This week’s adventures put me in a susceptible state of mind. Earlier this week, somebody was wondering what it’s like to drive in a country where you’re on the left side of the road. I was able to provide input since I’ve had the privilege of driving a car in Australia and a scooter in Bermuda….the latter being a little more harried than you’d think. Yes, the speed limit is 50 kph EVERYWHERE on the island, and yes, my 50cc could only top out at 45 kph with a passenger (I could get it to reach about 60 if going downhill and wind-assisted), but the experience can be dicey nonetheless. The roads are winding and many of curves are blind. And Hamilton is large enough to provide a reasonable amount of traffic. But what a blast it was to drive around the island.
Since it’s very small, yet surprisingly long, there are miles of winding coastal driving, single-lane traffic and you can go from tip to tip in no time at all. Nothing like being able to see the ocean and beautiful landscape with the salty seabreeze in your face. Once you get over the initial learning curve of driving a scooter on the wrong side of the road with a passenger, it is a blast. And very convenient since it can be parked any and everywhere. All the little coves and beaches are accessible. Beats the transit and taxi system hands down and for about $100USD a week. Drive up to the pub, park it on the sidewalk and away you go. Now that I think about it, I think I have a bunch of pictures I’ll post that depict our scooter days on the island.
But I seriously digress. Like, way seriously. Back to this driving on the left side of the road. For some reason, I felt it to be incredibly intuitive. After the 1st couple minutes, it’s as easy as 1-2-3. I’m not kidding. The first time I had to drive was smack in the middle of Sydney. And the car was a manual (Aside: the stick shifting pattern is identical to North American cars except that you’re using the left hand instead – i.e. 1st is still top left, etc. etc.). The first time I made any mistake was early one morning when there was no other traffic to remind me. Yes, it is actually easier to drive when there’s other traffic around. Each time I’ve come back from a trip, I find myself longing for the left side of the road. It just feels right, I mean left.
That got me to thinking (remember, I’m in a susceptible frame of mind here): why is it that it seems so natural? And for that matter, why is it that certain places drive on the left and others on the right? This has been sitting there rolling around in my brain for a few days now. Yesterday I thought I was on to a plausible reason for why I like it: because I’m right handed! And therefore I like the action to be to my right when playing sports or doing manual tasks. It’s just advantageous that way and I’m more co-ordinated. So my mind must be conditioned to be comfortable with movements and layouts that are geared with a right hand in mind.
And then things got strange. I was relaxing in that place where I like to relax and I opened the Uncle John’s Reader to a random page and what do I see: “What Side Are You On?” – a bunch of tidbits about driving on the left vs right!
Historically it appears that left-side was the first side: examining well-worn Roman roads going into stone quarries showed that the wheel ruts on the right side were deeper than on the left. Assuming the carts came in empty and went out full, that would mean they approached on the left side and left on the right (huh?). Even pre-cart days, as in walking and riding of horse, it is pretty much a given that people walked/rode on the left side of roads in order to keep their sword arm between them and oncoming threats. So, I think this adds to my right-handed intuition. Since most people are right handed, it therefore was natural that left-side was the way it all started.
So, why did some places shift over to the right? Lots of theories there but it seems to boil down to who was ruling your country at the key point in time: Britain = left-side, France=right-side because Napoleon was left-handed. Again, this satisfies my hunch! USA is an oddball – although British influenced, they moved to the right side because the drivers of wagons found it easier to see the oncoming wheels of other wagons (because the seats on the wagons where traditionall placed on the left side of the wagon).
And then there’s Canada. Oh, the confused peoples we are. French provinces (I guess that means Quebec and to the East??) were on the left, the rest were on the right. But thanks to the US dominance of the auto industry, everything went right including the Newfies – but they resisted until 1947. Good for them.
In total, according to Uncle John, 168 countries drive on the right and 75 on the left. That’s like 2-1. Too bad. I liked driving on the left side.
Anyway, that’s what was crawling through my conscience this week. Strange.
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