Right- and left-hand traffic

2008/9 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Road transport

     drive on right     drive on left
     drive on right     drive on left

Traffic directionality refers to regulations requiring all vehicular traffic to keep either to the left or the right side of the road. Whether the right or the left ( relative direction) is specified depends on the laws of each country. This is so fundamental to vehicular transport that it is commonly referred to as the rule of the road. The purpose of the rule of the road is to facilitate traffic flow and reduce the likelihood of head-on collisions. About 34% of the world by population drive on the left, and 66% on the right. By roadway distances, about 28% drive on the left, and 72% on the right, even though originally most traffic drove on the left worldwide.


Map of the world showing the driving directions for all countries and any changes that have occurred, beginning with Finland's change in 1858     drives on right     drove on left, now drives on right     drives on left     drove on right, now drives on left     had different rules of the road within borders, now drives on right
Map of the world showing the driving directions for all countries and any changes that have occurred, beginning with Finland's change in 1858
     drives on right     drove on left, now drives on right     drives on left     drove on right, now drives on left     had different rules of the road within borders, now drives on right

The Mishna records that the Kohanim in the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem would ascend the altar on the east (right) side and descend on the west (left).

In 1998, archaeologists found a well-preserved track leading to a Roman quarry near Swindon, England. The grooves in the road on one side were observed to be much deeper than those on the other side, which would make sense given that carts would be driven without any load on the way to the quarry, but would return laden with stone. These grooves suggest that the Romans drove on the left, at least in this particular location.

In fact, some believe that ancient travellers on horseback generally rode on the left side of the road. As more people are right-handed, horsemen would thus be able to hold the reins with their left hands and keep their right hand free—to offer in friendship to passing riders or to defend themselves with swords, if necessary. This also explains why men's jackets and shirts have the buttons on the right. It was important to be able to reach a weapon inside a cloak, so for a right-handed person, the cloak had the left flap over the right flap and the right hand could easily reach in and grab the weapon.

The first legal reference in Britain to an order for traffic to remain on the left occurred in 1756 with regard to London Bridge. The Highway Act 1773 contained a recommendation that horse traffic should remain on the left and this is enshrined in section 78 of the Highway Act 1835.

In the late 1700s, a shift from left to right took place in countries such as the United States, when teamsters started using large freight wagons pulled by several pairs of horses. The wagons had no driver’s seat, so the driver sat on the left rear horse and held his whip in his right hand. Seated on the left, the driver naturally preferred that other wagons overtake him on the left so that he could be sure to keep clear of the wheels of oncoming wagons. He did that by driving on the right side of the road.

The British, however, kept to the left. They had smaller wagons, and the driver sat on the wagon, usually on the right side of the front seat. From there he could use his long whip in his right hand without entangling it in the cargo behind him. In that position, on the right side of the wagon, the driver could judge the safety margin of overtaking traffic by keeping to the left side of the road. Countries that became part of the British Empire adopted the keep-left rule too, although there were some exceptions. Canada, for example, where the maritime provinces and Vancouver (later to become British Columbia) drove on the left, eventually changed to the right in order to make border crossings to and from the United States easier. Nova Scotia switched to driving on the right on April 15, 1923. During World War II, Canadian truck makers Ford, Chevrolet and Chrysler built 'Canadian Military Pattern' [CMP] trucks for use throughout the British Empire and most were RH drive to use in LHT countries.

On most early motor vehicles, the driving seat was positioned centrally. Some car manufacturers later chose to place it near the centre of the road to help drivers see oncoming traffic, while others chose to put the driver's seat on the kerb side so that the drivers could avoid damage from walls, hedges, gutters and other obstacles. Eventually the former idea prevailed.

In Europe, the 20th century saw a slow but steady shift from keep-left to keep-right. Portugal switched to the right early in the 20th century. Austria and Czechoslovakia changed to the right when occupied by Nazi Germany at the end of the 1930s, and Hungary followed suit. Sweden changed in 1967 and Iceland in 1968. Today, just four European countries still drive on the left: Britain, Ireland, Cyprus, and Malta. All four are island nations that have no border with countries that drive on the right and all have at one point been under British rule.


A country's traffic-handedness is most properly designated with reference to the rule of the road, i.e., the side of the road along which traffic flows. Using such a referent, countries are said to have left-hand traffic (LHT) or right-hand traffic (RHT). However, traffic-handedness is sometimes designated with reference to the placement of the steering wheel and driver's seat within vehicles. Using this terminology, countries are said to be left-hand drive (LHD) or right-hand drive (RHD). In almost all cases, the placement of the steering wheel is opposite to the rule of the road: LHT countries use RHD vehicles, and RHT countries use LHD vehicles. Confusion can arise from the misuse of LHD and RHD to indicate the side of the road along which vehicles are driven. In addition, there have been markets (such as some Caribbean islands, and Sweden before the change from LHT to RHT in 1967) that use mostly LH-drive vehicles with LH-traffic, or mostly RH-drive vehicles with RH-traffic. In addition, wrong hand-drive vehicles are permitted in many markets.

Right-hand traffic

  • Oncoming traffic is seen coming from the left.
  • Left-turning traffic must cross oncoming traffic.
  • Most traffic signs facing motorists are on the right-hand side of the road.
  • Traffic on roundabouts (traffic circles or rotaries) goes anticlockwise (counter-clockwise).
  • Pedestrians crossing a two-way road should first look for traffic from their left.
  • Most vehicles have a left-hand driver's position, instruments and controls.

Left-hand traffic

  • Oncoming traffic is seen coming on the right side.
  • Right-turning traffic must cross oncoming traffic.
  • Most traffic signs facing motorists are on the left side of the road.
  • Traffic on roundabouts (traffic circles or rotaries) goes clockwise.
  • Pedestrians crossing a two-way road should first look for traffic from their right.
  • Most vehicles have a right-hand driver's position, instruments and controls.

Changing sides at borders

The Change of traffic directions at the Laos–Thai border takes place on Lao territory just off the Thai–Lao Friendship Bridge.
The Change of traffic directions at the Laos–Thai border takes place on Lao territory just off the Thai–Lao Friendship Bridge.
Thai-Myanmar friendship bridge.
Thai-Myanmar friendship bridge.

