Right- and left-hand traffic
||This article possibly contains original research. (September 2011)|
The terms right-hand traffic and left-hand traffic refer to regulations requiring all bidirectional traffic, unless otherwise directed, to keep either to the right or the left side of the road, respectively. This is so fundamental to traffic flow that it is sometimes referred to as the rule of the road. This basic rule improves traffic flow and reduces the risk of head-on collisions. 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.
- 1 Terminology
- 2 Road traffic
- 3 History
- 4 Road vehicle configurations
- 5 Trams and streetcars
- 6 Trains
- 7 Vessels and aircraft
- 8 Specific jurisdictions
- 8.1 Afghanistan
- 8.2 Argentina
- 8.3 Australia
- 8.4 Austria
- 8.5 Bangladesh
- 8.6 Belgium
- 8.7 Belize
- 8.8 Bosnia and Herzegovina
- 8.9 Bolivia
- 8.10 Brazil
- 8.11 Burma (Myanmar)
- 8.12 Cambodia
- 8.13 Canada
- 8.14 Caribbean
- 8.15 China
- 8.16 Croatia
- 8.17 Czech Republic and Slovakia
- 8.18 Cyprus
- 8.19 East Timor
- 8.20 Egypt
- 8.21 Finland
- 8.22 France
- 8.23 The Gambia
- 8.24 Ghana
- 8.25 Gibraltar
- 8.26 Greece
- 8.27 Guyana and Suriname
- 8.28 Hong Kong
- 8.29 Hungary
- 8.30 Iceland
- 8.31 India
- 8.32 Indonesia
- 8.33 Ireland
- 8.34 Israel
- 8.35 Italy
- 8.36 Japan
- 8.37 Kenya
- 8.38 Korea (North and South)
- 8.39 Kyrgyzstan
- 8.40 Lebanon
- 8.41 Macau
- 8.42 Malaysia
- 8.43 Malta
- 8.44 Mauritania
- 8.45 Mauritius
- 8.46 Mongolia
- 8.47 Nepal
- 8.48 Netherlands
- 8.49 New Zealand
- 8.50 Nigeria
- 8.51 Pakistan
- 8.52 Paraguay
- 8.53 Philippines
- 8.54 Poland
- 8.55 Portugal
- 8.56 Russia
- 8.57 Rwanda
- 8.58 Samoa
- 8.59 South Africa
- 8.60 South Yemen
- 8.61 Sierra Leone
- 8.62 Singapore
- 8.63 Spain
- 8.64 Suriname
- 8.65 Switzerland
- 8.66 Sweden
- 8.67 Taiwan
- 8.68 Thailand
- 8.69 Ukraine
- 8.70 United Kingdom
- 8.71 United States
- 8.72 Uruguay
- 8.73 Venezuela
- 8.74 Vietnam
- 8.75 Zimbabwe
- 9 See also
- 10 References
- 11 External links
With a few minor exceptions, each country specifies a uniform road traffic flow: left-hand traffic (LHT), in which traffic keeps to the left side of the road, or right-hand traffic (RHT), in which traffic keeps to the right.
The terms nearside (or kerbside) and offside (or off-kerb side) are used in some English-speaking countries to refer to the driver and passenger sides (in modern parlance) of a vehicle: the "nearside" is closest to the kerb (in the designated direction of traffic) and the "offside" is closest to the centre of the road. The preceding terms point up "safe" (nearside) and "unsafe" (offside) portions of vehicles for loading and unloading passengers and cargo.
Vehicles are usually manufactured in left-hand drive (LHD) and right-hand drive (RHD) configurations, referring to the placement of the driving seat and controls within the vehicle. Typically, the placement of the steering wheel is on the offside of the vehicle: LHT countries generally require use of RHD vehicles, and RHT countries generally require use of LHD vehicles. This is to ensure that the driver's line-of-sight is as long as possible down the road beyond leading vehicles, an important safety consideration during overtaking (passing) manoeuvres.
There are LHT countries where most vehicles are LHD (see Caribbean islands below)—and there are some countries with RHT and mostly RHD vehicles, such as Afghanistan, Burma, and the Russian Far East, in the last case due to import of used vehicles from Japan. Many countries permit both types of vehicles on their roads. Terminological confusion may arise from the terms left-hand drive or right-hand drive to indicate the side of the road along which vehicles are driven.
Note: Whatever a given vehicle's driver-side configuration (LHD or RHD—this can vary even within one country, e.g. for special postal delivery vehicles), in all cases local laws mandate the position of travel (RHT or LHT), and traffic code penalties for "driving on the wrong side" are often severe (because of the propensity for catastrophic accidents when a driver fails to observe local law).
The Geneva Convention on Road Traffic (1949) has been ratified by 95 countries and requires each ratifying country to have a uniform direction of traffic in the country. Article 9(1) provides that
|“||All vehicular traffic proceeding in the same direction on any road shall keep to the same side of the road, which shall be uniform in each country for all roads. Domestic regulations concerning one-way traffic shall not be affected.||”|
In the past, several countries have had different rules in different parts of the country (e.g., Canada until the 1920s, Spain, Brazil and others). Currently, China, the United States and the United Kingdom each have territories that do not follow the major country's primary traffic rule. In China (which has not ratified the Convention), drivers drive on the right, while in the special administrative regions of Hong Kong and Macau they drive on the left. In the United States, driving is on the right, while traffic in the US Virgin Islands, as on many Caribbean islands, drives on the left. The United Kingdom drives on the left, but the overseas territory of Gibraltar drives on the right.
Most other countries not parties to the Convention still follow the practice.
- All traffic is generally required to keep right unless overtaking.
- Oncoming traffic is seen coming from the left.
- Left-turning traffic must cross oncoming traffic.
- Most traffic signs facing motorists are on the right side of the road.
- Traffic on roundabouts (traffic circles or rotaries) goes counterclockwise.
- Pedestrians crossing a two-way road look first for traffic from their left.
- The lane designated for normal driving and turning right is on the right.
- Most dual carriageway (divided highway) exits are on the right
- Other vehicles are generally overtaken (passed) on the left, though in some circumstances overtaking on the right is permitted.
- Most vehicles have the driving seat on the left.
- A right turn at a red light may be allowed after stopping.
- On roads without a footpath pedestrians may be advised to walk on the left.
- All traffic is generally required to keep left unless overtaking.
- Oncoming traffic is seen coming from the right.
- Right-turning traffic must cross oncoming traffic.
- Most traffic signs facing motorists are on the left side of the road.
- Traffic on roundabouts (traffic circles or rotaries) goes clockwise.
- Pedestrians crossing a two-way road look first for traffic from their right.
- The lane designated for normal driving and turning left is on the left.
- Most dual carriageway (divided highway) exits are on the left.
- Other vehicles are overtaken (passed) on the right, though in some circumstances overtaking on the left is permitted.
- Most vehicles have the driving seat on the right.
- A left turn at a red light may be allowed after stopping.
Jurisdictions with right-hand traffic
Total: 163 countries and territories
Jurisdictions with left-hand traffic
Total: 76 countries, territories, and dependencies
Today road traffic in the following seven European jurisdictions drives on the left: the United Kingdom, Ireland, Isle of Man, Guernsey, Jersey, Malta and Cyprus. None shares a land border with a country that drives on the right and all were once part of the British Empire. Some Commonwealth countries and other former British colonies, such as Australia, Bahamas, Brunei, Barbados, Hong Kong, Jamaica, Singapore, New Zealand, India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Republic of Mauritius, South Africa and Trinidad & Tobago drive on the left, but others such as Canada, Gambia, Ghana, Nigeria, Sierra Leone and the United States drive on the right.
Other countries that drive on the left in Asia are Thailand, Indonesia, Bhutan, Nepal, Macau, East Timor, Singapore, Malaysia and Japan. In South America, only the Falkland Islands, Guyana and Suriname drive on the left. Most of the Pacific countries drive on the left, in line with Australia and New Zealand, with Samoa joining most recently, on 7 September 2009, the first country for three decades to change the side on which it drives.
Changing sides at borders
Where neighbouring countries drive on opposite sides of the road, drivers from one to the other must change sides when crossing the border. Thailand is particularly notable in this context. Thailand drives on the left; since Burma changed in 1970 from left to right, 90% of the Thailand border is with countries that drive on the right (only Malaysia drives on the left). Other notable borders where a changeover is necessary are Afghanistan/Pakistan, China/Pakistan, Iran/Pakistan, China/Hong Kong, and South Sudan/Uganda.
When borders coincide with natural barriers, such as mountains (which may be in remote areas) or rivers, the traffic volumes are relatively low and the number of border crossings is reduced. This is true of many borders where traffic changes sides of the road, especially in Asia.
The four most common ways of switching traffic from one side to the other at borders are
- Traffic lights. Examples include:
- Crossover bridges. Examples include:
- Intersecting roads with roundabouts or other one-way traffic systems. Examples include:
- Signposts and directions only, most commonly found at borders with low traffic volumes. Examples include:
- Poipet between Thailand and Cambodia
- Mae Sai old bridge between Thailand and Burma
- Khunjerab Pass between Pakistan-administered Kashmir and China
- Moyale between Kenya and Ethiopia
- Friendship Bridge between Nepal and China
- Nathu La pass between India and China
- Service tunnel of the Channel Tunnel between the United Kingdom and France (underground and not open to the public) –
Research in 1969 by J. J. Leeming showed that countries driving on the left have a lower collision rate than countries driving on the right, although he acknowledged that the sample of left-hand rule countries he had to work with was small, and he was very careful not to claim that his results proved that the differences were due to the rule of the road. It has been suggested that this is partly because humans are more commonly right-eye dominant than left-eye dominant. In left-hand traffic, the predominantly better-performing right eye is used to monitor oncoming traffic and the driver's wing mirror (side mirror). In right-hand traffic, oncoming traffic and the driver's wing mirror are handled by the predominantly weaker left eye. In addition, it has been argued that left-sided driving is safer for elderly people given the likelihood of their having visual attention deficits on the left side and the need at intersections to watch out for vehicles approaching on the nearside lane. Furthermore, in an RHD car with manual transmission, the driver has the right hand, which for most people is dominant, on the steering wheel at all times and uses the left hand (and left foot) to change gears and operate most other controls.
