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Why do we drive on the left in the UK?

Endless cups of tea, bowler hats, Yorkshire puddings, big red busses and of course driving on the left are all things that people think of when they think of the UK.

But we are not the only country that drives on the left. In fact, about 35% of the world’s population also drive on the left. Most countries where this happens were originally part of the British colonies, and whilst this delightful quirk may confuse the rest of the world there is a very good reason for it.

The history of road travel**

jouster on horse back, showing why we may have come to driving on the left side in the uk

If you ask anyone who knows why we drive on the left, then they will tell you it all dates to the age of the sword when this was the most sensible option for a feudal society. Most people are right handed and so a swordsman, who would have worn his scabbard on the left, would have preferred to keep to the left himself and have his right arm, his sword arm, nearer to his opponent. In addition, a right-handed person is more likely to mount their horse from the left, if they were on a road this would place them at the left-hand side and it would therefore be a natural progression to ride on the left as well.

There is evidence to suggest that The Romans, who were responsible for the vast expansions of roads, also drove to the left of the road, chariot riders used their dominant right hand on the reins and their left to whip the horse whilst not catching an oncoming chariot and of course the Roman army always marched on the left!


Most of those countries that still drive on the left were at one time a part of the British Empire, and as such they simply followed suit and drove on the left. During the early years of the English colonisation of North America, they too drove on the left. However, on gaining independence from England they wanted to remove all links with the colonial past and so began the changeover to driving on the right-hand side of the road! In part these changes were influenced by the huge number of immigrants from European countries where driving on the right was the norm.

So why do other countries drive on the right, when the UK is driving on the left?

American horse drawn wagon, with driver on the left US wagon driver clearly driving on the left side[/caption]

Fast forward to the late 1700’s, and teamsters in countries like France and the United States began to move farm produce in much bigger wagons, pulled by several pairs of horses, for better efficiency. There was no driver’s seat on these wagons and the driver would sit on the left rear horse; this kept his right arm free to whip the team. As this naturally placed him on the left he wanted others to pass him on the left as well, this allowed him to look down and check he kept clear of the other wagons’ wheels. To do this meant keeping to the right side of the road. So why didn’t this happen in the UK? The answer is simple, we are a smaller country with smaller roads and it simply wasn’t practical to have these bigger wagons.

Driving on the left means of course that we then have right hand drive cars, giving us good visibility of the road and surrounding area.  If you are looking for a right hand drive car and would like to explore leasing take a look here.

Although many of the reasons to drive on the left are no longer valid, it’s certainly good to know where our rules came from!