There are many instances of traffic having to change sides at border crossings, such as at those between Afghanistan and Pakistan, Laos and Thailand, Sudan and Uganda. Thailand is particularly notable in the context of border crossings, as it is the only sizeable country that has nearly all of its borders with countries that drive on the opposite side. It drives on the left, but 90% (4,357 km or 2,707 miles) of its borders are with countries that drive on the right, with only Malaysia driving on the left since Myanmar (Burma) changed from driving on the left to driving on the right in 1970.

Many borders are formed from natural barriers such as mountains or rivers, and this is particularly true of borders where traffic changes sides of the road, especially in Asia. These natural barriers make the number of border crossings much lower than would otherwise be the case. Furthermore, given their remoteness, most mountain border crossings have relatively low traffic volumes and so changing sides of the road is even less of an issue.

The four most common ways of switching traffic from one side to the other at borders are:

  • Traffic lights. Examples are:
    • Friendship Bridge between Thailand and Laos, change takes place on Lao side - photo, photo
    • Second Thai–Lao Friendship Bridge, between Thailand and Laos, change takes place on Thai side
    • Friendship Bridge between Thailand ( Mae Sot) and Myanmar (Myawaddy) - photo
    • New bridge between Thailand ( Mae Sai) and Myanmar (opened in 2006) - photo
  • Crossover bridges. Examples are:
    • Lok Ma Chau between Hong Kong and mainland China - Google Maps
    • Lotus Bridge between Macau and mainland China - Google Maps
  • Border roads intersect with roundabouts or other one-way traffic systems. Examples are:
    • Man Kam To between Hong Kong and mainland China - Google Maps
    • Land border between Macau and mainland China - Google Maps
  • No automatic infrastructure (signposts and directions only), most commonly found at borders with low vehicular traffic volumes. Examples are:
    • Poipet between Thailand and Cambodia - photo, photo
    • Old bridge between Thailand (Mae Sai) and Myanmar - photo, photo
    • Khunjerab Pass between Pakistan and China - photo

Changing the rule

The most common reason for countries to switch to driving on the right is for conformity with neighbours, as it increases the safety of cross-border traffic. For example, former British colonies in Africa, such as Gambia, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, and Ghana, have all changed from left- to right-hand traffic, as they all share borders with former French colonies, which drive on the right. The former Portuguese colony of Mozambique has always driven on the left, as all its neighbours are former British colonies. Decisions by countries to drive on the right typically concern conformity and uniformity rather than practical reasons. There are historical exceptions, such as postilion riders in France, but such historical advantages do not apply to modern road vehicles.

In the former British Crown colony of Hong Kong and the former Portuguese enclave of Macau, traffic continues to drive on the left, unlike in mainland China, despite the fact that they are now its Special Administrative Regions. On the other hand, Taiwan, formerly under Japanese rule, changed to driving on the right in 1946 after the government of the Republic of China assumed administration; the same happened in Korea (both North and South), a former Japanese colony. However, some trains in Seoul, as well as pedestrian traffic in the subway system, still keep to the left.

Foreign occupation and military transit

Many countries have temporarily or permanently changed their rule of the road as a result of foreign occupation. Recent examples include Austria, Czechoslovakia ( details) and Hungary under German rule or military transit in the 1930s and 1940s. The Channel Islands also changed to driving on the right under German occupation, but changed back after liberation in 1945. The Falkland Islands did the same under Argentine control during the 1982 Falklands War. East Timor changed to driving on the left under Indonesian rule in 1976, and continues the practice as an independent state. The Japanese region of Okinawa changed from left to right under US control; in 1978, Okinawa was returned to Japanese sovereignty, and the driving rules reverted to left hand traffic as in mainland Japan.


Traffic driving on the right in Savoy Court in London (the UK usually drives on the left)
Traffic driving on the right in Savoy Court in London (the UK usually drives on the left)
Vehicles driving on the left on the A1 Motorway near Washington Services in Tyne and Wear, England heading towards Scotland.
Vehicles driving on the left on the A1 Motorway near Washington Services in Tyne and Wear, England heading towards Scotland.

Article 9(1) of the United Nations' Geneva Convention on Road Traffic (1949) requires each country to have a uniform direction of traffic, i.e. each country may have either left-hand traffic or right-hand traffic, but not both. The exact wording of the article is:

All vehicular traffic proceeding in the same direction on any road shall keep to the same side of the road, which shall be uniform in each country for all roads. Domestic regulations concerning one-way traffic shall not be affected.

Before that, a country could have different rules in different parts, for example Canada until the 1920s.

When islands are excluded, the only continents in which the same rule of the road applies over the entire continent are:

  1. Australia and New Zealand with left-hand traffic.
  2. Mainland Europe, since Sweden changed to right-hand traffic in 1967.
  3. North America, including Central America, since British Honduras changed to right-hand traffic in 1961.

Africa, Asia, and South America have land borders where drivers must change to the other side of the road.


Legal restrictions on wrong-hand drive vehicles

For safety reasons (and in some cases political or economic reasons), some countries have banned the sale or import of vehicles with the steering wheel on the wrong side.

In Australia this is the case with non-vintage (i.e. less than 30 years old) LHD vehicles, with the result that Australians who import such vehicles usually must pay sometimes thousands of dollars to convert them to RHD. The exceptions are for vehicles registered in Western Australia and the Northern Territory - both which have at various times hosted U.S. military facilities and had vehicles imported, used and sold by U.S service personnel in circulation. The Australian Capital Territory (ACT) previously allowed non-vintage LHD vehicles to be registered, but changed its legislation some years ago.

In New Zealand, LHD vehicles may be privately imported, and driven locally under a LHD permit. Since 1999, only LHD vehicles older than 20 years or cars owned and operated for at least 90 days may be privately imported. Diplomats and Operation Deep Freeze personnel are exempted from these restrictions.

In the Philippines, RHD vehicles especially cars, are banned. Public buses and vans imported from Japan are converted to LHD, and passenger doors are created on the right side. However, some vans keep their doors on the left side, leading to the odd (and dangerous) situation in which passengers have to exit toward oncoming traffic.

Cambodia banned the use of RHD cars, many of which were smuggled from Thailand, from 2001, even though RHD vehicles accounted for 80 percent of vehicles in the country. The government threatened to confiscate all such vehicles unless they were converted to LHD, in spite of the considerable expense involved. According to a BBC report, changing the steering column from right to left would cost between US$600 and US$2,000, in a country where average annual income was less than US$1,000.