Cyclists, motorcyclists and horse riders typically mount from the left-hand side, with motorcycle side stands almost always located on the left. This places them on the kerb when driving on the left.
The largest safety issue is the coexistence of the two systems; visitors accustomed to one system might not act or react properly when visiting a region where the other system is used. For example, a pedestrian might look the wrong way before crossing a street.
In road racing, most tracks are run in a clockwise direction, including those in countries with right-hand traffic, which have anti-clockwise roundabouts. Since more corners are therefore to the right instead of the left, using a right-hand drive car has an advantage both in the driver's view of a corner's apex, and also in the overall weight distribution, which would be toward the inside.
In 1998, archaeologists found a well-preserved track leading to a Roman quarry near Swindon, England. The grooves in the road on the left side (viewed facing down the track away from the quarry) were much deeper than those on the right side. These grooves suggest that the Romans drove on the left, at least in this location, since carts would exit the quarry heavily loaded, and enter it empty.
Some historians, such as C. Northcote Parkinson, believed that ancient travellers on horseback generally rode on the left side of the road. As more people are right-handed, a horseman would thus be able to hold the reins with his left hand and keep his right hand free—to offer in friendship to passing riders or to defend himself with a sword, if necessary.
The history of the keep-left rule can be tracked back to ancient Greece, Egypt and Rome, and was more widely practised than right-side traffic. Ancient Greeks, Egyptians and Romans adhered to the left side while marching their troops. If two men riding on horseback were to start a fight, each would edge toward the left. Thus, they would be able to draw swords from their right and uphold a defensive position. Eventually, this turned into custom, and later, a law. The keep-left rule was doubtless well-established in ancient Rome because of congestion in the city. In the city of Rome, rules banned wagons and chariots during the day; in other parts of the Empire wheeled traffic was banned during the night, so as not to disturb citizens from sleep. Pilgrims who wished to visit the city were instructed to keep to the left side of the road. By the time the Pope ordered instructions to keep left of the road, this rule was already widely used. The regulation has been practised by some countries ever since.
There is a popular story that Napoleon changed the rule of the road in the European countries he conquered from keep-left to keep-right. Some justifications are symbolic, such as that Napoleon himself was left- (or right-) handed, or that Britain, Napoleon's enemy, kept left. Alternatively, troops passing on the left may have been tempted to raise their right fists against each other. Forcing them to pass on the right reduced conflict. Hence, island nations such as Britain and Japan (using ships to move troops around and having less need to move them overland) continued to drive on the left.
In the late 18th century, the shift from left to right that took place in countries such as the United States was based on teamsters’ use of large freight wagons pulled by several pairs of horses. The wagons had no driver's seat, so a postilion sat on the left rear horse and held his whip in his right hand. Seated on the left, the driver preferred that other wagons pass him on the left so that he could be sure to keep clear of the wheels of oncoming wagons. He did that by driving on the right side of the road.
Decisions by countries to drive on the right typically centre on regional uniformity. There are historical exceptions, such as postilion riders in France, but such historical advantages do not apply to modern road vehicles.
Change to right-hand traffic
|This section needs additional citations for verification. (January 2009)|
In England, keeping to the left was the custom. The first legal reference in Britain to an order for traffic to keep to the left was in 1756 with regard to London Bridge. The General Highways Act of 1773 contained a recommendation that horse traffic should keep to the left and this was incorporated in the Highway Act 1835. The making of a rule was due to the increase in horse traffic by the end of the 18th century. By 1771, the number of coaches rose from 300 in 1639 to 1000. Countries that became part of the British Empire adopted the British keep-left rule; some have since changed.
In Russia, in 1709, the Danish envoy under Peter I noted the widespread custom for traffic in Russia to pass on the right. On 5 February 1752, Empress Elizabeth issued an edict for traffic to keep to the right in Russian cities.
In Continental Europe, driving on the right is associated with France and Napoleon Bonaparte. During the French Revolution, a decree of 1792 ordered traffic to keep to the "common" right. A little later, Napoleon consolidated this position by ordering the military to stay on the right side, even when out of the country, so that everyone who met the French army had to concede the way. In the early 19th century, those countries occupied by or allied to Napoleon – the Netherlands, Switzerland, Germany, Italy, Poland, Spain – adopted right-hand traffic. Britain, Austria-Hungary and Portugal continued or adopted left-hand traffic. In Denmark, the keep-right rule was adopted in Copenhagen in 1758, and the rule was adopted for the rest of Denmark in 1793. In Belgium, before 1899 there was no uniform system, with some places driving on the left and others on the right. On 1 August 1899, Belgium changed to right-hand traffic throughout the country.
There was a movement in the 20th century towards harmonisation of laws in Europe and there has been a gradual shift from driving on the left to the right. Portugal changed to right-hand traffic in 1928, though the change did not apply to all its overseas provinces. Those parts of Italy not already driving on the right changed over in the 1920s after Benito Mussolini came to power. In Spain, there was no uniform national rule until the 1930s. Before then, some parts had driving on the right (e.g., Barcelona) while in others it was on the left (e.g., Madrid). On 1 October 1924, Madrid changed to driving on the right. The Austro-Hungarian Empire drove on the left. Successor countries switched to the right separately. Austria did it in stages, beginning from the west: Vorarlberg in 1919, Tirol and western half of Salzburg in 1930, Carinthia and East Tirol in 1935, Upper Austria, Styria, eastern half of Salzburg in 1 June 1938, and Lower Austria in 19 September 1938. Poland's Galicia switched to the right around 1924. Czechoslovakia planned to start driving on the right on 1 May 1939, but the change in Bohemia and Moravia took place under German occupation: Bohemia: 17 March 1939, Prague: 26 March. (See switch to right-hand traffic in Czechoslovakia for details.) Hungary also acted later than planned: the government planned for a change in June 1939, but postponed it and finally introduced it on 6 July 1941 (outside Budapest), and on 9 November 1941 in Budapest. Sweden changed in 1967 and Iceland did the same in 1968. In Europe only four countries still drive on the left: the United Kingdom, Ireland, Malta, and Cyprus, as well as the British Crown Dependencies of Jersey, Guernsey, and the Isle of Man.
All the formerly British, Dutch, Spanish and Portuguese colonies in the Americas originally kept to the left, and French colonies kept to the right. The first keep-right law in the United States was passed in 1792 and applied to the Philadelphia and Lancaster Turnpike. New York formalised right-hand traffic in 1804 and New Jersey in 1813. By the time the United States annexed French, Spanish, Russian and Hawaiian territories, the keep-right rule already applied there. Today, all US states and territories except the US Virgin Islands drive on the right. The Virgin Islands drove on the left when the United States purchased the former Danish West Indies from Denmark in 1917. Although Denmark drove and still drives on the right, the Danish West Indies drove on the left.
Those parts of Canada that were still driving on the left changed over by 1924. Ontario and Québec drove on the right since before their takeover from the French, and were allowed to retain the custom. The central provinces also drove on the right. The eastern and western provinces changed to the right in stages: British Columbia on 1 January 1922, New Brunswick on 1 December 1922, Nova Scotia on 15 April 1923, and Prince Edward Island on 1 May 1924. Newfoundland changed to driving on the right in 1947 before becoming part of Canada in 1949.
Brazil changed to right-hand traffic in 1928, at the same time as Portugal. Before then, Brazil had no uniform rule. During the planning of the Pan American Highway from Alaska to Cape Horn in the 1930s, it was decided that the road should use right-hand driving on its entire length. Panama changed to right-hand traffic in 1943 and Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay did the same in 1945. British Honduras (now Belize) changed to right-hand traffic on 1 October 1961.
Guyana and Suriname as well as most English-speaking Caribbean countries are the only countries in the Americas that drive on the left. Both Guyana and Suriname are separated from their neighbours by large rivers, with the first bridge crossing one of these waterways (the Takutu Bridge between Guyana and Brazil) opened in 2009.
Asia and Africa
The French introduced right-hand passing in all of its overseas territories, including those of Africa, Indo-China and Oceania. East Timor had passing on the left until 1928, when it changed to the right at the same time as its colonial power, Portugal. During Japanese occupation during World War II driving on the left was imposed, and when the Portuguese were restored it changed back to the right. Under Indonesian rule, East Timor changed back to driving on the left in 1976, and it has continued left-hand driving after independence in 2002. The Philippines kept to the left (if such rules were enforced at all) during the Spanish colonial period and changed to the right during the United States period. Where Japanese occupation reached, driving would be on the left and in liberated areas reverted to right-hand traffic by 1945.
China adopted a uniform right-hand traffic law in 1946. Taiwan drove on the left under Japanese rule, and changed to driving on the right in 1946 at the same time as the Chinese mainland. Hong Kong and Macau, which remain special administrative territories of China, still drive on the left. Former Japanese colony Korea changed to driving on the right at the end of World War II, when Soviet-backed forces occupied North Korea and American forces arrived in South Korea. Driving on the right was implemented in both territories because military vehicles were now either American-made or Russian-built LHD models. The Japanese prefecture of Okinawa drove on the right under US control after World War II, since 24 June 1945. In 1972 Okinawa was returned to Japanese sovereignty, and on 30 July 1978 reverted to left-hand traffic. Burma changed to driving on the right in 1970, allegedly on the advice of a wizard. 
In Africa, colonial administrators usually determined on which side of the road traffic would drive. British and Portuguese territories kept to the left, while French and German territories kept to the right. After independence some countries kept the previous rules, and others changed. The most common reason for countries to switch to right-hand traffic is to harmonise with neighbours, to improve road safety and commerce. Several former British colonies changed to driving on the right, because they all have extensive borders with former French colonies which drive on the right: the Gambia (changed on 1 October 1965), Sierra Leone (1 March 1971), Nigeria (2 April 1972) and Ghana (4 August 1974). Ethiopia changed to right-hand traffic in 1964, and Sudan changed in August 1973 to accord with most other countries of the Arab world. South Yemen, formerly the British colony of Aden, changed to driving on the right on 1 January 1977; North Yemen already drove on the right.
