Why Do Americans Drive on the Right?

Are Americans Always Right, eh?

How do different countries across the world decide which side of the road to drive on? How did they distinguish between preferring left hand traffic versus right hand traffic? We are sure that, like many of us, you have pondered on this thought before as well.

A number of British colonies and a majority of Europe, except for only four European countries, drive on the left side of the road, while, on the other hand (pun intended), the United States of America and several other countries adopted driving on the right. So, why do Americans drive on the right side of the road? We are sure, like everybody around the world, you have probably pondered on this question too.

Our team of experts decided to do their research on the difference between left hand travel and right hand travel, and why the United States of America decided left hand driving wasn’t their cup of tea. Continue reading to find out more.

Why Do Some Countries Drive on the Left?

People driving on the left
People driving on the left

Statista suggests that 76 countries drive on the left and the rest of the world sticks to the right hand side (obviously). So, why did countries across the world choose to drive on the left side?

Our experts found that left hand side driving started off as a driving practice predominantly in Eastern Europe. Initially, almost all of the world’s countries drove on the left side of the road. However, over time, some countries changed their way of travel and switched to right side driving. Archaeological studies show that British colonies and the majority of the British Empire drove large wagons on the left hand side from the early days, as this made it easier for those drivers with a dominant right hand to steer their way around.

During the time of the French Revolution, it was easier for soldiers and knights of Great Britain, and for the majority of the world population, to keep their hand free. Many used their dominant right hand to attack and defend themselves, and so left side driving became a practice and was used during the Second World War as well. Along with this, it was easier to hop down from a horse from the left side.

The History of American Driving

Cars in Colonial America
Cars in Colonial America

From the time of Colonial America, right hand driving became the way of travel. The British government, however, decided to stick to left hand driving and even had an Act put into motion to motivate drivers to stay on the left. As a result, many countries that were under the British influence, picked up on the English driving customs.

In America, though, from freight wagons to pedestrians, everyone incorporated the common practice of right hand side travel. Big wagons were pulled by horses and the wagon driver would ride the left rear horse, and use his right arm to whip the horses to move on ahead. As the driver sat on the left side, they naturally wanted for the rest of the wagons or vehicles, and oncoming traffic, to pass them on their left as well. For this reason, the drivers adopted right side travel. These large wagons pulled and transported farm products. Because of right hand driving, traffic on the road would make its way to the right, to prevent any crashes.

Henry Ford and the Model T

Ford Model T
Ford Model T

Henry Ford introduced his iconic Model T to the public in 1908. The Model T had the steering wheel situated on the left side. Of course, because of this design of the driver’s seat, other vehicles were forced to drive on the right. This, however, brought with it a lot of change in the way a lot more countries decided to drive. Driving evolved in many countries like Canada, Italy and Spain – they switched to the same side as America.

Which Countries Drive on the Right?

Countries that drive on the right
Countries that drive on the right

Twenty countries which drive on the right are:

  • Abu Dhabi
  • Afghanistan
  • Algeria
  • Argentina
  • Austria
  • Belgium
  • Brazil
  • Canada
  • Denmark
  • Egypt
  • Finland
  • France
  • Greece
  • Iceland
  • Iraq
  • Jordan
  • Kuwait
  • Madagascar
  • Netherlands
  • Switzerland
Countries that drive on the left
Countries that drive on the left

Twenty countries which drive on the left are:

  • Australia
  • Bangladesh
  • British Virgin Islands
  • Channel Islands
  • England
  • Fiji
  • Hong Kong
  • India
  • Indonesia
  • Ireland
  • Jamaica
  • Japan
  • Kenya
  • Malaysia
  • Maldives
  • Nepal
  • New Zealand
  • Papua New Guinea
  • Scotland
  • Singapore

Switching Sides – What if America Decides to Drive on the Left?

Right to left?
Right to left?

Switching from driving on the right to driving on the left could cost billions of dollars to America, believe it or not. Having said that, suppose the United States of America decides to one day go back to driving on the left side of the road, how could we go about doing this?

Well, for starters, to drive on the left would mean changing:

  • Road signs
  • Traffic lights
  • Pedestrian crossing
  • Traffic rules
  • Roundabouts
  • Cycling lanes
  • Restaurant drive-through
  • Steering wheel position – and the list goes on!

It will also take a lot of time for drivers to get used to the new driving side and a lot of brainstorming would be needed to make the switch.

An Ending Note – Why Do Americans Drive on the Right?

And that’s a wrap! We are quite sure that prior to reading this article, you may have thought that America decided to adopt right hand driving just for the sake of it – trust us, we thought the same thing! Driving on the left made sense in the Medieval days and the time of war for knights and soldiers since they were able to use their dominant free hand to protect themselves, as well as attack. Thankfully, since times have changed, we don’t need to be defending ourselves in the same way.

Clearly, a lot of thought has gone behind deciding whether to drive on the left or on the right by every country. At the same time, switching to the opposite side will also take the same amount of effort and time, if not more.

If you have any questions, doubts or queries, feel free to drop a comment in our comments section below, and our experts will get back to you with an answer in no time. 

Written by:
Editor-in-Chief and lead author at WhyDo