A RHD Toyota Landcruiser in front of a Pyongyang hotel
A RHD Toyota Landcruiser in front of a Pyongyang hotel

Although it drives on the right, North Korea has imported various used RHD vehicles from Japan, from tourist buses to Toyota Land Cruisers.

However, many used vehicles exported from Japan to countries like Russia and Peru are already converted to LHD. But even if the driver's position is left unchanged, some jurisdictions require at least readjustment of the headlights.

Singapore bans LHD vehicles from being imported for personal local registration, but temporary usage by tourists of LHD vehicles is allowed. However, diplomatic vehicles in Singapore are exempt from the RHD-only ruling, and there are a few hydrogen and fuel cell powered LHD vehicles currently undergoing trials in Singapore.

In Taiwan, Article 39 of the Road Traffic Security Rules ( zh:道路交通安全規則) require a steering wheel to be on the left side of a vehicle to pass an inspection when registering the vehicle, so RHD vehicles may not be registered in Taiwan. This rule does not apply retroactively, so a RHD vehicle that was registered before this rule does not lose its registered status and may continue to be legally driven.

In Trinidad and Tobago, LHD vehicles are banned except for returning nationals who were resident in a foreign country and are importing a vehicle for personal use. LHD vehicles are also allowed to be imported for use as funeral hearses.

In West Africa, once-British Ghana and Gambia have also banned RHD vehicles. Their traffic has been changed from on the left to on the right. Ghana prohibited new registrations of RHD vehicles after 1 August 1974, three days before the traffic change on 4 August 1974. RHD vehicles may be imported only temporarily into Sierra Leone, for example for humanitarian programmes, but must be rexported at the end of the operation.

Most of the above bans on RHD and LHD vehicles apply only to locally-registered vehicles. Countries that have signed the 1968 Vienna Convention on Road Traffic are not allowed to make such restrictions on foreign-registered vehicles. Paragraph 1 of Annex 5 states "All vehicles in international traffic must meet the technical requirements in force in their country of registration when they first entered into service". Therefore all signatory countries and most non-signatory countries allow the temporary import (e.g. by tourists) of foreign-registered vehicles, no matter which side the steering wheel is on. Oman, which has not signed the convention bans all foreign-registered RHD vehicles.

Both RHD and LHD vehicles may generally be registered in any European Union member state, but there are some restrictions and regulations. Slovakia, despite being a member of the European Union, does not allow the local registration of RHD vehicles, even if the vehicle is imported from one of the four EU countries that drive on the left (UK, Ireland, Cyprus, and Malta). Lithuania has prohibited new RHD vehicle registration since 1993.

Headlamps and other lighting equipment

Most low-beam headlamps are specifically designed for use on one side of the road or the other. Headlamps for use in LH-traffic countries have low-beam headlamps that "dip to the left", i.e., the light is distributed with a downward/leftward bias to show the driver the road and signs ahead without blinding oncoming traffic. Headlamps for RH-traffic countries have low beams that "dip to the right", with most of their light directed downward/rightward. Within Europe, when driving a vehicle with RH-traffic headlamps in a LH-traffic country or vice versa for a limited time (as for example on holiday or in transit), it is a legal requirement to adjust the headlamps temporarily so that the wrong-side hot spot of the beam does not dazzle oncoming drivers. This may be achieved by adhering blackout strips or plastic prismatic lenses to a designated part of the lens, but some varieties of the projector-type headlamp can be made to produce a proper LH- or RH-traffic beam by shifting a lever or other movable element in or on the lamp assembly.

Because blackout strips and adhesive prismatic lenses reduce the safety performance of the headlamps, most countries require all vehicles registered or used on a permanent or semi-permanent basis within the country to be equipped with headlamps designed for the correct traffic-handedness. In the UK, US government and military personnel who brought RHT/LHD cars with them used to 'trade' headlamp assemblies with a person returning to the US. The newcomer then had proper LHT lights and the US-bound returnee had proper RHT ones again. As most 50s-80s headlamps were interchangeable, this 'swap' could save motorists time and money.

Anecdotal reporters have observed the requirement to adjust headlamps for the traffic-handedness of the country is increasingly flouted, and is now rarely enforced by European police forces. In France, this may be due in part to the 1993 deletion of the previous requirement for selective yellow headlamp light; foreign-registered vehicles are now much less conspicuous at night.

Without sidecars attached, motorcycles, motor scooters, mopeds, and bicycles are almost symmetric with their handlebars in the centre. However, motorcycles are often equipped with automotive-type asymmetrical-beam headlamps that likewise require adjustments or replacement when brought into a country with opposite traffic-handedness.

Rear fog lamps

Within the EU, vehicles must be equipped with one or two red rear fog lamps. A single rear fog lamp may be located on the vehicle centreline, or on the driver's side of the vehicle. It may not be located on the passenger's side of the vehicle. This sometimes requires the purchase and installation of local-market lighting components.


Comparison of continental door (left) against standard emergency exit door (right) on Plaxton Paramount coaches.
Comparison of continental door (left) against standard emergency exit door (right) on Plaxton Paramount coaches.

Buses typically have passenger doors only on the kerb side, which severely restricts their ability to operate effectively on the opposite side of the road to that for which they were designed. Increasingly, touring coaches, which are likely to cross frontiers of traffic-handedness during their duties, are fitted with a door on the opposite side from the kerb, to simplify access and egress in the foreign country. In Britain this is known as a "continental door", since its usefulness will be in continental Europe. It doubles as an emergency exit, but is much more user-friendly than an exit designed solely for emergency use.

It is usually fairly straightforward to retrofit a non-kerb-side door on buses with relatively low floor height, for example the many traditional British double-deckers sold on for tourist use in the USA and Canada.

Postal vehicles

Post Office cars & vans in different countries such as the United States, Finland and Sweden have the steering wheel on the opposite side to normal vehicles. This is so the driver can easily drive up next to mailboxes or get out straight onto the pavement without having to walk around their vehicle, or put mail in boxes without getting out of their vehicle at all. In the US, rural mail carriers must provide their own vehicles and have a limited selection of RHD vehicles that they can choose to buy or lease. Some utility service vehicles are also RHD to allow dismounting at the kerb and some newspaper carriers use RHD vehicles to deliver papers to kerbside boxes rather than drive along routes on the wrong side.