Change to left-hand traffic
The former Portuguese colony of Mozambique continues to drive on the left, which is a legacy of its Portuguese past, even though Portugal itself changed over in the 1920s. Mozambique continues to drive on the left because all its bordering countries, which were in the British Empire, do. Namibia was a German colony from 1884 until the First World War, and kept to the right. After its occupation by South Africa in 1918, it changed to the left. When it obtained independence in 1990, it maintained left-side traffic as do its neighbours South Africa and Botswana.
Samoa changed to left-hand traffic in September 2009. The government brought about the change to bring Samoa into line with other South Pacific nations, and also sought to encourage the roughly 170,000 Samoan expatriates in Australia and New Zealand to ship their used cars back to Samoa.
Rwanda, a former Belgian colony in central Africa, drives on the right. The government is considering changing to driving on the left, to bring the country in line with other members of the East African Community (EAC). Burundi, the only other EAC member that currently drives on the right, is also considering switching to left-hand driving.
Foreign occupation and annexation
Many countries have temporarily or permanently changed their rule of the road as a result of foreign occupation or annexation. Though Austria, Czechoslovakia and Hungary had plans to change to driving on the right, the change took place under German occupation in the 1930s and 1940s: Austria at the Anschluss and see switch to right-hand traffic in Czechoslovakia for details.
In the Faroe Islands left-hand driving was in force on the island of Vágar during the British occupation in World War II. The Channel Islands changed to driving on the right under German occupation, but changed back after liberation in 1945. The Falkland Islands had right-hand driving under the brief Argentine control during the 1982 Falklands War, although many islanders continued to drive on the left as an act of defiance.
Road vehicle configurations
Driver seating position
On most early motor vehicles, the driving seat was positioned centrally. Some car manufacturers later chose to place it on the side of the car closer to the kerb to help the driver avoid scraping walls, hedges, gutters and other obstacles. Other car manufacturers placed the driving seat on the side closer to the centre of the road to give the driver the longest possible line of sight in traffic. This is the pattern that eventually prevailed. In effect this means that in countries with right-hand traffic, the driver and the vehicle controls would normally be located on the left-hand side of the vehicle (the vehicle would be described as left-hand drive, LHD); and vice versa.
Today, experimental versions of drive by wire and brake by wire vehicles are being developed, which allow the driver to slide the steering wheel/brake controls from left to right with the gauges in the centre dashboard. They are expected to become popular in countries such as Thailand that have land borders with opposite-drive countries. The newest Unimog models can be changed from left-hand drive to right-hand drive in the field to permit operators to work on the more convenient side of the truck.
Some vehicles have asymmetrical door layouts, with rear passenger or goods doors opening onto the kerb side only, or a full-width rear door with hinges on the road side. These are not always changed for foreign markets which can be inconvenient in the example of a rear door hinged the wrong way or dangerous if it forces rear passengers to exit into the traffic stream, such as the BMW MINI Clubman in RHD form.
Restrictions on wrong-hand drive vehicles
Many countries ban the sale, import or registration (i.e., non-temporary use on their roads) of wrong-hand drive vehicles.
Most European Union member states allow registration of both RHD and LHD vehicles.
Bangladesh bans the registration of LHD vehicles. All vehicles imported must be converted to RHD, except those imported by foreign embassies or consulates.
In Kenya, it is illegal to register LHD vehicles, except for special vehicles such as ambulances, fire engines, construction vehicles or vehicles to be donated to the government.
In Australia, registration of non-vintage (i.e., less than 30 years old) LHD vehicles is illegal. Imported LHD vehicles less than 30 years old (15 years old in Western Australia) must be converted to RHD, or driven with a permit that imposes severe usage restrictions. Western Australia and the Northern Territory (both of which have at various times hosted US military facilities and had vehicles imported, used and sold by US service personnel) have LHD vehicles in circulation. The Australian Capital Territory (ACT) previously allowed non-vintage LHD vehicles to be registered, but changed its legislation some years ago. In the Northern Territory, LHD vehicle registration is allowed if the vehicle was used for at least 12 months whilst overseas by a migrant or Australian citizen returning home.
In India, LHD vehicles cannot be sold commercially to customers, but they can be imported for research and testing purposes under government approval.
In New Zealand, LHD vehicles may be privately imported, and driven locally under an LHD permit. Since 1999, only LHD vehicles older than 20 years or cars owned and operated for at least 90 days may be privately imported. Diplomats and Operation Deep Freeze personnel are exempted from these restrictions.
In the Philippines, RHD vehicles are banned. Previously, such vehicles were allowed, provided a "CAUTION: RIGHT HAND DRIVE" sign was prominently posted. Public buses and vans imported from Japan are converted to LHD, and passenger doors are created on the right side. This ban was thought to be the result of an increase in accidents involving RHD vehicles, most of which were trucks. Some passenger vans keep their doors on the left side, leading to the dangerous situation in which passengers have to exit toward oncoming traffic. Some existing RHD industrial cranes and other off-road vehicles remain.
Cambodia banned the use of RHD cars, many of which were smuggled from Thailand, from 2001, even though RHD vehicles accounted for 80 percent of vehicles in the country. The government threatened to confiscate all such vehicles unless they were converted to LHD, in spite of the considerable expense involved. According to a BBC report, changing the steering column from right to left would cost between US$600 and US$2,000, in a country where the average annual income was less than US$1,000.
Many used vehicles exported from Japan to countries like Russia and Peru are already converted to LHD, though in Russia they usually aren't, as registering and owning an RHD vehicle is legal there. Even if the driver's position is left unchanged, some jurisdictions require at least replacement or retuning of the headlamps.
Singapore bans LHD vehicles from being imported for personal local registration, but temporary usage by tourists of LHD vehicles is allowed. Diplomatic vehicles in Singapore are exempt from the RHD-only ruling, and there are a few hydrogen and fuel cell powered LHD vehicles currently undergoing trials in Singapore.
In Taiwan, Article 39 of the Road Traffic Security Rules requires a steering wheel to be on the left side of a vehicle to pass an inspection when registering the vehicle, so RHD vehicles may not be registered in Taiwan. This rule does not apply retroactively, so an RHD vehicle that was registered before this rule does not lose its registered status and may continue to be legally driven.
In Trinidad and Tobago, LHD vehicles are banned except for returning nationals who were resident in a foreign country and are importing a vehicle for personal use. LHD vehicles are also allowed to be imported for use as funeral hearses.
In West Africa, once-British Ghana and the Gambia have also banned RHD vehicles. Their traffic has been changed from on the left to on the right. Ghana prohibited new registrations of RHD vehicles after 1 August 1974, three days before the traffic change on 4 August 1974. RHD vehicles may be imported only temporarily into Sierra Leone, for example for humanitarian programmes, but must be exported at the end of the operation.
Slovakia and Poland do not allow registration of RHD vehicles, even if the vehicle is imported from one of the four EU countries that drive on the left (UK, Ireland, Cyprus, and Malta). Lithuania and Ukraine also have not allowed registration of new RHD vehicle since 1993.
Vienna Convention on Road Traffic
Most of the above bans on either RHD and LHD vehicles apply only to locally registered vehicles. The 72 countries that are parties to the 1968 Vienna Convention on Road Traffic are not allowed to make such restrictions on foreign-registered vehicles. Paragraph 1 of Annex 5 states "All vehicles in international traffic must meet the technical requirements in force in their country of registration when they first entered into service". Therefore all parties and most non-party countries allow the temporary import (e.g., by tourists) of foreign-registered wrong-hand drive vehicles.
Buses typically have passenger doors only on the kerbside, depending on the driving side of the country. This configuration is adequate for most city networks where passengers board and alight from a kerb. Some BRT systems operate with buses that have doors only (or mainly) on the off-kerb side, intended to operate at stations or bus stops in the centre of an avenue with dedicated lanes, such as TransMilenio (LHD) in Bogotá, Colombia and Rea Vaya (RHD), in Johannesburg, South Africa, the last only for articulated buses operating in trunk lines.
Buses with only kerbside or only off-kerb side doors are limited in their ability to pick up or drop off passengers from both sides of the bus. In some places, such as in some Brazilian cities, buses have doors on both sides, which allows them to operate at bus stops placed in the middle of avenues.
Some touring coaches, which may need to operate in countries which drive on different sides, are fitted with a door on each side of the bus. This configuration is used on coaches which operate in the UK and continental Europe and on some Hong Kong-China cross-border coaches.
It is usually fairly straightforward to retrofit a non-kerbside door on buses with relatively low floor height; the many traditional British double-deckers sold on for tourist use in the US and Canada are examples.
In northern Italy trucks were often RHD so that the driver could see the edge of the road on Alpine passes. In Spain trucks were RHD until the 1950s, to enable drivers to watch for unstable road edges.
Postal and other service vehicles
In some countries the steering wheel in some service vehicles is on the kerbside, which is on the side opposite to 'normal.' Kerbside controls on post office vehicles enable a driver to get out straight onto the pavement to pick up or put post in boxes without having to get out on the traffic side (for safety) and walk around the vehicle (for efficiency).
In the US, rural mail carriers often must provide their own vehicles and have a limited selection of RHD vehicles that they can use. Some utility service vehicles are also RHD to allow access from the kerb and some newspaper carriers use RHD vehicles to deliver papers to kerbside boxes. Between 1991 and 1999, Subaru manufactured and sold a right-hand steering version of its all-wheel-drive Legacy station wagon model for use by US mail rural route and highway contract route box delivery carriers, and many of the vehicles remain in use, with the dwindling supply of used right-hand steering Subarus much sought after by mail and newspaper carriers. Saturn made a SWP (Station Wagon Postal) starting in 1996, using the same RHD steering gear used when the S-series started being exported to Japan.
In Canada, right-hand drive vehicles are heavily used by Canada Post employees who deliver mail to rural areas. RSMCs (rural and suburban mail carriers) are provided RHD vehicles by Canada Post or are acquired privately through dealers across Canada. These RHD vehicles are often imported from other countries such as Japan where they are suitable for designated RHD mail routes in Canada. Mail delivery imports became popular in the early 2000s when more modern vehicles like the Mitsubishi Pajero or Honda CRV became eligible for import into Canada. Such imports are fitted with daytime running lights and DOT tyres in order to make them HTA-compliant and safe for Canadian roads.
