn

While the United States embraced right-side driving, Europe took a divergent turn under the strategic influence of Napoleon Bonaparte. As his armies marched through the continent in the 1800s, they propagated the left-side driving convention associated with the upper classes. This cultural shift, aimed at dismantling societal class distinctions, left Britain as a unique right-side outlier on its own continent.
Historian M.G. Lay suggests that Britain's departure from the left-side norm might be attributed to the types of conveyances used. With fewer industrial-sized wagons and more small carriages and individual horse riders, the British opted for left-side driving, allowing riders to keep their right hands toward oncoming traffic for greetings and potential conflicts.

Realities Of Switching Sides

Real-life incidents highlight the challenges and hazards associated with switching sides on the road, prompting cautionary measures for travelers.
William Van Tassel, AAA’s head of driver training, advises heightened concentration when adapting to the "wrong" side of the road. Rental agencies, recognizing the challenges faced by American drivers in the UK, provide reminders like "Drive on the left" stickers and wristbands.

What Other Places Drives On The Right Or Left?

Wondering what countries or regions drive on the right and on the left? Here are the driving conventions of specific countries and regions according to World Standards:
Green parts of the map drive on the right, while the orange parts, drive on the left.
Green parts of the map drive on the right, while the orange parts, drive on the left.

What Countries Or Regions Drive On The Left Side?

Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Australia, Bahamas, Bangladesh, Barbados, Bermuda, Bhutan, Bonaire, British Virgin Islands, Brunei, Cayman Islands, Channel Islands (Guernsey & Jersey), Christmas Island, Cocos (Keeling) Islands, Cyprus, Cyprus, North (unrecognized, self-declared state), Dominica, East Timor (Timor-Leste), England, Falkland Islands, Fiji, Gambia, Gibraltar, Great Britain (GB), Grenada, Guadeloupe (French overseas department), Guernsey, Guyana, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Ireland (Eire), Ireland, Northern, Isle of Man, Jamaica, Japan, Jersey, Kenya, Kiribati, Korea, South, Lesotho, Macau, Madeira, Malaysia, Malta, Mauritius, Montserrat, Mozambique, Myanmar (formerly Burma), Namibia, Nauru, Nepal, New Zealand, Norfolk Island, North Cyprus (unrecognized, self-declared state), Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Saint Helena, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Samoa, Seychelles, Singapore, Solomon Islands, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Suriname (Surinam), Swaziland, Tanzania, Thailand, Tokelau, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, Turks and Caicos Islands, Tuvalu, Uganda, United Kingdom (UK), Virgin Islands (British), Virgin Islands (USA), Wales, Zambia, Zimbabwe.

What Countries Or Regions Drive On The Right Side?

Abu Dhabi (not a country but a state within the United Arab Emirates), Afghanistan, Albania, Algeria, American Samoa, Andorra, Angola, Argentina, Armenia, Aruba, Austria, Azerbaijan, Azores, Bahrain, Balearic Islands, Belarus, Belgium, Belize, Benin, Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Botswana, Brazil, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Burma (officially Myanmar), Burundi, Cambodia, Cameroon, Canada, Canary Islands, Cape Verde (in Portuguese: Cabo Verde), Central African Republic, Chad, Chile, China, People’s Republic of, Colombia, Comoros, Congo, Democratic Republic of the (Congo-Kinshasa), Congo, Republic of the (Congo-Brazzaville), Cook Islands, Costa Rica, Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast), Croatia, Cuba, Curaçao, Czechia (Czech Republic), Denmark, Djibouti, Dominican Republic, Dubai (not a country but a state within the United Arab Emirates), Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Estonia, Ethiopia, Faeroe Islands, France, French Guiana (French overseas department), French Polynesia (French overseas collectivity), Gabon (Gabonese Republic), Gaza Strip (Gaza), Georgia, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Greenland, Guam, Guatemala, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Haiti, Holland (officially the Netherlands), Honduras, Hungary, Iceland, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Italy, Ivory Coast (Côte d'Ivoire), Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Latvia, Lebanon, Liberia, Libya, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macedonia, North, Madagascar, Malaysia, Maldives, Mali, Moldova, Monaco, Mongolia, Montenegro, Morocco, Netherlands, New Caledonia (French overseas collectivity), Nicaragua, Niger, Nigeria, Niue, North Korea, North Macedonia, Northern Ireland, Northern Mariana Islands, Norway, Oman, Palau, Palestine, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Pitcairn Islands, Poland, Portugal, Puerto Rico, Qatar, Réunion (French overseas department), Romania, Russia(officially the Russian Federation), Rwanda, Saba, Saint Barthélemy (French overseas collectivity), Saint Martin (French overseas collectivity), Saint Pierre and Miquelon (French overseas collectivity), San Marino, São Tomé and Príncipe, Saudi Arabia, Scotland, Senegal, Serbia, Sierra Leone, Sint Eustatius, Sint Maarten, Slovakia, Slovenia, Somalia, Somaliland (unrecognized, self-declared state), South Korea, South Sudan, Spain, Sudan, Sweden, Switzerland, Syria, Tahiti (the largest island in French Polynesia), Taiwan, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, United Arab Emirates (UAE), United States of America (USA), Uruguay, Uzbekistan, Vanuatu, Vatican City, Venezuela, Vietnam, Wallis and Futuna (French overseas collectivity), West Bank, Western Sahara, Yemen.

Why Americans Drive On The Right And The Uk On The Left - FAQs

Why Do Americans Drive On The Right?

In the United States, driving on the right side of the road became a convention during the 18th century. Wagon drivers used to sit on the left to have a clear view of oncoming traffic, making it practical for them to stay on the right side.

Why Does The UK Drive On The Left?

In the United Kingdom, the tradition of driving on the left dates back to the medieval period. Historically, people walked on the left side of the road to keep their right hand, most commonly the sword hand, free for self-defense.

How Did Driving Conventions Develop?

Driving conventions evolved over time based on factors like historical practices, the need for self-defense, and the design of early vehicles. While there isn't a universal rule, each country adopted a system that suited its unique circumstances and historical context.


The mystery of why Americans drive on the right and the UK on the left is surprisingly not mere preference but involves a lot of history. Roads, it appears, are not just conduits for transportation but reflections of cultural, historical, and ergonomic decisions that have shaped societies.
From the unassuming Conestoga wagons of Pennsylvania to Napoleon's left-side march through Europe, road orientation emerges as a dynamic and multifaceted aspect of societal evolution. Whether on the right or left side of the road, the choice reflects a lot of history, culture, and the pursuit of standardization that continues today.
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