Trains often do not operate on the same side of the road as cars do. In France, for instance, the first train lines were built by British engineers, so kept to the left - which is the opposite for cars. The Paris RER trains keep left, but have to operate on separate tracks within the Paris Metro area which was designed to run on the right. Another anomaly occurs in the Alsace- Moselle region, where trains keep to the right because the lines were built in the late 19th century when Alsace-Moselle had been part of Germany. Bridges at the former border allow the trains to swap sides.

Moreover the exceptions of left or right hand driving are much more common for trains than for cars. Initially, most steam engines were RHD, with the driver (engineer) sitting on the right, and the fireman (conductor) sitting on the left. This was customary in the UK and it spread to the USA and elsewhere in the world. RHD was never converted to LHD even if the trains switched to right-hand running. RHD remains the customary way for operating trains, with the driver on the right and assistant, sitting on the left side of the cab. Ironically, some railways, particularly, the London Underground, switched to LHD with left-hand running. Left Hand Drive with left hand running also became common on UK mainline railways, with the Great Western being the only of the "big four" to keep the driver on the right.

In countries with trains keeping to the right it is often said that RHD is safer, as it is possible that something from a train passing on the left track (like opened cargo doors) may hit the train. In such case driver on the right is safer than if he were sitting to the left. Also, since signs and signals are usually placed on the outside of double track formations (e.g left hand side for left hand running or right hand side for right hand running), having the driver on the side as well makes it easier for them to see signs and signals, and also to view back along the platform either directly or using mirrors, particularly useful with one person operated trains. Finally, if 'train orders' or 'tokens' (permission to continue beyond a station or other control point) are handed-up or grabbed by the engine driver while rolling past, being on the 'outside' is mandatory to receive these 'orders/tokens'...

Unlike on the road, it is possible for trains to safely run on the wrong side so long as bi-directional signalling is installed. This is normally only done in limited circumstances, since junctions and other infrastructure is usually optimised for running in one direction.

Train entering the Channel Tunnel from France
Train entering the Channel Tunnel from France

Countries with trains generally keeping to the right (incomplete list)

  • Spain (except in the north)
  • Canada
  • Bulgaria
  • Czech Republic
  • Croatia
  • Denmark
  • Finland
  • Germany
  • Hungary
  • Indonesia
  • Latvia
  • Mexico
  • Netherlands
  • Norway
  • Philippines
  • Poland
  • Romania
  • Russia (except between Moscow and Ryazan)
  • Taiwan
  • USA (except for trains operating on the former Chicago & North Western right-of-way)

Countries with trains generally keeping to the left (incomplete list):

  • Argentina
  • Australia
  • Belgium
  • Brazil
  • China
  • Chile
  • France (except: trains in Alsace and the Moselle part of the Lorraine region; all metros except Paris and Lyon)
  • Hong Kong (except MTR Ma On Shan Line)
  • India
  • Ireland
  • Israel
  • Italy
  • Japan
  • Malaysia
  • Myanmar
  • New Zealand
  • Pakistan
  • Portugal
  • Singapore
  • Slovenia
  • South Africa
  • Spain
  • Sri Lanka
  • Sweden
  • Switzerland
  • Taiwan
  • UK

Trams (Streetcars)

Tram and streetcar systems generally follow the same rules as normal road traffic in the country concerned, both on road and on reserved sections. Various exceptions existed or have existed, examples including the now-removed system in London and the current system in Blackpool where some sections of tramway had or have both tracks on the same side of the road with no physical separation from road traffic.

The driver is usually positioned towards the centre of the vehicle, although some one person operated trams have been developed where the driver sits towards the centre of the road (e.g on the left hand running Blackpool system, the driver is on the right) with the passenger doors on the kerb side.


Generally all water traffic keeps to the right. This is historically because, prior to the use of a rudder, the boat was steered by a tiller, which was located on the right-hand side of the boat, because the helmsman, standing in the middle of the boat and looking ahead, used his right hand to operate it. By keeping to the right, boats pass port-to-port, protecting the steering oar. Traditionally, boats would also moor with the left hand side to the quay to prevent damage to the steering oar, and this was referred to as larboard (loading side), later replaced by port to prevent confusion from the similar sounding words. When modern style rudders fixed to the stern were developed, the helmsman was moved amidships (on the centreline), and when wheels replaced tillers this generally remained the same. Some boats, typically smaller pleasure craft and wooden 'speedboats' have the wheel on the left hand side, to give a better view of approaching and passing traffic.

However, there are many exceptions, often indicated on the particular bridge itself.


As well as the side of the road, priority rules also differ between countries. In the United Kingdom, priority is always indicated by signs or road markings, in that almost every junction not governed by traffic lights or a roundabout has a concept of a major road and minor road. In most of Continental Europe, the default priority is to give way to the right, but this default is overridden by signs or road markings on all but very minor roads. In many residential areas in Germany and Luxembourg now you have to give way to the right in an effort to slow down traffic. In France, until the 1980s, the "priorité à droite" (give way to the right) rule was employed at most roundabouts, in that traffic already on the roundabout had to give way to traffic entering the roundabout. At a roundabout, "priorité à droite" works this way: traffic already on the roundabout gives way to traffic entering the roundabout. Most French roundabouts now have give-way signs for traffic entering the roundabout. One exception is the Place de l'Étoile in Paris (the location of the Arc de Triomphe). Traffic on this particular roundabout is so chaotic that French insurance companies deem any accident on the roundabout to be equal liability. British, and Irish drivers, who are accustomed to having right of way by default unless they are specifically told to give way, are often more confused by the default give-way-to-the-right rule used on minor roads in nearby Continental Europe than they are by switching sides of the road.


When driving on the left:

  • Overtaking (passing) is on the right if permitted
  • The lane designated for normal driving and turning left is on the left
  • Most highway exits are on the left
  • Overtaking is in some circumstances permitted on the left. In the UK overtaking on the left (colloquially known as 'undertaking') is not usually permitted, except in certain circumstances, such as when the vehicle being passed is indicating to make a right turn, in a queue of slow-moving traffic, or on a one-way street where all lanes are travelling in one direction. Directives generally require all traffic to keep left unless overtaking.
  • Turn-to-left after stop is sometimes allowed at stop signs/lights.