In Europe, RHD vehicles are bought by the postal services and are offered by several manufacturers, since such vehicles are produced for the British market. Likewise, LHD vehicles are possible to buy for use in Britain. With EU rules, used vehicles can be sold over the border, making it easier to sell used vehicles. Before that it was very hard to sell vehicles steered from the "wrong" side.
In some countries street sweeper vehicles also have kerbside controls to enable the drivers to have a better view of the kerb they are cleaning. Some styles of wheelie bin collection trucks also have kerbside driver's seats to permit a better view of the bin as it is emptied. Some of these vehicles have dual-control systems, with a steering wheel and pedals on both sides of the cab, allowing the driver to operate from whichever side offers the best safety and visibility at the specific time.
Headlamps and other lighting equipment
Most low-beam headlamps produce an asymmetrical beam distribution suitable for use on only one side of the road. Low beam headlamps for use in LH-traffic countries throw most of their light forward-leftward; those for RH-traffic countries throw most of their light forward-rightward, thus illuminating obstacles and road signs an adequate distance ahead on the driver's own side of the road while limiting glare to oncoming traffic on the other side of the road.
Within Europe, headlamps designed and approved for use on one side of the road must be adaptable to produce adequate illumination with controlled glare for temporarily driving on the other side of the road,:p.13 ¶5.8 as for example on holiday or in transit. This adaptation may be achieved by affixing masking strips or prismatic lenses to a designated part of the lens or by moving all or part of the headlamp optic so all or part of the beam is shifted or the asymmetrical portion is occluded.:p.13 ¶5.8.1 Some varieties of the projector-type headlamp can be fully adjusted to produce a proper LH- or RH-traffic beam by shifting a lever or other movable element in or on the lamp assembly.:p.12 ¶5.4 Some vehicles adjust the headlamps automatically when the car's GPS detects that the vehicle has moved from LH to RH traffic or vice versa.
Because blackout strips and adhesive prismatic lenses reduce the safety performance of the headlamps, most countries require all vehicles registered or used on a permanent or semi-permanent basis within the country to be equipped with headlamps designed for the correct traffic-handedness.
Without sidecars attached, motorcycles, motor scooters, mopeds, and bicycles are almost symmetric with their handlebars in the centre. However, motorcycles are often equipped with automotive-type asymmetrical-beam headlamps that likewise require adjustments or replacement when brought into a country with opposite traffic-handedness.
Rear fog lamps
Within the European Union, vehicles must be equipped with one or two red rear fog lamps. A single rear fog lamp may be located on the vehicle centreline, or on the driver's side of the vehicle. It may not be located on the passenger's side of the vehicle, where it may be replaced with a single reverse lamp. When importing a vehicle to a country which drives on the opposite side of the road, this sometimes requires the purchase and installation of local-market lighting components.
Trams and streetcars
Trams and streetcars generally follow the same rules as other road traffic in the country concerned, both on road and on reserved sections, with the passenger doors on the kerbside, or on both sides. Various exceptions exist or have existed. For examples the London system had sections where both tracks were on the same side of the road with no physical separation from road traffic. The system was removed around 1950 when the amount of road traffic rose.
The tram driver usually sits near the centre of the tram, or nearer to the centre of the road, to allow room for the doors.
When Sweden converted to driving on the right, its single-ended trams had the doors on the wrong side, and this was taken as an excuse to close down several systems. Gothenburg operated its trams in opposite-handed pairs, the tram with doors on left were leading before the conversion, and the tram with doors on right afterwards. Over time, all trams have been converted, and several of them, and also heritage trams (which were also converted) are still being operated (as of 2014). In the northeastern part of the system, the trams have a metro-like tunnel station with a long escalator at Hammarkullen. Since building a single central platform was cheaper, the trams switch sides at Hjällbo and run on the left past the last four stops.
In Vienna, around the underground stations Donauspital and Kagran, Tramlines 25 and 26 change to the left to prevent passengers from crossing the tram tracks.
The Belgian Charleroi Metro has a stretch of left-side operation at the outer end of its underground line to Gilly. The stations at this end have central platforms and the switch of sides has been introduced so that passengers can alight on the right side of the vehicle at all stations.
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In France, road vehicles keep to the right, but the first railway lines were built by British engineers, so kept to the left. The Paris RER trains keep left, but the Paris Metro was designed to run on the right. Another anomaly occurs in the Alsace-Moselle region, where trains keep to the right because the lines were built in the late 19th century when Alsace-Moselle was part of Germany. Bridges at the former border allow the trains to swap sides. High-speed TGV trains, however, operate on dedicated lines which were built more recently, but they keep left because they interface with older lines. Madrid Metro trains, as well as Rome Metro (but not Milan) and as Buenos Aires Metro also operate to the left.
Through specific stations of the London Underground's Victoria, Northern and Central Lines, trains run on the right. On the Victoria Line it makes passenger interchange easier at Euston and Kings Cross stations. This does not confuse drivers, since the two lines are in separate tunnels. However, White City on the Central Line is above ground.
In the United States, the former Chicago & North Western railroad ran on the left because when the C&NW built their depots, they were on the left-hand side when headed into Chicago. Later a second track was built outside the first one, but because commuters headed into Chicago made more use of a depot building than on their return journey, the railroad ran its trains on the left. However, when it was bought by the Union Pacific in 1995, some of these lines were switched. In the case of the North Line tracks between downtown Chicago and Kenosha, trains still operate left-handed.
Another North American example of left-hand running was on the New York Central Water Level Route between Schenectady and Buffalo. The four track line was arranged to have high speed passenger trains on the southern two track running right-handed and freight trains on the northern two track running left-handed with the reason being to reduce the risk from sideswipe accidents. Also on the New York City Subway, The B Division's Seventh Avenue station's lower level has trains operating to the left, while the upper level platform normally has trains operating to the right.
Exceptions to the general rule of left- or right-hand traffic are much more common for trains than for cars. Initially most steam engines were RHD, with the engineer sitting on the right and the fireman on the left. This was customary in the UK and it spread to the US and elsewhere in the world. RHD was never converted to LHD even if the trains switched to right-hand running. RHD remains the customary way for operating trains, with the driver on the right and the assistant on the left. Some railways, particularly the London Underground, switched to LHD with left-hand running. Left-Hand Drive with left-hand running also became common on UK mainline railways, with the Great Western Railway being the only one of the "big four" to keep the driver on the right. To ease visibility, GWR signals were also occasionally placed on the right-hand side of the tracks, even though this meant that they were between the running lines, and a few examples of this have managed to survive. Nowadays all British trains (except a few preserved locomotives and a number of narrow-gauge railways) have the driver on the left side of the train, and the signals are also on the left-hand side of the track.
There is potential safety benefit for the train driver to sit on the nearside, farthest away from a collision with whatever might protrude from an oncoming train on the opposite track, such as an open cargo door. The driver's placement on the nearside can facilitate his or her view rearward of station platforms either directly or using mirrors, and of signs and signals usually placed on the outside of double tracks—on the right for right-hand traffic and on the left for left-hand traffic. If 'train orders' or 'tokens' (permission to continue) need to be handed up to the driver while the locomotive is in motion, he or she is best able to receive them from the nearside.
Unlike the road, it is possible for trains safely to run on the "wrong" side if bi-directional signalling is in place. Running on the "wrong" side however is an exception as junctions and other infrastructure are usually optimised for running on the "right" side.
Generally, the left/right principle in a country is followed mostly on double track. On single track, when trains meet, the train that shall not stop often uses the straight path in the turnout, which can be left or right. If the meeting place contains a passenger station, the station sometimes has designated directional tracks and platforms, for passenger predictability.
Light rail vehicles, which usually have at least some operation in city streets, generally have the hand of operation and drive identical to that used on buses and cars in the relevant country, e.g. "driving" on the right side (and thus using left-hand drive) in North America. This is so the trolley/tram operator can pick up and discharge passengers (and, historically, collect their fares, except on proof-of-payment systems) on the same side of the roadway as the buses.
Single-line railways see trains in both directions use that track. Crossing loops are signalled so that trains in either direction can use any track. Sometimes, there are catchpoints to allow two trains to arrive simultaneously, and, in such case, the two catchpoints may be arranged for, say, left-hand running, such as at Clarendon railway station and Albion Park railway station in New South Wales Australia. Up-and-down working requires fewer signals and is preferable where there are no track circuits.
Multiple track usage by country
This section lists by country the tracks on which trains normally travel when there are two or more. Trams and other light rail systems which include some street running are excluded.
Vessels and aircraft
Generally, all water traffic keeps to the right, under the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea. This is historically because, before the use of a rudder, the boat was steered by a steering oar (or steer-board), which was located on the right-hand side, hence the starboard side of the boat. The helmsman used his right hand to operate the steer-board while standing in the middle of the boat and looking ahead. Traditionally, boats would also moor with the left-hand side to the quay to prevent damage to the steering oar, and this was referred to as larboard (loading side), later replaced by port to prevent confusion from the similar sounding words. By keeping to the right, boats pass "port-to-port", protecting the steering oar. When modern style rudders fixed to the stern were developed, the helmsman was moved amidships (on the centreline), and when steering wheels replaced tillers this generally remained the same. Many motor yachts and other small craft are RHD, but some boats, typically smaller pleasure craft and wooden speedboats are built LHD, to give a better view of approaching and passing traffic.
However, there are exceptions to RHT when passing through bridges, normally indicated at each archway.
The rule of the road at sea is that powered vessels give way to sailing vessels; but as between two powered vessels, if they are crossing the rule is to give way to the starboard, while if they are head on each must navigate to starboard so as to pass port-to-port. q.v. The upshot is that the vessel attempting to pass on the wrong side must give way.
In aeroplanes with side-by-side seating, the pilot-in-command sits on the left, with the first officer, navigator or front seat passenger on the right. In most cases the controls are duplicated, Larger aircraft tend to have duplicate instruments on the right side as well, and in commercial airliners the first officer is just as likely to fly the aircraft from the right while the captain handles other tasks from the left. Helicopters generally place the pilot on the right, though examples exist with the pilot on the left.
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This section gives details about the road traffic, including trams and other light rail systems which include street running. Trains which use segregated tracks usually have separate rules and are included in the Trains section.
