Many visitors to the UK scratch their heads in bewilderment as they ask themselves why the British drive on the left when so many other nations of the world drive on the right. Why do the British drive on the left?
History of Driving on the Left
Long before the invention of the first motor car, everyone drove according to the British system, which meant that all drivers drove on the left, as a safety measure. According to Amphicars.com, keeping to the left enabled riders on wagons or their horses to protect themselves from danger and reach for their sword with ease if danger threatened from those that they passed on the road on their right. The practice of keeping to the left hand side of the road (as most people are right-handed) was actually formalised around the year 1300 in a Papal Edict issued by Pope Benefice, who instructed his pilgrims to keep left.
Driving on the left remained in force right up until 1773 when increased horse traffic forced the UK Government to pass the General Highways Act of 1773, which confirmed the need to keep left while driving. The General Highways Act became law as part of the Highways Bill in 1835. As the British Empire expanded in the nineteenth century, driving on the left also spread in much of the world that was under British dominion (although some countries that drive on the left, notably Japan, were never part of the British Empire).
Do Any Other Countries Drive on the Left?
Contrary to popular belief, the British are not the only nation to drive on the left. In fact, around a quarter of the world’s drivers continue to drive on the left. While the UK, Republic of Ireland, Cyprus and Malta are the only European countries to still drive on the left, there are many other countries around the world that drive on the left.
These include Antigua, Australia, Bahamas, Bangladesh, Bermuda, Bhutan, Botswana, Brunei, Cook Islands, East Timor, Grenada, India, Indonesia, Jamaica, Japan, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Malaysia, Maldives, Mozambique, Namibia, Nepal, New Zealand, Pakistan, St. Lucia, Seychelles, Singapore, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Thailand, Tuvalu, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and many other countries.
Times have changed drastically since Pope Benedict’s Papal Edict back in the 1300s, but the British have kept to the custom of driving on the left. If you plan a visit to the UK, make sure you adhere to the custom of keeping to the left hand side of the road and giving way to traffic that approaches you on the right.
Amphicars.com, Why do the British drive on the “wrong” side of the road?