When driving on the right:

  • Overtaking (passing) is on the left if permitted
  • The lane designated for normal driving and turning right is on the right
  • Most highway exits are on the right
  • Overtaking is in some circumstances permitted on the right.
  • Traffic is required to keep right
  • Right turn (in some places after stopping the vehicle) is allowed at intersections
  • In most European right-hand drive countries, the lack of turn arrow markings on the pavement implies that the left lane is used by left-turning traffic, the right lane by traffic going straight and turning right and all others lanes for going straight. Such rules in USA vary between the states
  • The driver should give way to the incoming vehicle on the right

Specific jurisdictions


Afghanistan drives on the right. Most vehicles in much of the country, however, are RHD cars imported from neighbouring Pakistan (with the exception of Herat and other western provinces). In the capital Kabul, most drivers have adapted to this problem, leaning over the passenger seat (on the car's left side) before making a left turn or before the dangerous practice of overtaking other vehicles by veering into the left (oncoming traffic) lane. The country also has a large volume of military vehicle traffic from the U.S., Canada and EU militaries, much of which is LHD.


Australia drives on the left. For many decades all Australian states and territories used the "give way to the right" rule, requiring vehicles, even on major, multi-lane roads, to give way to another vehicle entering (however abruptly) from a side road and turning right onto the major road. As traffic densities and speeds increased, the collision rate became too great and the rule was changed in the late 1980s, with turning movements made much safer by various combinations of line marking, signposting and the introduction of the "T rule". However, the old rule can still apply in cases such as failed traffic lights on crossroads or unmarked rural junctions.


The Austro-Hungarian Empire drove on the left. Successive countries switched to the right separately. Austria did it in stages, beginning from the west:

  • Vorarlberg: 1919,
  • Tirol and western half of Salzburg: 1930,
  • Carinthia and East Tirol: 1935,
  • Upper Austria, Styria, eastern half of Salzburg: June 1, 1938,
  • Lower Austria: September 19, 1938.

Poland's Galicia switched to the right around 1924. Czechoslovakia planned to start driving on the right on May 1, 1939, but the change in Bohemia and Moravia was prompted by the German occupation forces (Bohemia: March 26, 1939). Hungary also acted later than planned: the government decided about the change in June 1939 but postponed it and finally introduced it at 3am on 6 July 1941 outside Budapest and at 3am on 9 November 1941 in Budapest.

Burma (Myanmar)

As a former British colony, cars in Burma (Myanmar) drove on the left side until 1970, when the military administration of Ne Win decreed that traffic would drive on the right side of the road. It is alleged that this was because Ne Win had been advised by his soothsayer, who had said "move to the right". In spite of the change, most passenger vehicles in the country today are RHD, being second-hand vehicles imported from Japan, Thailand, and Singapore. Buses imported from Japan that were never converted from RHD to LHD, have doors on the right side in offset position, unlike their counterparts in the Philippines. However, government limousines, imported from the People's Republic of China, are LHD. Virtually all vehicles are driven with a passenger in place to watch the oncoming traffic and inform the driver as to whether it is safe to overtake or not, as the driver cannot see this from his RHD position.


Until the 1920s, the rule of the road in Canada varied from province to province, with British Columbia, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island having cars driving on the left, and the other provinces and territories having motorists driving on the right. Starting with the interior of British Columbia on 15 July 1920 and ending with Prince Edward Island on 1 May 1924, these provinces changed to driving on the right. Newfoundland was not part of Canada until 1949, and its motorists drove on the left until 2 January 1947. Some RHD vehicles can be found, particularly smaller Canada Post service trucks. These have extra mirrors to increase driver visibility. A few other vehicles, such as some garbage trucks may have dual LHD and RHD. The advantage of such arrangements is that the driver can hop in and out of the vehicle easily. RHD vehicles are allowed for import in Canada, providing that they were manufactured over 15 years ago. One of the very few places in Canada where traffic drives on the left is in Montreal on Autoroute 20 for the 3 kilometers (2 mi) between its junctions with Route 138 and Autoroute 15. The two roadways remain separated for this entire distance and the changing of sides does not interfere in any way with the flow of traffic.


The English-speaking Caribbean typically follows the keep-to-the-left rule and as a result, most cars have a RHD configuration. Examples of this may be noted in such countries as Barbados, Jamaica and Trinidad & Tobago. In certain islands such as the British Virgin Islands, U.S. Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, the Bahamas, as well as Turks and Caicos Islands, most passenger cars are LHD, being imported from the United States or Brazil. Only some government cars and those imported from RHD countries (Japan and the United Kingdom among others)are RHD. The U.S. Virgin Islands are particularly known for having a high accident rate caused by American tourists from the mainland who are unfamiliar with driving on the left in their rental cars.

China (mainland)

Until 1946, driving in mainland China was mixed, with cars in the northern provinces driving on the right (probably to concur with Russian practice, which was "keep right" from 1920), and cars in the southern provinces such as Guangdong driving on the left, probably a result of their proximity to the British crown colony of Hong Kong and the Portuguese exclave of Macau.

After 1946, China followed the United States, by changing to driving on the right, due to political reasons that the United States helped China to fight against Japanese occupation during World War II and American cars (mostly LHD) were already popular in the mainland.

During the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), Red Guards in some cities considered that to drive on the right side of road was to take the "rightist's route/policy", and they were said to have ordered vehicles to drive on the left side. Some also attempted to reverse the traditional meaning of traffic signals by having the red light mean "go" and the green light "stop". These two changes caused a great deal of confusion and resistance so both were abolished within several months.

There is still a great deal of confusion among drivers when they travel between the Special Administrative Regions of Hong Kong and Macau, and the rest of China. Hong Kong and Macau continue to drive on the left, while the rest of China drives on the right. It can be very disorienting, since the traffic is on opposite sides of the road, and the internal vehicle configurations are reversed as well.


Croatia was part of the Austro Hungarian Empire at the beginning of the century, and after the collapse of the empire, it started driving on the right. Sometimes, on parking garage entrances of the left side of a one-way street the lanes on the entrance are reversed to provide for unrestricted flow of traffic between the garage and the street. One such example is the Importanne Gallery parking garage. This was done so the traffic lanes in the one way street from which one enters the garage would not cross.


