Driving on the left or right

2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Road transport

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

Keeping to either the left or the right prevents vehicles moving in opposite directions from colliding with each other. This is so fundamental that it is sometimes known simply as the rule of the road. About 34% of the world by population drives on the left, and 66% keeps right. By roadway distances, about 28% drive on the left, and 72% on the right.

In more sophisticated systems such as large cities, this concept is further extended: some streets are marked as being one-way, and on those streets all traffic must flow in only one direction. A driver wishing to reach a destination already passed must use other streets in order to return.


 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

Archaeologists have unearthed a clue about ancient driving habits. In 1998 they found a well-preserved track leading to a Roman quarry near Swindon, England. The ruts in the road on one side are much deeper than those on the other side, as would be the case with carts going in empty and coming out laden with stone. The ruts suggest that, at least at this location, the Romans drove on the left.

In fact, some believe that ancient travelers 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 hand and keep their right hand free—to offer in friendship to a passing rider or to defend themselves with a sword, if necessary.

In the late 1700’s, 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 pass 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 English, 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 passing 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, eventually changed to the right in order to make border crossings to and from the United States easier.

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.

Political events in France had a big effect on driving habits. Before the Revolution of 1789, the aristocracy drove their carriages along the left side of the roads, forcing the peasants to the other side. But once the Revolution started, these nobles desperately tried to hide their identity by joining the peasant travelers on the right. By 1794 the French government had introduced a keep-right rule in Paris, which later spread to other regions as the conquering armies of Napoléon I marched through much of continental Europe. It is not surprising that Napoléon favored keeping to the right. One reference work explains that because he was left-handed, “his armies had to march on the right so he could keep his sword arm between him and any opponent.”

In Europe, countries that resisted Napoléon kept to the left. Russia and 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 1930’s, and Hungary followed suit. Today just four European countries still drive on the left: Britain, Ireland, Cyprus, and Malta. Interestingly, although Japan never was a British colony, it too drives on the left.

Driving on the right

  • Oncoming traffic is seen coming from the left;
  • The driving seat is usually on the left side of the vehicle, hence the designation left hand drive (LHD);
  • 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.

Driving on the left

  • Oncoming traffic when driving on the left is seen on the right side.
  • The driving seat is usually on the right side of the vehicle, hence the designation right hand drive (RHD);
  • 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.

Changing sides at borders

Change of traffic directions at the Laos-Thai border
Change of traffic directions at the Laos-Thai border

There are still 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% (4357km or 2707 miles) of its borders are with countries that drive on the right, with only Malaysia driving on the left since Myanmar (formerly 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 - photo
    • 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. However, 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 under U.S. and Soviet occupation.

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 '40s. 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 (although the Argentine government officially ordered the islanders to drive on the right, they often drove on the left to assert their defiance to occupation). 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 U.S. occupation; after the occupation ended, it changed back to driving on the left to match the rest of 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)

Article 9(1) of the United Nations Convention on Road Traffic done at Geneva in 1949 requires each country to have the same 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 with the same side of the road to drive on over each whole continent are:

  1. Australia with left-hand traffic
  2. Europe since Sweden changed from left-hand traffic in 1967
  3. North America, including Central America, since British Honduras changed from left-hand traffic in 1961

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


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 LHD vehicles (i.e. over 30 years old), 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. Both are also relatively flat and thinly populated, reducing the collision/overtaking base risk which is the declared rationale excluding their use in other states. 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 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, most of which were smuggled from Thailand, from 2001, even though these accounted for 80 per cent 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$2000, in a country where average annual income was less than US$1000.

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

North Korea, although it drives on the right, imported various used RHD vehicles from Japan, from tourist buses to Toyota Land Cruisers for its army and secret police, and cars for high rank party members.

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. It is also notable that embassy vehicles in Singapore are exempt from the RHD-only ruling, and that 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 older RHD vehicles 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.

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). If a LHD vehicle is registered in the United Kingdom, then its headlights must be permanently adjusted to dip to the left, which often involves the lenses being replaced.

Most headlights are manufactured so that when dipped, they are aimed slightly towards the kerb side. In this way, RHD vehicles' headlights dip to the left and LHD vehicles' headlights dip to the right. Within Europe, when driving a RHD vehicle in a country that drives on the right or a LHD vehicle in a country that drives on the left, it is a legal requirement to adjust headlights so that they do not shine towards oncoming vehicles when dipped. This may be achieved by fixing adhesive blackout strips to the part of the lens that deflects light to one side, but an increasing number of vehicles, particularly those with xenon headlights, can be more simply adjusted by a lever or switch on the back of the headlights, whenever switching sides of the road. However, the requirement to adjust headlights is respected by a decreasing number of drivers, and is now rarely enforced by European police forces. In France, this is probably because, since amber-tinted headlights were abolished in 1993, foreign-registered vehicles have been much less conspicuous at night.