Right-hand traffic was introduced in Afghanistan by Ghulam Mohammad Farhad, the Mayor of Kabul, in the early 1950s, first in Kabul and later in the rest of the country. Today most vehicles in much of the country, however, with a few exceptions RHD cars imported from Japan, is LHD. But these RHD cars only are allowed to be on the road for 2 years. For that reason they are less expensive then LHD cars and are used to primarily as working vehicle such as taxis, construction and mini-people carriers rather than personal cars. Over the 10 years of economic boom, Afghanistan was a popular export destination of Toyota and Lexus model vehicles primarily from the US and Canada. To combat this sudden influx of vehicles the government enacted various tariffs and charges to drive up prices to curb overpopulation of vehicles.
When the Pan American Highway from Alaska to Cape Horn was planned in the 1930s, it was decided it should use one side of driving its entire length. A few countries along the route used left-hand traffic, one being Argentina. On 10 October 1944 Decreto Nacional 26965  was issued, introducing right-hand traffic in Argentina eight months later, on 10 June 1945. Strict speed limits kept the number of fatal accidents low after the conversion. 10 June is still observed each year as Día de la Seguridad Vial  (Road Safety Day) in Argentina.
Australia drives on the left. The decision to drive on the left side of the road was made in the early 19th century in the early period of the British colony of New South Wales by Governor Lachlan Macquarie after the first road was built, and followed the British practice. Australian states and territories had used the "give way to the right" rule; in the absence of regulations specific to a particular situation, drivers must yield the right of way to all vehicles to their right. This applies to most uncontrolled intersections except for T-intersections. Give way to the right does not apply to merging lanes, in that instance vehicles must give way to any vehicle that is ahead. This is sometimes called zip merging. If lines are marked, vehicles are not zip merging but changing lanes, and they must give way accordingly. All LHD vehicles must be converted to RHD if under 30 years old, except in Western Australia where they are only required to be 15 years old for registration.
The Austro-Hungarian Empire drove mostly on left during the 19th century. However some western (Vorarlberg, Tyrol) and southern parts (present Croatia) drove on right. In 1915 left-hand traffic was introduced everywhere in the empire. In 1918 the empire was split up into several countries, and they all changed to right side at different times between 1918-1941. See each country section.
In 1921 Vorarlberg (with better road connections to Germany/Switzerland than rest of Austria) switched to right. A national decision was made in 1929 to change to right, but it took time. Especially the Vienna tramway was a problem. Tyrol changed in 1930 and Carinthia in 1935. After Anschluss to Germany 1938 all Austria changed to right side of the road like Germany.
Railways had a later and slower change. There was traditionally right side traffic in western Austria and left side traffic in east. Piece by piece a change to right side has taken place. In the Vienna region including Vienna S-Bahn a change from left to right side was performed on 6. August 2012, because the opening of the Vienna Main station made a common standard necessary.
Bangladesh has left-hand traffic. All imported vehicles must be right-hand drive, except those imported by foreign embassies or consulates.
Although traffic has been driving on the right in Belgium since 1899, trains in Belgium still drive on the left.
A former British colony, Belize drove on the left until 1961, when it adopted right-hand traffic, which brought it inline with its neighbours.
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Bolivia has right-hand traffic, with the exception of the notorious El Camino de la Muerte ("The Road of Death")—or simply known as Yungas Road, where it drives on left. The reason for this configuration is to help drivers see their outer wheel while traversing the road.
Brazil changed to uniform right-hand traffic in 1928. Now, Brazil has only small segments of traffic driving on the left, only to accommodate special cases. Brazil funded construction of Takutu River Bridge, from Bonfim to Lethem, Guyana, the only remaining land border in Americas where traffic change sides. Brazil does not permit Guyana vehicles (RHD) to drive beyond the Brazilian border town of Bonfim. Brazilian vehicles (LHD) are able to drive all the way to the coast of Guyana.
As a former British colony, cars in Burma drove on the left until 1970; the military administration of Ne Win decreed that traffic would drive on the right-hand side of the road beginning 7 December 1970. It is alleged that this was because Ne Win had been advised by his astrologer, who had said "move to the right". In spite of the change, most passenger vehicles in the country continue to be RHD, being pre-conversion vehicles and second-hand vehicles imported from Japan, Thailand, and Singapore. Buses imported from Japan that were never converted from RHD to LHD have doors on the right side in offset position, unlike their counterparts in the Philippines. However, government limousines, imported from the People's Republic of China, are LHD. Most vehicles are driven with a passenger called a "spare" (စပယ်ရာ) in place to watch the oncoming traffic and inform the driver as to whether it is safe to overtake or not, as the driver cannot see this from the RHD position.
Though Canada has been driving on the right since the 1920s in LHD (left-hand-drive) vehicles, during World War II, hundreds of thousands of right-hand drive (RHD) vehicles were built in Canada for the military from 1940 to 1945. Most of these were DND Pattern (later called Canadian Military Pattern) as well as some of the MCP (Modified Conventional Pattern i.e. civilian pattern) vehicles. The reason is that Canada's military forces were at that time intended to fight alongside the British military who used RHD vehicles. Britain also lost most of her military vehicles in France in the 1940 retreat and so Britain ordered thousands of new vehicles from Canada.
Canadian Military Pattern (CMP) vehicles became the most standardised vehicles in the British Commonwealth. They were supplied to Canada, the UK, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and India. Others were supplied to the USSR after they entered the war. A few, diverted from shipment to Canadian troops in Hong Kong, were supplied to the US Army in the Philippines and were used there until the Japanese captured the islands. After the war, thousands of RHD Canadian-made vehicles were supplied to the United Nations for relief (UNRRA) of countries that had suffered greatly in World War II and went to countries such as Czechoslovakia and Greece. During the Cold War in the 1950s, Canada gave many more to allies such as Norway, the Netherlands, France and Italy. During the War, Canada had built RHD armoured vehicles such as tanks, armoured cars, armoured trucks, scout cars, universal carriers, tracked jeeps, etc.
A section of Autoroute 20 in Montreal has the two directional roadways "switched", so that the forward roadway is to the left. However, this is a limited-access freeway, so driving on the proper side is not a concern.
Despite having right-hand drive, used imported vehicles from Japan are being imported into Canada, prompting calls for restrictions on their sale by the Canadian Auto Dealers Association, which argues that they are unsafe.
However in some islands, mostly Lesser Antilles (such as the British Virgin Islands, US Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, as well as Turks and Caicos Islands) and the Bahamas, most passenger cars are still LHD-equipped (despite driving on the left), being imported from the United States or Brazil. Only some government cars and those imported from RHD countries (Japan and the United Kingdom, among others) are RHD. The US Virgin Islands are particularly known for having a high accident rate caused by American tourists from the mainland who are unfamiliar with driving on the left in their LHD rental cars.
In the late 19th century during the late Qing Dynasty, cars in the northern provinces like Shandong and Zhili (now Hebei) drove on the right due to American influence, and cars in the southern provinces and cities such as Guangdong, Shanghai, and Zhejiang drove on the left due to British influence, but left-hand traffic was uniform throughout the Republic of China in 1930s. As early as 1943, Clause 7 of Article 58 of the Act Governing the Punishment of Police Offences (Chinese: 違警罰法) required vehicular drivers in the Republic of China to keep left, subject to a fine of up to 20 yuan or a warning upon a violation. On 15 August 1945, the Nationalist Government ordered to change to right-hand traffic on 1 October 1945. However, on 26 September 1945, the Nationalist Government ordered to postpone changing to right-hand traffic on 1 January 1946. As China became a right-hand traffic country, Clause 7 of Article 58 of the Act Governing the Punishment of Police Offences was accordingly amended to require right-hand traffic in June 1946.
Croatia was part of the Austrian-Hungarian empire until 1918. Right-hand traffic was used during the 19th century, even though most of the empire used left-hand traffic, but it changed to driving on the left during the First World War. After the collapse of the empire, Croatia became part of Yugoslavia and started driving on the right.
Czech Republic and Slovakia
Czechoslovakia had had plans to start driving in the right since 1925, based on international agreement. It was delayed. The change in Bohemia and Moravia was prompted by the German occupation forces (Bohemia: 17 March 1939, Prague: 26 March).
The last section of the Czech railways (line 330 Bohumín-Přerov-Břeclav) changed to right-hand traffic in December 2012.
A former British colony, Cyprus drives on the left, and cars sold locally are right-hand drive, including those used by the British forces in the Sovereign Base Areas of Akrotiri and Dhekelia. However, there is a sizable number of left-hand drive vehicles in northern Cyprus, which are imported from Turkey after it came under its occupation in 1974. As Cyprus is now an EU member since 2004, it is common to find left-hand drive vehicles also (tourists overland or else second-hand imports from other EU countries with LHD vehicles), although a ban on imports of LHD vehicles has since been introduced under its jurisdiction. An increasing number of right-hand drive grey import vehicles from Japan and the UK are now sold throughout the island.
East Timor originally drove on the left, as did its colonial power Portugal, but when Portugal changed to the right in 1928, East Timor followed suit. In 1976, Indonesia, who were now occupying East Timor, changed it back to driving on the left, and it has continued doing so as an independent nation.
Road vehicles in Egypt use right-hand traffic due to French cultural influence, during the era of Mohamed Ali in the early 19th century when the traffic system was planned. The railway system was established in Egypt in the late 19th century by British companies during the British Colonial Era, and so trains travel on the left.
Finland was ruled by Sweden until 1809, and consequently drove on the left like Sweden did at the time. Although it passed to right-driving Russia in 1809, Finland continued to drive on the left until 1858 when it changed to the right. This would be a key factor in causing Sweden to make the change a century later.
France has long been a right-hand traffic country.
Despite the rule of the road, trains are still typically driven on the left track, as long as they use their autonomous ways and there is no risk of confusion because cars are forbidden to drive on the same lanes (traffic is physically separated). Some local services tracks which have very low traffic (notably those around harbours), are built on ways that are most often used by cars or open to cyclists and pedestrians. In these cases, the special tracks may be used by trains (only short carriers) in the same direction as the car traffic, at very low speed and with limitations of charge, to avoid accidents.