A former British colony, Cyprus drives on the left, and cars sold locally are right hand drive, including those used by the British forces in the Sovereign Base Areas of Akrotiri and Dhekelia. However, owing to its political and economic isolation, many vehicles in the self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus are left hand drive, being imported from Turkey. An increasing number of right hand drive grey import vehicles from Japan are now sold in both parts of the island.


Although the British overseas territory of Gibraltar changed to driving on the right on 16 June 1929, in order to avoid accidents involving vehicles from Spain, some public buses until recently were RHD, with a special door allowing passengers to enter on the right hand side. However, most passenger cars are LHD, as in Spain, with the exception of second-hand cars brought in from the UK and Japan and some vehicles used by the British forces.

Guyana and Suriname

Guyana and Suriname are the only two remaining countries in the mainland Americas that still drive on the left. As a result of the construction of the Pan-American Highway, four mainland American countries switched to driving on the right between 1943 and 1961, the last of which was Belize. Both Guyana and Suriname are separated from their neighbours by large rivers, over which no road bridges have yet been built. The inland south of both countries is sparsely populated with very few roads and hence no border crossings.

However, in the south west of Guyana near Lethem, work is under way to build the Takutu River Bridge across the Takutu River into neighbouring Brazil, which drives on the right. Unlike road bridges between other countries that drive on opposite sides of the road, the changeover system will be in the country that drives on the left, i.e. Guyana, where one lane will pass under the other on the bridge's access road. Despite stalling construction in recent years, Brazil is keen to open the bridge, as it will give Brazil access to Caribbean sea ports on the north coast of South America. Brazil intends to permit Guyana registered (RHD) vehicles to go no further than the Brazilian border town of Bonfim. It is expected that Brazilian (LHD) vehicles will be able to drive all the way through Guyana to the coast. The bridge is expected to be completed by the middle of 2007. Once opened, the Takutu Bridge will be the Americas' only border crossing where traffic changes sides of the road.

In Suriname most of the privately owned buses are imported from Japan, since the exits are designed for driving on the left. Most state-owned buses, however, are from the US (LHD) and often the placement of the exits has to be adjusted.

Hong Kong and Macau

Being a former British colony, Hong Kong follows the United Kingdom in driving on the left. Macau, a former Portuguese exclave, follows Hong Kong in driving on the left because most of the RHD cars in Macau are imported through Hong Kong. Macau did not follow either Mainland China in 1946 or Portugal in 1928 in switching to driving on the right.

Under the auspices of the one country, two systems arrangement, traffic continues to move on the left in Hong Kong and Macau, now Special Administrative Regions of the People's Republic of China, unlike in the mainland. Most vehicles are RHD and even suppliers for the People's Liberation Army have specially made RHD version vehicles for the garrison to drive in Hong Kong and Macau. LHD exceptions include some buses providing services to and from the mainland. Vehicles registered in Hong Kong and Macau are required to have a special number plate issued by the authorities in Guangdong province to drive legally on the mainland.

There are three road border crossing points between mainland China and Hong Kong. The largest and busiest is Lok Ma Chau ( aerial map), which features two separate changeover systems on the mainland side. The next largest is Man Kam To, where there is no changeover system and the border roads on the mainland side simply intersect as one-way streets with a main road. There are two border crossing points between mainland China and Macau. The newer crossing point is the Lotus Bridge, which crosses a narrow channel of sea between the mainland and Macau, and was opened at the end of 1999 ( aerial map). The Lotus Bridge was designed to cater for high traffic volumes and features three lanes in each direction as well as a full changeover system on the mainland side, comprising bridges that loop around each other by 360° to swap the direction of the traffic. At the older Macau crossing point, there is no changeover system and the border roads continue with traffic on the left on the mainland side, and simply intersect on to a roundabout. All of these Chinese changeover systems can be viewed in high resolution using Google Earth.


Iceland switched traffic from left to right at 06:00 on Sunday May 26, 1968. The only injury from the changeover was a boy on a bicycle who broke his leg. Numerous buses were also stuck in traffic jams.


Like most of the former colonies of the British Empire, India has left-hand traffic. This is the Mumbai-Pune Expressway.
Like most of the former colonies of the British Empire, India has left-hand traffic. This is the Mumbai-Pune Expressway.

India continued the colonial practice of driving on the left hand side of the road after independence. Now all vehicles are RHD with the government banning all new LHD vehicles in the country except under special circumstances, such as cars imported duty free by foreign embassies. Such vehicles are often left hand drive so that they cannot be registered in India, and are subsequently resold undercutting the nascent luxury car industry which is subject to high duty levels.


Indonesia, the world's fourth most populous country, drives on the left, despite being a former colony of the Netherlands, which drives on the right. It may have changed to driving on the left during British occupation between 1811 and 1816. Even though the country is an archipelago there are three land borders, those with Malaysia, East Timor and Papua New Guinea. All of these countries also drive on the left, Malaysia as a legacy of British rule, East Timor as a result of previous Indonesian occupation and Papua New Guinea as a result of Australian rule following World War I until 1975. However, until the late 1960s and early 1970s, cars imported from the US were left hand drive. However, Indonesian railways, when double tracked, are left hand drive.


The Republic of Ireland is the next largest European state after the UK to drive on the left. Given that the Republic of Ireland shares a land border with the United Kingdom (Northern Ireland) this is very unlikely to change in future. Visitors to Ireland are very likely to encounter a warning sign near Irish air and sea ports, reminding them to drive on the left.


Which side of the road the Romans drove on is disputed. Archaeological evidence in Britain seems to indicate driving on the left and old Roman roads in Turkey suggest Romans used the right hand side of the road. In Italy the practice of traffic driving on the right first began in the late 1890s, but it was not until the mid 1920s that it became standard throughout the country. There was a long period when traffic in the countryside drove on the right while major cities continued to drive on the left. Rome, for example, did not change from left to right until 20 October 1924. Milan was the last Italian town to change to driving on the right ( August 3, 1926). Cars had remained right-hand drive (RHD) until this time. Lancia did not produce LHD cars until as late as the early 1960s, and only stopped making RHD cars altogether in 1994. Lancia is expected to start manufacturing RHD cars again in 2008.