Without sidecars attached, motorcycles, motor scooters, mopeds, and bicycles are almost symmetric with their handlebars in the centre. However, headlights may still require adjustments when brought between countries driving on different sides of the roads like cars.


Trains often do not operate on the same side of the road as cars do. In France for instance, trains drive on the left, with the exception of the Alsace region where they keep to the right because the lines were built in the late 19th century when Alsace had been part of Germany where trains also go on the right. Moreover the exceptions of left or right hand driving are much more common for trains than for cars. Initially, most steam engines had RHD, with the engineer sitting on the right, and the 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.

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.

As track management becomes increasingly computerized, and trains become increasingly automated, track-sidedness becomes meaningless. For example, on a triple track railway, trains in either direction might be going at full speed on any of the three tracks. This relies on frequently-placed track switches to avoid head-on collisions, but reduces the needed number of tracks. It also allows traffic that has a directional imbalance to be fully accommodated, rather than cramming many trains into half the tracks while the other half are empty.

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

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

  • Canada
  • Denmark
  • Finland
  • Germany
  • Hungary
  • Mexico
  • Netherlands
  • Norway
  • Poland
  • Romania
  • Russia (except between Moscow and Ryazan)
  • 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
  • Denmark
  • France (except the Alsace region)
  • Hong Kong
  • India
  • Ireland
  • Italy
  • Japan
  • Malaysia
  • Myanmar
  • Portugal
  • Singapore
  • Slovenia
  • South Africa
  • Spain
  • Sweden
  • Switzerland
  • Taiwan (except Taipei Rapid Transit System)
  • UK


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 'steer board' (cf. tiller), which was located on the right-hand side of the boat (hence " starboard"), 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 steer board.

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 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. Most French roundabouts now have give-way signs for traffic entering the roundabout, but there remain some notable exceptions that operate on the old rule, such as the Place de l'Étoile around 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 right:

  • The lane usually designated for overtaking (passing) and turning left is on the left
  • The lane designated for normal driving and turning right is on the right
  • Most freeway exits are on the right
  • Overtaking is sometimes permitted to the right.

When driving on the left:

  • The lane designated for overtaking (passing) and turning right is on the right
  • The lane designated for normal driving and turning left is on the left
  • Most freeway exits are on the left
  • Overtaking is sometimes permitted to the left. In the UK overtaking on the left (called 'undertaking') is not usually permitted, except in certain circumstances.

Places of interest


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 early 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.

This situation compares interestingly with the "give way to the right" rule in most countries of Continental Europe, where a vehicle turning left (onto another road usually of similar hierarchy) can completely stop all traffic in the lane to its left while giving way to traffic on its right and waiting, however long, for a gap to move into.


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.


In many Caribbean islands where traffic drives on the left, such as the British Virgin Islands, U.S. Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, the Bahamas and Turks and Caicos Islands, most passenger cars are LHD, being imported from the United States. Only government cars and those imported from Asia 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 - the confusion from which is obviously compounded by using a LHD vehicle.

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 enclave 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.


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 traffic in Finland has driven on the right-hand side since 1858, and the cars have the steering wheel on the left side, some cars, especially the cars of the Post Office ( Suomen Posti) have the steering wheel on the right side. It is worth noting that many Post Office cars & vans in different countries, including the United States have the steering wheel on the right hand side. This is so the vehicle can easily drive up next to the mailbox and distribute mail without the driver getting out of the vehicle.


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 underway 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 unusually 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 limit Guyana registered (RHD) vehicles to no further than the Brazilian border town of Bonfim, but it is expected that Brazilian (LHD) vehicles will be able to drive all the way through Guyana to the coast. 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 they are already made to conform to driving on the left. Most state-owned buses, however, are from the US 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 ( ), 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 ( ). 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 6am 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.


India continued the colonial practice of driving on the left hand side of the road after independence. Now all vehicles are RHD. Import of LHD vehicle is banned unless for R&D or diplomatic use.


Which side of the road the Romans drove on is disputed. Archeologic evidence in Britain seems to indicate driving on the left and old Roman roads in Turkey showed 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. Cars had remained right-hand drive (RHD) until this time. Lancia did not produce LHD cars until as late as the early 1960s, and 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 former British Empire 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 occupied by the United States and made to drive on the right side. 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 US. Many tollbooths in Japan have a special lane for LHD vehicles. However, some US manufacturers have made RHD models for the Japanese market (namely the Ford Taurus and Chevrolet Cavalier), though with limited success; and as continental European brands become more popular, the preference is increasingly for RHD models, many of which are re-exported to countries like New Zealand as grey imports, along with Japanese models.