The Paris and Marseille metro systems, along with VAL metro systems in Lille, Toulouse, and Rennes, and the national railways in the formerly German regions of Alsace and Lorraine are operated on the right track. In Paris, though, the RER (Réseau Express Régional) is operated on the left track.
The Gambia was the first of the former British colonies in west Africa to adopt right-hand traffic. The Gambia's only neighbour is the former French colony of Senegal. The Gambia implemented the switch-over 1 October 1965, months after its independence.
|Sign announcing change to driving on the right, Ghana, 1974:|
Ghana changed to driving on the right on 4 August 1974, the last former British colony in the region to do so, the military National Redemption Council having passed the Right Hand Traffic Act by decree in 1973. A popular slogan in the Twi language was "Nifa, Nifa Enan" or "Right, Right, Fourth".
Although the British overseas territory of Gibraltar changed to driving on the right on 16 June 1929 to avoid accidents involving vehicles from Spain, some public buses until recently were RHD, with a special door allowing passengers to enter on the right-hand side. However, most passenger cars are LHD, as in Spain, with the exception of second-hand cars brought in from the UK and Japan as well as UK registered military vehicles used by the British Forces.
Greece is a right-hand traffic country.
Guyana and Suriname
Guyana and Suriname are the only two remaining countries in the mainland Americas that drive on the left. As a result of the construction of the Pan-American Highway, four mainland American countries switched to driving on the right between 1943 and 1961, the last of which was British Honduras (now Belize). Both Guyana and Suriname are separated from their neighbours by large rivers, with the first bridge crossing one of these only opening in April 2009. The inland south of both countries is sparsely populated with very few roads and hence no border crossings.
In the south-west of Guyana, near Lethem, work was finally completed on 26 April 2009 on the Takutu River Bridge across the Takutu River into neighbouring Brazil, which drives on the right. The changeover system is on the Guyana side, with one lane passing under the other on the bridge's access road. Construction proceeded slowly over the years before being completed by the Brazilian army. Brazil had been keen to open the bridge, as it now gives Brazil access to Caribbean sea ports on the north coast of South America. Brazil intends to permit Guyana registered (RHD) vehicles to go no further than the Brazilian border town of Bonfim. It is expected that Brazilian (LHD) vehicles will be able to drive all the way through Guyana to the coast. The Takutu Bridge is the Americas' only border crossing where traffic changes sides of the road. Guyana however does allow used LHD vehicles to be imported, allowing both LHD and RHD vehicles to be registered and permitted on its roads.
In Suriname most of the privately owned buses are imported from Japan, and the exits are designed for driving on the left. Most state-owned buses, however, are from the US (LHD) and often the placement of the exits has to be adjusted.
As a former British colony, Hong Kong follows the United Kingdom in driving on the left. Most vehicles, including those of the Chinese garrison in Hong Kong, are RHD. LHD exceptions include some coaches providing services to and from China.
There are four road border crossing points between China and Hong Kong. The largest and busiest is Lok Ma Chau Control Point, which features two separate changeover systems on the mainland side. In 2006, the daily average number of vehicle trips recorded at Lok Ma Chau was 31,100. The next largest is Man Kam To, where there is no changeover system and the border roads on the mainland side simply intersect as one-way streets with a main road.
There are some exceptions. Public Square Street in Yau Ma Tei used to have a small stretch between New Reclamation Street and Shanghai Street with right-hand traffic. Drake Street in Admiralty has an eastbound bus lane on its southern side, leading to a bus terminal. In Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Wing Path to the west of one-way northbound Hong Chong Road carries only southbound traffic. The two streets are immediately next to each other, separated only by concrete barriers. In addition, many carparks have their entrances and exits inverted if they are located on one-way roads or roads with separation barriers.
The government decided about the change to the right side for international conformance reasons in June 1939 after debating it for years. They postponed it but then they introduced it at 3 am on 6 July 1941 (outside Budapest), and at 3 am on 9 November 1941 in Budapest.
Iceland switched traffic from left to right at 06:00 on Sunday 26 May 1968, known as H-dagurinn. As in Sweden, most passenger cars were already left-hand drive. The only injury attributed to the conversion was to a boy on a bicycle, who broke his leg. Numerous buses were also stuck in traffic jams.
Following British colonial influence, India drives on the left-hand side of the road. Now all vehicles are RHD with the government banning all new LHD vehicles in the country except under special circumstances, such as cars imported duty-free by foreign embassies. All left-hand drive vehicles (including new ones manufactured for export) carry a prominent sticker reading 'Left Hand Drive Vehicle' on their back to warn other drivers.
There are some legal exceptions to this rule, to overcome traffic problems, where traffic moves on the right-hand side of the road. In Bangalore, for example, between Sheshadripuram and the Majestic bus stand, to enable the city buses to enter and exit easily, normal traffic moves on the right-hand side. Similarly, the traffic flows on the right-hand side on Commissariat Road to ease the traffic entering the 'Garuda' mall. Technically, these roads are treated as "two adjacent one way roads" by traffic police.
Indonesia drives on the left, despite being a former colony of the Netherlands, which switched to right-hand traffic. Even though the country is an archipelago, there are three land borders, with Malaysia, East Timor and Papua New Guinea. All of these countries also drive on the left: Malaysia as a legacy of British rule, East Timor (which was occupied by Indonesia from 1975 to 1999) and Papua New Guinea as a result of both British and Australian rule.
However, there are two exceptions: in Surabaya city, on Praban Street (one of the main streets in central Surabaya), traffic drives in both directions on the right-hand side for approximately 500 metres (550 yards). The street is very crowded and the right-hand drive style helps the efficient flow of traffic, especially from Gemblongan Street, from which vehicles can directly turn right to Praban Street. Vehicles from Blauran Street can similarly turn directly right. Because there is a separator dividing the two sides of the street, local drivers have little difficulty. Another exception can be found in Bandung and Manado, in Elang Street and Korengkeng Street, respectively. The traffic of those streets follow right-hand side to ease the traffic.
However, on dual-tracked railroads in Indonesia, trains drive on the right. The Jakarta metro and monorail systems will drive on the left.
Ireland is the second largest European state, after the United Kingdom, with a left-hand traffic system. Visitors are likely to encounter warning signs (in English, French and German) near Irish airports, seaports and major tourist attractions, as well as outside major urban areas, reminding them to drive on the left. The country's only land border is with the United Kingdom, so there is no change-over to impede the large volume of cross-border traffic between the two parts of the island. Nevertheless, Ireland displays a few yellow tri-lingual warning signs at the border, particularly in very rural areas, for example and . Car ferries from France to Ringaskiddy and Rosslare Harbour are the main source of LHD traffic.
Which side of the road the Ancient Romans drove on is disputed. Archaeological evidence in Britain seems to indicate driving on the left but old Roman roads in Turkey suggest Romans used the right-hand side of the road. In Italy the practice of traffic driving on the right first began in the late 1890s, but it was not until the mid-1920s that it became standard throughout the country. There was a long period when traffic in the countryside drove on the right while major cities continued to drive on the left. Rome, for example, did not change from left to right until 20 October 1924. Milan was the last Italian city to change to driving on the right (3 August 1926). Cars had remained right-hand drive (RHD) until this time. Italian car makers Alfa Romeo and Lancia did not produce LHD cars until as late as 1950 and 1953, respectively.
Japan is one of the few countries outside the Commonwealth of Nations (along with e.g. Thailand and Indonesia) to drive on the left. An informal practice of left-hand passage dates at least to the Edo period, when samurai are said to have passed each other to the left to avoid knocking their longer katana swords with each other (as swords were always worn to the left side). During the late 19th century, Japan built its first railways with British technical assistance, and double-tracked railways adopted the British practice of running on the left. Stage Coach Order issued in 1870 and its revision in 1872, followed in 1881 by a further order, stipulated that mutually approaching horses had to avoid each other by shifting to the left. An order issued in 1885 stated that general horses and vehicles had to avoid to the left, but they also had to avoid to the right when they met army troops, until the double standard was legally resolved in 1924.
After the defeat of Japan during World War II, Okinawa was ruled by the United States Civil Administration of the Ryukyu Islands and compelled to drive on the right. Okinawa was returned to Japanese control in 1972 and changed back to driving on the left six years later, at 06:00 on 30 July 1978, as certain treaties required nations to have one system throughout their territory. The conversion operation was known as 730 (Nana-San-Maru). Okinawa is one of few places to have changed from right- to left-hand traffic in the late 20th century.
Korea (North and South)
Since the end of the Second World War, traffic in both North and South Korea drive on the right. However this was not the case for historic Korea. In the 19th century traffic travelled on the left as the country was under nominal influence of China's Qing Dynasty. When Japan annexed Korea in 1910 it also maintained the left-hand rule.
On 8 September 1945, American forces arrived in the southern half of Korea while at the same time Soviet-backed forces were occupying the North. Shortly afterwards the peninsula was divided along the 38th parallel. Driving on the right was implemented in both countries as the vehicles (particularly military) used by the Korean states were either American-made or Russian-built LHD models.
Lebanon is a right-hand traffic country. However, there is a 70-metre (230-foot) crossing at Sanayeh/Hamra intersection in Beirut on which left-hand traffic is applied.
Macau, a former Portuguese colony, historically followed Hong Kong in driving on the left because most of the cars in Macau were imported first to Hong Kong and re-exported and were therefore RHD. Macau did not follow either Portugal in 1928 or China in 1946 in switching to driving on the right.
There are two border crossing points between China and Macau. The newer crossing point is the Lotus Bridge, which crosses a narrow channel of sea between China and the territory, and was opened at the end of 1999. The Lotus Bridge was designed to cater for high traffic volumes and features three lanes in each direction as well as a full changeover system on the Chinese side, comprising bridges that loop around each other by 360 degrees to swap the direction of the traffic. At the older Macau crossing point, there is no changeover system, and the border roads continue with traffic on the left on the Chinese side and simply intersect with a roundabout.
Malaysia has left-hand traffic, a legacy of British influence. There are a few exceptions to the rule. In Peninsular Malaysia, right-hand traffic can be found at the Damansara-Puchong Expressway in the short tunnel under the Damansara Perdana flyover and the Sunway bridge at the Federal Highway Route 2 interchange.