Japan is one of the few countries outside the Commonwealth of Nations to drive on the left. An informal practice of left-hand passage dates at least to the Edo period, when samurai are said to have passed each other to the left in order to avoid knocking swords with each other (as swords were always worn to the left side). During the late 1800s, Japan built its first railways with British technical assistance, and double-tracked railways adopted the British practice of running on the left. However, army troops were ordered to keep to the right while travelling on roads, creating a double standard that was not legally resolved until 1924, when all road travel in Japan switched to the left.

After the defeat of Japan during World War II, Okinawa was under control of the United States and made to drive on the right. Okinawa changed back to driving on the left when it was returned to Japan. The change took place at 06:00 on 30 July 1978. It is one of very few places to have changed from right to left hand traffic in the late twentieth century.

In Japan, foreign cars sold locally have traditionally been LHD, which is regarded as exotic or a status symbol. This even applies to British brands (although cars for the British market have the steering wheel on the right), in part because many have been imported via the U.S., but many other European countries have made RHD models for the Japanese market. Many tollbooths in Japan have a special lane for LHD vehicles. However, some U.S. manufacturers have made RHD models for the Japanese market (e.g., the Ford Taurus, Saturn S-Series and Chevrolet Cavalier), albeit with limited success.


Malta was a British colony from 1800 to 1964 and continues to drive on the left hand side of the road. As a standard on new imported cars, local vehicles are right hand drive. Since Malta is now a EU member it is now common to find left hand drive vehicles also (tourists overland or else second hand imports from other EU countries with left hand steering).

New Zealand

Even though New Zealand drives on the left, the country has an unusual variation to the priority rules at intersections. The most notable is that drivers turning left at an intersection have to not only give way to traffic travelling straight through into the road they wish to take, but they must also give way to traffic wishing to turn right into the road they wish to take. This rule also used to apply in the Australian state of Victoria until the early 1990s.


Pakistan continued the British practice of driving on the left hand side of the road after its independence in 1947. Pakistan is the westernmost country in Asia to drive on the left, and it borders Afghanistan, Iran and China, all of which drive on the right. The Khyber Pass border crossing with Afghanistan is one of the most well known places where traffic changes sides of the road.

Russian Federation

Driving on the right was introduced in Russia by the decree of Empress Elisaveta Petrovna on February 5, 1752. (in Russian)

Although Russia drives on the right, cheaper grey import cars from Japan are more popular than LHD cars of the same class. Russia is estimated to have more than 1.5 million RHD vehicles on its roads. In the far eastern regions, such as Vladivostok or Khabarovsk, RHD vehicles make up to 90% of the total. This includes not only private cars, but also police cars, ambulances, and many other municipal and governmental vehicles.

During spring 2005, the rumour that RHD vehicles would be completely banned from the roads drove thousands of protesters to the streets everywhere in the country. On 4 July 2005 Russian minister of industry and energy Viktor Khristenko announced that RHD vehicles would be allowed on the roads but would have to conform to all Russian traffic safety requirements.


Samoa, a German colony until occupied by New Zealand at the start of World War I, currently drives on the right-hand side of the road. In September 2007, the Samoan government announced plans to switch over to driving on the left-hand side of the road with RHD vehicles. The change is planned to come into effect in October 2008. The purpose of the change is to allow Samoans to use cheaper RHD vehicles sourced from Australia and New Zealand, and so that the large number of Samoans living in these two countries can drive on the side of the road that they're familiar with when they visit home. If the change goes ahead, Samoa will become the first territory to change the side of the road for driving in 30 years. The leader of the current Government, Prime Minister Hon. Tuilaepa Sailele Malie Legaoi leader of the Human Rights Protection Party (HRPP) has come under scrutiny from Samoa's private sector saying that this amendment will set back small to medium enterprises whose main business falls into the vehicle industry.

South Korea

In South Korea the cars travel on the right hand side of the road, but people walk on the left hand side of the walkway. There are signs everywhere in the country reminding pedestrians that they must walk on the left. This custom was impressed on the South Koreans by the Japanese before WWII. Recently many people have expressed an interest in switching to the right side for walking. There are even some crosswalks that are set up for right hand pedestrian traffic.


Stockholm on Dagen H
Stockholm on Dagen H

Sweden had left-hand traffic (Vänstertrafik in Swedish) from approximately 1734, when it changed back from a short period of right-hand traffic starting in 1718. Finland, under Swedish rule until 1809, also drove on the left, and continued to do so as a Russian Grand Duchy until 1858.

This continued well into the 20th century, despite the fact that virtually all the cars on the road in Sweden were LHD. (One argument for this was that it was necessary to keep an eye on the edge of the road, something that was important on the narrow roads in use at the time). Also, Sweden's neighbours, Norway and Finland already drove on the right, leading to confusion at border crossings.

In 1955 a referendum was held on the issue, resulting in an 82.9%-to-15.5% vote against a change to driving on the right. Nevertheless, in 1963 the Swedish parliament passed legislation ordering the switch to right-hand traffic. The changeover took place at 5am on Sunday, September 3, 1967, which was known in Swedish as Dagen H (H-Day), the 'H' being for Högertrafik or right-hand traffic.

Since Swedish cars were LHD, experts had suggested that changing to driving on the right would be safer, because drivers would have a better view of the road ahead. Indeed, fatal car-to-car and car-to-pedestrian accidents dropped sharply as a result, mostly because people initially drove more slowly and more carefully. However, the accident rate rose back to its original position within two years. There are still a number of places in Sweden where left-hand traffic remains for reasons of economy, and naturally all of these have partitions between lanes.