Malta was a British colony from 1800 to 1964 and continues to drive on the left hand side of the road. Local vehicles are right hand drive, with many old British cars still on the road.

Myanmar (Burma)

As a former British colony, cars in Myanmar (formerly Burma) 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 cars in the country today are RHD, being second-hand vehicles imported from Japan, Thailand, and Singapore. 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.

New Zealand

Even though New Zealand drives on the left, drivers must give way to traffic coming from their right at intersections. Thus, the give way rules have more in common with those of countries that drive on the right than of other countries that drive on the left.


Pakistan is a nation driving on left side of the road. This is the continuation of the British India driving habits. After the independence, Pakistan decided to keep the British system intact.

Russian Federation

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.

Considering that RHD vehicles by far outnumber the LHD ones (better suited to the rules) on the Pacific side of Russia, drivers in those regions have made multiple proposals about switching the sides of the road. However, they were denied by Russian government. During spring 2005, the rumour that RHD vehicles would be completely banned from the roads drove thousands of protestors 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.


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.

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 UK drive on the left, even though the U.S. does not provide specific right-hand drive vehicles for their green fleet. But their 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.
  • 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. However, some manufacturers may charge a supplement for RHD models.
  • 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 subjected drivers to 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 a British colony, the original 13 States drove on the left-hand side. The switch to driving on the right started following independence, influenced by a number of factors, including gratitude for French help in the War of Independence, wishes to cast off links to the colonial past, the views of those Americans with roots in continental Europe, and specifically the influence of General Lafayette, the French liberal reformer.

The first keep-right law in the U.S., passed in 1792, applied to the Pennsylvania 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 U.S., 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 uncommon specialty vehicles), and motorists always drive on the right and overtake on the left.

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

The only U. S. territory where driving is on the left is the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Places where traffic keeps to the right

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

American Samoa (US)
Angola (1928)
Argentina (1945)
Aruba (Netherlands)
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 Rep.
El Salvador
Equatorial Guinea
Eritrea (1964)
Ethiopia (1964)
Faroe Islands
Finland (1858)
France (1789)
French Guiana
French Polynesia

Gambia (1965)
Ghana (1974)
Gibraltar (1929)
Guam (US)
Guinea-Bissau (1928)
Hungary (1941)
Iceland (1968)
Korea DPR
Korea (1946)
Marshall Islands
Martinique (France)
Mayotte (France)
Midway Atoll (US)
Myanmar (1970)
Netherlands Antilles
New Caledonia

Nigeria (1972)
Northern Mariana Is. (US)
Panama (1943)
Paraguay (1945)
Philippines (1946)
Portugal (1928)
Puerto Rico (US)
Réunion (France)
Russian Federation
Saint Pierre and Miquelon (France)
Samoa (mid-1940s?)
San Marino
São Tomé and Príncipe (1928)
Saudi Arabia
Sierra Leone (1971)
Slovakia (1939-41, details)
Somalia (1968)
Spain (Oct 1924)
Sudan (1973)
Svalbard (Norway)
Sweden (1967, details)
Syrian Arab Republic
Taiwan (1946)
United Arab Emirates
United States
Uruguay (1945)
Vatican City
Wake Island (US)
Wallis and Futuna (France)
Western Sahara

*1758 in Copenhagen, 1793 in rest of Denmark

Places where traffic keeps to the left

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

Alderney (UK)
Anguilla (UK)
Antigua and Barbuda
Bermuda (UK)
Cayman Islands (UK)
Christmas Island (Australia)
Cocos (Keeling) Islands (Australia)
Cook Islands (New Zealand)
East Timor (drove on right 1928-1976)
Falkland Islands (UK)
Guernsey (UK)
Hong Kong (unlike mainland China)

Isle of Man (UK)
Japan ( Okinawa 1978)
Jersey (UK)
Macau (unlike mainland China & Portugal)
Montserrat (UK)
Namibia (1918)
Nauru (1918)
New Zealand
Niue (New Zealand)
Norfolk Island (Australia)
Papua New Guinea

Pitcairn Islands (UK)
Saint Helena (UK)
Saint Kitts and Nevis
Saint Lucia
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
Solomon Islands
South Africa
Sri Lanka
Tokelau (New Zealand)
Trinidad and Tobago
Turks and Caicos Islands (UK)
United Kingdom
British Virgin Islands (UK)
US Virgin Islands (unlike rest of US)

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