Why Do Americans Drive On The Right? Basic Traffic Rules Explained

Joan Agie
Oct 12, 2023 By Joan Agie
Originally Published on Oct 27, 2021
Read on to know why Americans drive on the right.

Left-hand side driving evolved in countries like New Zealand, Hong Kong and India as the majority of people are right-handed.

The placement of the steering wheel in cars is also a factor in why cars drive on different sides of the road. Canada, Italy, and Spain shifted to right-side driving in the 20s, while the countries of eastern Europe shifted to it in the 30s.

Do you know why ancient Romans used their left hand to steer their chariots, wagons, and carts? It was so their right hand could be free to grab their weapons in order to protect themselves against attacks from enemies.

This was passed down over the years and, later, the British Government made the Left-hand traffic rule. Find more interesting facts about this by reading the rest of the article!

During English Colonization, North America followed English driving customs and decided to drive on the left. When America gained independence from England, it gradually changed to right-hand driving to remove any last remaining links.

The beginning of right-hand driving in the United States is traced back to the 18th century when drivers of freight wagons, powered by horses, used to ride on the left, rear horse for better control.

Henry Ford is considered to have had one of the biggest influences on American driving since cars were invented. His cars are also believed to have been a major contribution to American's driving on the right.

While the popularity of right-side driving grew, many countries changed their own rule of which side people should drive on.

Since then, many countries have switched from left-side driving to driving on the right such as Canada, Spain, and Italy. However, many commonwealth countries like Australia, New Zealand and India still follow left-side driving.

If you enjoy this article, you may also want to read why do Americans speak English and where does metal come from.

Why do Americans drive on the right side of the road?

In most counties around the world, including the United States of America, Canada, Sweden, and China, it is mandatory to drive on the right side of the road. On the other hand, in around 30 other countries, including India and the United Kingdom, vehicles are supposed to be driven on the left side of the road.

This divide is because, in the Medieval ages, British knights used to carry their swords on their left side in order to draw them quicker, using their right arm.

Hence, they rode on the left side while on a horse. Also, when riding wagons pulled by horses, they needed to use a whip.

They used to drive on the left side of the road in order to be able to quickly pull out their sword and engage in combat with their right side facing the enemy.

The application of this method can still be seen in older sports like tent pegging. When the British passed their traffic laws in the 1700s, they made it mandatory for people in the colonies to travel on the left.

However, during the French Revolution, as a sign of rebellion against the aristocrats, people started to drive on the right side of the road.

In America, since the American natives didn't have a sword-based army, it wasn't necessary to have their right hand free. Furthermore, when Henry Ford announced his model in 1908, he put the driver’s seat on the left-hand side of the car.

This required his cars to be driven on the right-hand side of the road in order to allow the passenger to exit the vehicle away from the road.

Why do some countries drive on the left and others on the right?

There are a vast number of reasons why some countries drive on the left side of the road and others on the right.

In history, almost all countries preferred the left-hand side of the road to allow knights and swordsmen to easily draw their weapons in a fight. This is because most right-handed swordsmen found it more comfortable to keep their right side facing the opponent while clashing.

Moreover, it is simpler for a right-handed individual to mount a horse from the horse's left side.

The 10-15% who were left-handed became used to this practice and driving on the left side was widely adopted.

Road signs also vary depending on which side of the road you drive on. According to a study, nations that drive on the left side of the road have fewer traffic accidents and deaths than countries that drive on the right side of the road.

In Russia, the Danish ambassador under Tsar Peter the Great observed the common practice of traffic driving on the right in 1709. In 1952, Empress Elizabeth Petrovna issued an official order making vehicles drive on the right.

Moreover, during the French revolution, many countries in Europe agreed to switch to the right side of the road. Before the Revolution, aristocrats drove on the left, making the poor drive on the right.

Due to various protests against French nobles and their subsequent executions, the nobility chose not to travel on the left side in order to hide their status. After the arrival of Napoleon, conquered countries were forced to travel on the right.

On the other hand, British colonies were made to follow the left system. As time passed, more and more counties adapted to travel on the right-hand side of the road.

Is America the only country that drives on the right side?

No, America is not the only country that drives on the right side. Many other countries, like Sweden and China, drive on the right side of the road. In fact, 65% of the countries in the world travel on the right side of the road.

In general, former British colonies choose to travel on the left side while former Russian and French colonies travel on the right.

How do they modify cars for right or left side driving?

Depending upon the placement of the driving seat controls within a vehicle, such as gear and pedal setups, vehicles are modified to fit left-hand driving or right-hand driving cars. The first-ever vehicle to be built was initially designed to be driven on the left side of the road as that was where most of the traffic drove.

However, today, it is estimated that 34% of the world's nations are left-side traffic countries and 66% are right-hand. Which team is your country a part of?

In a car that has been built to drive on the left-hand side of the road, your right foot is the brake and the clutch is on the left-hand side. Countries like India, Australia, Sri Lanka and Malaysia use their left hand to change the gears.

When the pedals are set up to have the gas and brakes on the right and clutch on the left, the car is a 'Right-Hand Drive' vehicle. In this case, you'll find that the left hand is used for the gears.

Pulling the lever closer and then backward will put the car into reverse. It's believed that, when in oncoming traffic, the driver's wing mirrors are predominantly handled by the left eye of the driver. Some countries that use left-hand drive are, Denmark, Switzerland, France, Germany and Egypt.

Here at Kidadl, we have carefully created lots of interesting family-friendly facts for everyone to enjoy! If you liked our suggestions for why do Americans drive on the right, basic traffic rules explained, then why not take a look at curious kids facts: where do flies go at night?

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Written by Joan Agie

Bachelor of Science specializing in Human Anatomy

Joan Agie picture

Joan AgieBachelor of Science specializing in Human Anatomy

With 3+ years of research and content writing experience across several niches, especially on education, technology, and business topics. Joan holds a Bachelor’s degree in Human Anatomy from the Federal University of Technology, Akure, Nigeria, and has worked as a researcher and writer for organizations across Nigeria, the US, the UK, and Germany. Joan enjoys meditation, watching movies, and learning new languages in her free time.

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