Right-hand traffic can also be found at Wisma Saberkas, Kuching, Sarawak where the whole stretch of parking areas are right-hand traffic. The "Keep Right" signboards are eminent in every corner of the road to remind road users of the right-hand driving. Right-hand driving was to ease congestion at Wisma Saberkas exit to Jalan Green (near SK St. Paul).
Until it was pedestrianised, the northern section of Penang Road in George Town, Penang, now known as Upper Penang Road, had traffic passing on the right-hand side of the road, with a concrete kerb in the middle. This was to allow clockwise traffic from the one-way sections of Northam Road and Farquhar Street (at either end of the road) to pass clockwise through the road without crossing oncoming traffic.
The stretch Tek Soon Street between 1st Avenue Mall and Prangin Mall in George Town, Penang, is right-hand drive from McNair Street and Cross Street.
Malta was a British colony from 1800 to 1964, and continues with left-hand traffic, with local vehicles being right-hand drive. Owing to its proximity to Italy left-hand drive vehicles are commonplace.
Although the national standard in Mauritania is to drive on the right, on the mining roads between Fdérik and Zouérat traffic drives on the left. There are a number of right-left crossover points.
Like most former British colonies, Mauritius drives on the left-hand side of the road, although its closest neighbours, Madagascar, the Comoros, and the French overseas departments of Réunion and Mayotte drive on the right.
Mongolia is a right-hand traffic country.
Vehicles in Nepal drive on the left, with steering wheels mounted on the right-hand side of vehicles. The stretch of road between Rani Pokhari and Ratna Park in Kathmandu is right-handed to facilitate one-way traffic on the adjacent roads.
New Zealand drives on the left, owing to its British colonial heritage. The left-hand traffic rule is currently legislated in section 2.1 of the Land Transport (Road User) Rule 2004.
At intersections, the general rule for priority in New Zealand is "Give way to the right, and turning traffic give way to traffic not turning", but between 1977 and March 2012 there was an unusual variation compared with other countries: where a right-turning vehicle and a left-turning vehicle approached each other from opposite directions and both had no signs or signals or both had the same sign or signal, the right-turning vehicle had priority over the left-turning vehicle, where in other left-hand traffic countries the rule was the other way around. The aim of the rule was to give priority to vehicles turning right across traffic so they spent minimal time in the road lane exposed to rear-end collisions; many New Zealand intersections lack right-turn bays. It also reduced the chance of a collision with the right (driver's) side of the vehicle. The rule was reversed at non-roundabout intersection on Sunday 25 March 2012 to align the rule with other countries and in an attempt to reduce driver confusion and intersection crashes. Although the rule change went smoothly at most intersections, numerous problems were encountered in the days and weeks following the change regarding intersections with left turn slip lanes controlled by Give Way signs – in these cases, the Give Way sign cancels the left-turning priority over right-turning traffic, keeping with the old rule. However, misunderstandings at these intersections caused right-turning traffic to needlessly give way, and left-turning traffic to run the give way signs.
As a British colony, Nigeria formerly drove on the left. As it was surrounded by former French colonies driving on the right, right-hand traffic was adopted in Nigeria on 2 April 1972.
Pakistan drives on the left. Pakistan is the westernmost country in Asia to drive on the left. The Khyber Pass border crossing with Afghanistan is one of the most well known places where traffic changes sides of the road.
Right-hand traffic was introduced in Paraguay from 25 February 1945 by dint of Decreto 6956 ("Decree 6956").
Right-hand traffic was introduced in the Philippines on the last day of the Battle of Manila, 10 March 1945, to facilitate the combined Filipino and American troop movements. In the earlier part of the 20th century, left-hand traffic was the norm.
Although road traffic switched to the right, rail traffic remained on the left until the construction of the LRT and MRT, where trains ran on the right, in 1984 and 1999 respectively. The Philippine National Railways, where trains historically ran on the left, switched to the right in 2010.
Poland drives on the right. When it was established as an independent state in 1918, areas formerly belonging to the German and Russian Empires drove on the right. In the former Austrian areas left-hand traffic was in force. This was changed in the 1920s. In Lwów (at that time in Poland) the change-over took place in 1922 and in Kraków in 1925.
Portugal changed from left-hand to right-hand road traffic on 1 June 1928. This change was also implemented in most of its overseas territories, except Goa, Macau and Mozambique, which had land borders with countries that drove on the left. In East Timor right-hand traffic was introduced in 1928, but was changed back by Indonesia in 1975.
Although Russia drives on the right, cheaper used cars from Japan are almost as popular as LHD cars of the same class. Russia is estimated to have more than 1.5 million RHD vehicles. In the far eastern regions, such as Vladivostok or Khabarovsk, RHD vehicles make up to 60% of the total. This includes not only private cars, but also police cars, ambulances, and many other municipal and governmental vehicles.
During 2005, the rumour that RHD vehicles would be completely banned from the roads drove thousands of Russian protesters to the streets. On 19 May 2005 the Russian Minister of Industry and Energy Viktor Khristenko announced that RHD vehicles would be allowed on the roads but would have to conform to all Russian traffic safety requirements. Many automobile owners blocked the roads (in Moscow, Saint Petersburg, Vladivostok and many other cities), protesting against such an interdiction. Due to technical regulation published on September 2009, import of RHD will be proceeded in September 2010.
Rwanda, a former Belgian colony in central Africa, currently drives on the right. In 2005, a Presidential Decree was issued banning the import of RHD cars, eventually requiring them to be phased out completely by the end of 2009.
In early August 2009 several African newspapers reported that, following the results of a public survey, Rwanda was considering switching to driving on the left in order to bring the country in line with other members of the East African Community (EAC). Burundi is the only other EAC member to drive on the right.
The survey, carried out by the Ministry of Infrastructure in 2009, indicated that 54% of Rwandans were in favour of the switch, compared to just 32% who were opposed to it. Reasons cited were the perceived lower costs of RHD vehicles as opposed to LHD versions of the same model, easier maintenance and the political benefit of harmonisation of traffic regulations with other EAC countries. The same survey also indicated that right-hand drive cars are 16 to 49 per cent cheaper than their left-hand drive equivalents. Because of this, investment in passenger service vehicles and goods transport is expected to increase should the switch go ahead, due to the high costs of sourcing suitable LHD vehicles and the relative abundance of alternatives from elsewhere in the EAC. Furthermore, in November 2009, Rwanda's application to join the Commonwealth of Nations was approved, another group which is largely dominated by LHT countries.
In September 2010, Infrastructure Minister Vincent Karega said that new traffic guidelines had been submitted to the Prime Minister's office, paving the way for the Cabinet to formally approve the switch. At the same time, if the switch does go ahead, it will necessitate repealing the 2005 Presidential Decree banning RHD cars. According to Karenga, the private sector has been a keen supporter of the switch, citing the harmonisation of EAC regulations and the cheaper cost of RHD cars. As of December 2011, the Rwandan government reported that it had received the Ministry of Infrastructure's 2009 survey and was commissioning a comprehensive study of options available. At the 17th East African Standards Committee meeting in July 2013, several African news sources reported that both Rwanda and Burundi will be switching to left-hand traffic in the coming years, though no official plans have been drawn up at this time.
Samoa was a German colony until occupied by New Zealand at the beginning of the First World War. During the Second World War, Samoa (then known as Western Samoa) was used by the Allies as a staging area for the invasion of several Pacific islands to the east of Samoa. Most US military vehicles were LHD and reinforced the German practice of driving on the right-hand side of the road until September 2009. This practice had been in place for more than a century. A plan to drive on the left was first announced by the Samoan government in September 2007 and was confirmed on 18 April 2008 when Samoa's parliament passed the Road Transport Reform Act 2008. On 24 July 2008 Tuisugaletaua Avea, the Minister of Transport, announced that the switch would come into effect at 6:00 am on Monday, 7 September 2009. He also announced that the 7th and 8th would be public holidays, so that residents were able to familiarise themselves with the new rules of the road. Samoa is the first territory in over 30 years to change which side of the road is driven on, the most recent to change being Nigeria, Ghana, Yemen and Okinawa.
A new political party, The People's Party, had formed to try to block the change but was unsuccessful as was the People Against Switching Sides protest group which launched a last-minute legal challenge against the decision, arguing it violated the right to life in the Samoan constitution. The decision remains controversial, with an estimated 18,000 people attending demonstrations against it in Apia in April 2008 and road signs reminding people of the change having been vandalised. The motor industry was also opposed to the decision as 14,000 of Samoa's 18,000 vehicles are designed for right-hand traffic and the government has refused to meet the cost of conversion. Bus drivers whose doors are now on the wrong side of the road threatened to strike in protest at the change.
Prime Minister Tuilaepa Aiono Sailele Malielegaoi says the purpose of adopting left-hand traffic is to allow Samoans to use cheaper right-hand-drive vehicles sourced from Australia, New Zealand, or Japan, and so that the large number of Samoans living in Australia and New Zealand can drive on the same side of the road when they visit their country of origin. In order to reduce accidents, the government has widened roads, added new road markings, erected signs and installed speed humps. The speed limit was also reduced and sales of alcohol banned for three days. The Congregational Christian Church of Samoa has held prayer sessions for an accident-free conversion, and Samoa's Red Cross carried out a blood donation campaign in case of a surge of accidents.
The change came into force following a radio announcement at 5.50 local time (16.50 GMT) which halted traffic and an announcement at 6.00 local time (17.00 GMT) for traffic to switch from the right to the left-hand side of the road. The change also coincided with more restrictive enforcement of speeding and seat-belt laws.
As a legacy of British rule, South Africa drives on the left. This has also influenced neighbouring countries. After South Africa occupied South West Africa (now Namibia) during World War I, it was made a South African mandate by the League of Nations, and as such, drivers were ordered to drive on the left soon afterwards.
Sierra Leone changed to right-hand traffic on 1 March 1971.