United Kingdom

One of many road signs in the English county of Kent placed on the right hand side of the road
One of many road signs in the English county of Kent placed on the right hand side of the road
  • Vehicles within United States visiting forces bases in the United Kingdom drive on the left, even though the United States does not provide specific right-hand drive vehicles for its green fleet. However, its white fleet does have right-hand drive vehicles. This is unlike British practice in Germany, where even UK green fleet vehicles for British Forces Germany have been left-hand drive. Traditionally, LHD vehicles registered in the UK have 'LHD' warning labels on them to warn following motorists of this fact.
  • On some British Army training locations, where the army once trained for conflict in Eastern Europe during the Cold War, traffic is meant to travel on the right. Most military bases in the UK though have the normal rule of driving on the left.
  • There are several locations in the UK where traffic passes other traffic coming in the opposite direction on the left hand side, but most locations are separated by a barrier (such as on the south side of Portman Square in London). In Savoy Court outside the Savoy Hotel, among other places, however, there is no barrier.
  • As a result of European Union legislation ensuring the free movement of goods, many British consumers exercise their right to buy RHD cars from car dealers in any other EU country, where they are often cheaper, despite originating from the same factories as UK-sourced cars. Models obtained from other EU countries often have a lower value upon resale due to shorter warranty periods and dealers protecting local interests.
  • During the Lockerbie bomb trial of 2000-02, Camp Zeist in the Netherlands was decreed to be British territory subject to Scottish law. However, Dumfries and Galloway Police, who were responsible for policing traffic movements within the compound, effected a clause which required drivers to comply with the Continental European practice of driving on the right.
  • Although the United Kingdom is separated from Continental Europe by the English Channel, the level of cross-Channel traffic is higher than any other place in the world where road traffic changes sides of the road; the Channel Tunnel alone carries 3.5 million vehicles per year between the UK and France. Most vehicles crossing the English Channel, whether via the Channel Tunnel or on ferries, are UK-registered RHD vehicles. Relatively few drivers from Continental Europe take their LHD cars to the UK, but large numbers of British drivers take their RHD cars to Continental Europe for holidays and even for one-day shopping trips. It was reported in 2000 that Eurotunnel wished to build a second Channel Tunnel because the existing rail services are expected to outgrow their capacity by 2025. Unlike the existing rail tunnels, a drive-through road tunnel was planned, comprising a single bore tunnel containing one carriageway on top of the other. Each carriageway would have at least two lanes in each direction and it is likely that the rule of the road would change upon passing through immigration entry controls. When using the existing Channel Tunnel, one passes through immigration entry controls of the destination country before entering the tunnel. This principle would no doubt also be used for a road tunnel, particularly to prevent any queuing of vehicles back into the tunnel. This being the case, vehicles travelling to France would keep to the right and vehicles travelling to the UK would keep to the left. Therefore when exiting the tunnel, drivers would continue directly on to the road network in the destination country without stopping. The current status of this project is unclear.

United States

As British colonies, the original thirteen states drove on the left-hand side. The switch to driving on the right started following independence by the U.S., influenced by a number of factors, including wishes to cast off links to the colonial past.

The first keep-right law in the United States, passed in 1792, applied to the Philadelphia and Lancaster Turnpike, between Lancaster and Philadelphia. New York (in 1804) and New Jersey (in 1813) also enacted keep-right rules.

Early American motor vehicles were produced in RHD, following the practice established by horse-drawn buggies. This changed in the early years of the 20th century: Ford changed to LHD production in 1908, and Cadillac in 1916.

Many imported RHD cars are also found on the road in the United States, especially classic cars or other collectors' items.

Today, U.S. motor vehicles are always LHD (except some postal service vehicles, garbage trucks, many parking enforcement vehicles and other uncommon specialty vehicles), and motorists nearly always drive on the right and overtake (pass) on the left.

American rules of the road sometimes permit overtaking on the right side (multi- lane highways, one-way streets, or when overtaking (passing) other vehicles preparing to turn left). The laws vary from state to state.

The only U.S. territory where driving still is on the left (as of 2007) is the United States Virgin Islands, to remain compatible with the nearby British Virgin Islands.

Places where traffic keeps to the right

Note: Italics indicates year of change to driving on the right.

American Samoa
Angola (1928)
Argentina (1945)
Austria (1935-38)
Bahrain (1967)
Belize (1961)
Bosnia and Herzegovina
British Indian Ocean Territory
Burkina Faso
Cameroon (1961)
Cape Verde (1928)
Central African Republic
China, mainland (1946)
Congo (Brazzaville)
Congo (Kinsasha)
Costa Rica
Côte d'Ivoire
Czech Republic (1939, details)
Denmark 1793*

Dominican Republic
El Salvador
Equatorial Guinea
Eritrea (1964)
Ethiopia (1964)
Faroe Islands
Finland (1858)
France (1789)
French Guiana
French Polynesia Gabon
Gambia (1965)
Ghana (1974)
Gibraltar (1929)
Guinea-Bissau (1928)
Hungary (1941)
Iceland (1968)
Korea DPR
Korea (1946)

Marshall Islands
Midway Atoll
Myanmar (1970)
Netherlands Antilles
New Caledonia
Nicaragua Niger
Nigeria (1972)
Northern Mariana Is.
Panama (1943)
Paraguay (1945)
Philippines (1946)
Portugal (1928)
Puerto Rico

Russian Federation
Saint Pierre and Miquelon
Samoa (1960s)
San Marino
São Tomé and Príncipe (1928)
Saudi Arabia
Sierra Leone (1971)
Slovakia (1939-41, details)
Somalia (1968)
Spain (Oct 1924)
Sudan (1973)
Sweden (1967, details)
Taiwan (1946)
United Arab Emirates
United States (1792)
Uruguay (1945)
Vatican City
Wake Island
Wallis and Futuna
Western Sahara

*1758 in Copenhagen, 1793 in the rest of Denmark

Total: 164 countries

Places where traffic keeps to the left

Note: Italics indicates year of change to driving on the left.

Antigua and Barbuda
Cayman Islands
Christmas Island
Cocos (Keeling) Islands
Cook Islands
East Timor (drove on right 1928-1976)
Falkland Islands
Hong Kong - unlike mainland China

Isle of Man
Japan ( Okinawa 1972)
Macau - unlike mainland China
Namibia (1918)
Nauru (1918)
New Zealand
Norfolk Island
Papua New Guinea

Pitcairn Islands
Saint Helena
Saint Kitts and Nevis
Saint Lucia
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
Solomon Islands
South Africa
Sri Lanka
Trinidad and Tobago
Turks and Caicos Islands
United Kingdom
British Virgin Islands
U.S. Virgin Islands - unlike rest of U.S.

* Until late 1960s, imported vehicles from USA were fitted with left-hand drive layout

Total: 75 countries

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