If you’re someone from outside of Europe, you may have wondered why Europeans drive on the right side of the road.
This is one of the most often asked questions among travelers, especially those considering renting a car during their trip.
Being Turkish, I was always used to driving in Turkey on the right side like Europeans, but ever since I moved to Turkish Cyprus (aka Northern Cyprus), it’s now the exact opposite.
Quite strange at first, it has now become a norm for me to drive on the left side with the steering wheel on the right side.
Most of the world drives on the right side of the road, and yet, 76 countries and territories use left-hand traffic.
1. Why do most European countries drive on the right, and the UK and most of its old colonies drive on the left?
Romans drove their carts and chariots with the left hand to free up the right so they could use weapons to defend against enemy attacks.
This practice was the norm in medieval Europe, and in 1773, yet, most Europeans now changed right-side driving rules because of Napoleon.
Now only the British and a few other European countries are using left-side driving rules, which is a legacy of the Roman Empire.
History suggests that Napoleon’s conquests are the main reason why Europeans drive on the right side of the road.
French Empire European conquests spread the right-sided driving culture to many parts of Europe.
It is speculated that Napoleon was left-handed, so he found it easier to attack enemies with the sword with his left hand while riding his horse on the right side.
For this reason, Napoleon ordered his armies to use the right-hand side of the road in order to avoid congestion during military maneuvers.
The British Empire fought against the French Empire, unlike conquered states of Europe, and did not change their driving rules.
Since then, the trend among European nations has been towards driving on the right side of the road.
2. Why did Europeans choose to drive on the right side of the road?
As a conqueror of most of Europe, Napoleon’s preference spread throughout the region, including Germany, Switzerland, Poland, and Belgium making the “rightism” standard.
After the end of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1918, the resulting countries like Austria, Romania, Hungary, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, and Ukraine switched from left to right.
Over the course of time, more and more European countries switched from left to right. Many of them, like Turkey, adopted the right driving side because all their neighbors drive on the right of the road.
3. Why do Americans drive on the right side of the road?
Researchers also believe that over the course of the 18th century, right-side driving may have become more common due to the introduction of four-horse carriages.
Instead of sitting on the coach box, the coachmen would sit on the left rear horse to spur his team of horses to the right using a whip in his right hand.
That way, it was more beneficial for carriages to pass on the left, ultimately giving rise to right-side driving.
Besides these major influences, especially after World War 1, more and more countries started to drive on the right side.
Yet, America’s driving custom was heavily shaped by Henry Ford’s Model T, which featured the steering wheel on the left, indicating the driver will have to drive on the right side of the road.
After the USA adopted driving on the right side, numerous countries like Canada, Spain, Italy, Scandinavia, and Eastern Europe followed America’s lead.
4. European countries that do not drive on the right
Even though most of the world and nearly all of Europe drive on the right, there were a few countries that didn’t want to join the club.
The United Kingdom, Ireland, Cyprus, and Malta are the only European countries that do not drive on the right.
All of these island nations are left-side drivers. Furthermore, Ireland, Cyprus, and Malta were former parts of Britain. So it is pretty much self-explanatory why they have the same driving side rule as the UK.
Looking beyond Europe, you will find people driving on the left in countries like Australia, New Zealand, Pakistan, Japan, India, Thailand, and more.
Make sure to check the detailed list down below featuring each country of the world and its driving side.
5. Is it better to drive on the left or right?
165 countries and territories drive on the right, while 75 countries and territories drive on the left side of the road. With the vast majority favoring the right side, does it make a difference?
In general, there are no major advantages or disadvantages to either driving on the left or right side of the road. It all depends on what driving style you are used to and what is legally accepted in your country.
Yet, as a right-handed person, I find it hard to drive on the left side with manual cars. Changing gears with your left hand can be hard and confusing. This was my biggest obstacle.
6. List of all countries of the world and their respective driving side
You may notice that most left-driving countries are former British colonies, as Britain itself drives on the left side.
Below, you will find a list of every country and its respective driving sides.
|Antigua and Barbuda||Left|
|Bosnia and Herzegovina||Right|
|Central African Republic||Right|
|Papua New Guinea||Left|
|Saint Kitts and Nevis||Left|
|Saint Vincent and the Grenadines||Left|
|São Tomé and Príncipe||Right|
|Trinidad and Tobago||Left|
|United Arab Emirates||Right|
|United Kingdom||Left (with some exceptions)|
|United States||Right (with one exception)|