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In Singapore, all motorised traffic drives on the left, in vehicles with right-hand drive configuration, a legacy of British colonial rule as a crown colony. Some roads, however, due to foreseeable considerations, are designed to prevent traffic flow problems that could result from the standard practice, such as Grange Road between Orchard Road and Somerset Road which is separated by a refuge island, Carver Street by North Bridge Road, parking and compound entrances along the right side of North Bridge Road. In any roads with such a requirement, an entry sign is often displayed at the road divider. Cycling designated lane in parks also practises the keep left rule to correspond with motorway traffic as a safety consideration. As of this, Singapore prohibited new registrations of LHD vehicles, except with the exemption by Land Transport Authority on registration of Vintage Cars and embassy vehicles in Singapore, subjected to the import requirements for embassy diplomats.
Spain drives on the right but the capital city, Madrid, had left-hand traffic in force until 10 April 1924. As a result the Madrid Metro, which dates from 1919, still runs on the left-hand side on all lines.
Suriname and neighboring Guyana are the only two remaining countries in the mainland Americas that drive on the left. The practice for Guyana has been inherited from the United Kingdom. It is not known for sure why Suriname drives on the left, considering that the Netherlands has right-hand traffic, but it can be explained in a number of ways. It could be that it was inherited from the British who first colonized the land now known as Suriname in the late 17th century. It could also be that when the Netherlands changed from left to right in the late 19th century Suriname did not.
Sweden has right-hand traffic now, but had legal left-hand traffic (vänstertrafik in Swedish) from approximately 1734, when it changed back from a short period of right-hand traffic starting in 1718. With or without legal rule, traditionally the left side was used for carriages. Finland, under Swedish rule until 1809, also drove on the left, and continued to do so as a Russian Grand Duchy until 1858.
This continued well into the 20th century, even though virtually all the cars on the road in Sweden were LHD. (One argument for this was that it was necessary to keep an eye on the edge of the road, something that was important on the narrow roads in use at the time). Also, Sweden's neighbours Norway and Finland already drove on the right, leading to confusion at border crossings.
In 1955 a referendum was held on the issue, resulting in an 82.9%-to-15.5% vote against a change to driving on the right. Nevertheless, in 1963 the Riksdag passed legislation ordering the switch to right-hand traffic. The conversion took place at 5am on Sunday, 3 September 1967, which was known in Swedish as Dagen H (H-Day), the 'H' being for Högertrafik or right traffic.
Since Swedish cars were LHD, experts had suggested that changing to driving on the right would be safer, because drivers would have a better view of the road ahead. The accident rate dropped sharply after the change, but soon rose back to near its original level. The speed limits were temporarily lowered.
Trains have left-hand traffic, as a change to right traffic is not considered cost-effective. Trains in Malmö and further southwest keep to the right, as in neighbouring Denmark; there is a flyover-type crossover north of Malmö.
Thailand is one of the few countries outside the former British Empire (along with Indonesia and Japan) to drive on the left, dating back to its diplomatic relations with Britain since 1826 where the British used the country, then called Siam as a shortcut to India. It is an unusual case of a country which drives on the left being almost totally surrounded by neighbours which drive on the right. Thailand shares long borders with Laos and Cambodia — both of which drove on the right under French rule, as well as Burma, which changed to driving on the right in 1970, but shares only a short border with Malaysia, which drives on the left. Thailand allows both RHD and LHD vehicles on its roads.
Until 1918 parts of Ukraine were part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which drove on the left. This changed in the 1920s when the territory became part Poland. In Lviv the change-over took place in 1922. The rest of Ukraine always drove on the right.
The United Kingdom has left-hand traffic. The left-hand drive rule first became compulsory in 1722, to combat increasing traffic congestion on the narrow London Bridge. The Lord Mayor of the City of London ordered that bridge traffic should keep to the left.
Although the United Kingdom is separated from Continental Europe by the English Channel, the level of cross-Channel traffic is very high; the Channel Tunnel alone carries 3.5 million vehicles per year between the UK and France. Most vehicles crossing the Channel, whether via the Channel Tunnel or on ferries, are UK-registered RHD vehicles. Large numbers of British drivers take their RHD cars to Continental Europe for holidays and day trips. Relatively fewer drivers from Continental Europe take their LHD cars to the UK as for many people the distance to the channel ports or to the Channel Tunnel is greater, although drivers from France, Belgium and the Netherlands in LHD cars are an increasing sight on roads in the UK, as are LHD freight lorries that may travel to the UK from all over Europe.
As in many countries service vehicles such as road sweepers require that the driver's view of the kerb is more important than of the centre-line. In the UK, these vehicles are generally LHD, although some have controls on both sides.
In cities with heavy tourism, LHD coaches travelling to the UK from elsewhere can cause problems as their passengers get off the vehicle into the path of traffic, rather than on a pavement. Some fleet operators who regularly tour from Continental Europe to the UK use coaches with doors on both sides. Conversely, some double-decker buses exported to LHD countries for tourist purposes are converted to have their doors on the other side.
For a variety of reasons, Continental European LHD heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) have become common on the UK's roads, particularly on major routes radiating from ports and the Channel tunnel. An issue arising from this concerns the safety of large LHD vehicles, with blind-spots arising from the LHD and the probable inexperience of drivers with these problems.
In the late 1960s, the Department for Transport studied the question of whether to adopt right-hand traffic. The idea was rejected as unsafe and too costly. Consequently, road building standards, for motorways in particular, allow asymmetrically designed road junctions, where merge and diverge lanes differ in length.
Exceptions to the rule
During the 1982 Falklands War the Falklands was briefly under Argentina control, with right-hand rule. During the Lockerbie bombing trial of 2000–02, Camp Zeist in the Netherlands was decreed to be British territory subject to Scots law. Dumfries and Galloway Police, who were responsible for policing traffic movements within the compound, effected a clause which required drivers to comply with the Continental European practice of driving on the right.
Military fleets and bases
On some British Army training locations, where the army once trained for conflict in Eastern Europe during the Cold War, traffic is meant to travel on the right. Most military bases in the UK, though, have the normal rule of driving on the left.
Vehicles within United States visiting forces bases in the United Kingdom drive on the left, even though the United States does not provide right-hand drive vehicles for its green fleet. However, its white fleet does have some right-hand drive vehicles for elements such as Non-Appropriated Fund activities and UK-only specialist vehicles. Most white fleet vehicles (known as "GSA" or "TMP" vehicles) are shipped over from the United States and are LHD. This is unlike British practice in Germany, where even UK green fleet vehicles for British Forces Germany have been left-hand drive.
During World War II, American truck makers Ford, Chevrolet, and Dodge built 'Canadian Military Pattern truck' [CMP] for use throughout the British Empire and most were right-hand drive to use in left-traffic countries.
All US states and territories except the US Virgin Islands drive on the right. The first keep-right law in the United States, passed in 1792, applied to the Philadelphia and Lancaster Turnpike. New York in 1804 and New Jersey in 1813 also enacted keep-right rules. Only the formerly-British thirteen colonies historically drove on the left; the historically French, Spanish, Russian and Hawaiian portions of the United States all drove on the right by the time they were annexed by the United States.
Early American motor vehicles were right-hand drive, following the practice established by horse-drawn buggies. This changed in the early years of the 20th century: Ford changed to LHD production in 1908 with the Model T, and Cadillac in 1916.
Today, US motor vehicles are LHD, except postal mail vehicles. A large number of vehicles used for rural mail delivery are RHD, thus enabling the driver to access roadside mail receptacles without leaving the vehicle.
American drivers nearly always drive on the right and pass on the left, but state traffic laws generally allow for passing on the right if there is sufficient space to the right of the leading vehicle to pass it safely. Since this is not usually the case, right-side passing is rare except on multi-lane roads and divided highways, or when passing other vehicles that are preparing to turn left. On the railroad, the area west of the Mississippi River drive on the left and the area east of the Mississippi River drive on the right.
The US Virgin Islands is the only American jurisdiction that still has left-hand traffic, because the islands drove on the left when the United States purchased the former Danish West Indies from Denmark in 1917. However, virtually all passenger vehicles are left-hand drive due to imports of US vehicles.
In California, a segment of Interstate 5 north of the Los Angeles area switches to left-hand traffic as it climbs up the Tehachapi Mountains north towards the Tejon Pass. Because of the terrain, this design allows the southbound (downhill) lanes to have a better grade than the northbound (uphill) lanes, and thus help reduce runaway trucks. A section of Interstate 8 through the Gila Mountains in Arizona also has left-hand traffic because of the terrain.
Uruguay adopted left-hand traffic in 1918, but as in many other countries in South America, this was changed to right-hand traffic on 2 September 1945. A speed limit of 30 km/h (19 mph) was observed until 30 September in order to avoid major collisions and help ease the public to the change.
In all of Venezuela, traffic drives on the right. There are exceptions within the heavily congested capital, Caracas. In the neighbourhood of Las Mercedes, Calle Caroní is LHT for one block due to oncoming traffic turning into it from the one-way Av. Río de Janeiro. In Los Chaguaramos neighbourhood, Av. Las Ciencias is a LHT street because it connects two one-way streets, Calle Humboldt and Av. Neverí. Within the campus of Universidad Simón Bolívar, which is surrounded by a one-way street, there is a street aptly named Calle Inglesa (English Street in Spanish) because left-hand traffic allows a better flow of traffic .
Like most former British colonies, Zimbabwe drives on the left. in 2010, the government attempted to ban left-hand drive vehicles from the roads, but this decision was overturned by the High Court in 2012.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Right- and left-hand traffic.|
- 'Left is right on the road', Mick Hamer New Scientist, 25 December 1986 – 1 January 1987
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- Google Maps placemarks of border crossings where traffic changes sides (browser-based), also available as a Google Earth placemarks file (requires Google Earth)
- Why do some countries drive on the right side of the road and others the left?
- Why Don't We Drive On The Same Side Of The Road Around The World?
- Road Traffic Driving on the Right or on the Left
- Federal Highway Administration research into 'wrong-way' accidents on multi-lane roads
- When Left was Right (Panama)
- Why do some countries drive on the right and others on the left ?
- "The rule of the road, 1919–1986: a case study in standards change."
- The Extraordinary Street Railways of Asunción, Paraguay
- The Straight Dope: What happens when you drive between two countries that drive on opposite sides of the road?
- Informative article on how registering left-hand drive vehicles in right-hand drive countries can be done and the complications round doing it.