Why do people drive on the left or right?

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Why do people drive on the left or right?

Fascinating question and interesting answers from New Scientist

I have just read of a recent dig in a Roman quarry that showed rut marks on the old Roman road surface, suggesting that the Romans drove on the left, just as the British and Australians do today.

It is my understanding that it was at Napoleon's instigation that driving on the right was enforced throughout Europe. Was there a logical reason for this at the time (or now) or is there no real benefit to either system?

In olden days the nobility would ride on the left so their sword hand--usually the right hand, of course--would be on the same side as an oncoming horseman. Conversely, with armed nobility riding around, it made sense for peasants to walk on the right, facing the oncoming traffic.

In France after the revolution it was a bad idea to be mistaken for nobility, so everyone started to travel on the right. Napoleon carried this convention with him as he conquered large parts of Europe and built the first international road system since the Romans.

Riding on the left to present the dominant side for the sword hand made sense at that time, and most castles have clockwise spiral staircases to make it easier for a right-handed defender to fight off a right-hander below. However, I have visited castles where the spiral staircases are anticlockwise because the family that owned it were predominantly left- handed.

Andy Lauder ,

One explanation has it that stagecoaches, whose drivers sat on the right so that they could keep their long whips (in their right hands) clear of the coach, passed each other driver-to-driver so that they could see their outside wheels and therefore get as close as possible to allow them to pass on narrow roads.

Philip Hazel , Cambridge It seems clear that riders and carriages originally kept to the left for the reasons given above. Below, however, we have no fewer than three explanations for the switch to the right in France. If anyone has more information, please write--Ed

Napoleon switched the convention in Europe from driving on the left to driving on the right for a simple reason--he was left-handed. This meant he mounted and dismounted his horse on the right-hand side, which he naturally preferred to be at the road edge.

Henry Dewing , Zirndorf Germany

Once riding on the left had been established for horsemen, coachmen driving a team of horses found their best position was to be seated on the right with an unobstructed view of any riders or coaches approaching on their right. This convention was maintained for a considerable time.

Then Napoleon, while waging war on the rest of Europe, suddenly had to move huge conscript armies, along with their baggage and artillery trains, often with between 6 and 12 horses which were attached to their carriages in teams with or more two horses side-by-side.

Because horses are usually mounted from the left, the French soldier mounted on the near or left-hand leading horse. This meant there was an empty horse to the right of him blocking his view of the centre of the road. Therefore he found it easier to cope with oncoming traffic if he drove to the right of the centre line. After this change, civilian French coachmen were required to switch seating positions and drive on the right side as well.

Lou Cameron , New York

From: http://www.newscientist.com...
By netchicken: posted on 18-1-2003

left or right

Were did you get the information that Napoleon Bonaparte was left handed? That is a scoop !
Do you think that as a general or emperor, he did a lot of riding on the roads ?

Who can prove that French people drove or rode on the left before the Revolution ? I have no such evidence. Anybody knows at what date the change was made ?

People , horses, coaches, etc usually rode in the middle, because roads were bad and narrow. Some had to yeald to the left or right when they met other users. Only when cars were introduced in large numbers did it become a problem rgulated by law. If you drive in Bali, it will take you several days to find out on which side they ride. It is supposed to be on the left but local traffic often keeps on the right side if that is where they live. :j
By bashful frog: posted on 16-8-2003

It is interesting to try and work out who was first with the side of the road they drive on.

Obviously back in ancient times - Romans / Greeks, etc they must have had rules for this, it must be possible to tell from archeology etc the preferences then.

Then you move forwad in time and see how the changes came about. It's suprising that England and the Continient are different as historically they are so intertwinned.

Its a puzzle, but the old saying rings true "Left is right and right is wrong" :)
By netchicken: posted on 16-8-2003

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