International Driving
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Which side of the road do they drive on?

1. INTRODUCTION AND SUMMARY

The question of which side of the road people drive on in various countries arises from time to time. This fairly comprehensive list has been compiled by various people over the years; it was obtained around 1991 two gentlemen named Brian Lucas and Bernd Wechner, along with many other people have been updating it ever since. Mr. Lucas wrote this in Rec-Travel and could be very useful if you plan on traveling to a country which you may not know the driving customs and right-of -way. To quickly deal with the single most frequently asked question on this topic, you don't have to worry about what side to drive on in the Chunnel (the tunnel between England and France, under the English Channel), because you don't drive in the Chunnel. When you arrive at the terminal, you drive your car onto a train car, and the train takes you across.

I don't know much about the reasons for choosing one side of the road over another, and am looking for more information about the reasons for the original choice and the motivations for changing sides. In Europe and the Americas, it seems that left-hand driving was originally the general rule; this was legislated by papal decree in or about 1300. France changed to the right under Robespierre as a gesture of independence from the popes, and when Napoleon later conquered much of Europe, the conquered countries were made to change sides and they never went back. The United States of America drove on the left when they were British colonies, and gradually changed sides of the road beginning in 1792. Driving preferences of most countries which have been colonies of European countries can be traced back to their colonial masters -- for example, most former British colonies drive on the left, with the notable exception of the USA.

I have been told that the authoritative reference on this subject is a book called The Rule of the Road, by an author named Kincaid. The book is out of print but you may be able to find it in libraries. I have not read it myself yet, but I am trying to obtain a copy.

2. THE LIST

R

Drive on the right-hand side of the road (and mostly the driver sits on the left side of the car).

L

Drive on the left-hand side of the road (and mostly the driver sits on the right side of the car).

R, L

As above, but unconfirmed reports, unsure, or guesses.
?
Unknown to me so far.
0
Pretty much uninhabited or no convention established.

R Afghanistan
R Albania
R Algeria
R Andorra
R Angola
L Anguilla
L Antigua and Barbuda
R Argentina
R Armenia
L Australia
R Austria
R Azerbaijan
L Bahamas
R Bahrain
L Bangladesh
L Barbados
R Belarus
R Belgium
R Belize
R Benin
L Bermuda
L Bhutan
R Bolivia
R Bosnia and Herzegovina
L Botswana
R Brazil
L Brunei
R Bulgaria
R Burkina Faso
R Burma
R Burundi
R Cambodia
R Cameroon
R Canada
R Cape Verde
R Central African Republic
R Chad
R Chile
R China, People's Republic of (Mainland China)
R Colombia
R Comoros
R Congo
L Cook Islands
R Costa Rica
R Croatia
R Cuba
L Cyprus
R Czech Republic
R Denmark
R Djibouti
L Dominica
R Dominican Republic
R Ecuador
R Egypt
R El Salvador
R Equatorial Guinea
R Eritrea
R Estonia
R Ethiopia
L Fiji
R Finland
R France
R French Guiana
R French Polynesia
R Gabon
R Gambia, The
r Gaza Strip
R Georgia
R Germany
R Ghana
R Gibraltar
R Greece
L Grenada
R Guadeloupe
R Guam
R Guatemala
L Guernsey
R Guinea
R Guinea-Bissau
L Guyana
R Haiti
R Honduras
L Hong Kong
R Hungary
R Iceland
L India
L Indonesia
R Iran
R Iraq
L Ireland
R Israel
l Isle of Man
R Italy
R Ivory Coast
L Jamaica
L Japan
R Jordan
R Kazakhstan
L Kenya
l Kiribati
R Korea, Democratic People's Republic of (North Korea)
R Korea, Republic of (South Korea)
R Kuwait
R Kyrgyzstan
R Laos
R Latvia
R Lebanon
L Lesotho
R Liberia
R Libya
R Liechtenstein
R Lithuania
R Luxembourg
L Macau
R Macedonia
R Madagascar
L Malawi
L Malaysia
l Maldives
R Mali
L Malta
R Marshall Islands
R Martinique
R Mauritania
L Mauritius
R Mexico
R Micronesia, Federated States of
R Moldova
R Monaco
R Mongolia
R Morocco
L Mozambique
L Namibia
l Nauru
L Nepal
R Netherlands
R New Caledonia
L New Zealand
R Nicaragua
R Niger
R Nigeria
R Northern Mariana Islands (Saipan)
R Norway
R Oman
L Pakistan
R Panama
L Papua New Guinea
R Paraguay
R Peru
R Philippines
R Poland
R Portugal
R Puerto Rico
R Qatar
R Reunion
R Romania
R Russia
R Rwanda
L Saint Kitts and Nevis
L Saint Lucia
L Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
R San Marino
R Sao Tome e Principe
R Saudi Arabia
R Senegal
L Seychelles
R Sierra Leone
L Singapore
R Slovakia
R Slovenia
L Solomon Islands
L Somalia
L South Africa
R Spain
L Sri Lanka
R Sudan
L Suriname
L Swaziland
R Sweden
R Switzerland
R Syria
R Taiwan (Republic of China)
R Tajikistan
L Tanzania
L Thailand
R Togo
L Tonga
L Trinidad and Tobago
R Tunisia
R Turkey
R Turkmenistan
l Turks and Caicos Islands
l Tuvalu
L Uganda
R Ukraine
R United Arab Emirates
L United Kingdom
R United States
R Uruguay
R Uzbekistan
R Vanuatu
R Venezuela
R Vietnam
L Virgin Islands (British)
L Virgin Islands (US)
r Wallis and Futuna Islands [Fr.]
r West Bank
R Western Sahara (ex Spanish Sahara)
R Western Samoa
R Yemen
R Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro)
R Zaire
L Zambia
L Zimbabwe

3. BORDER CROSSINGS

A related question, of course, is "If (some country) and (some other country) have a land border, how do drivers switch sides when they cross the border?" This is not such a great puzzle as it might seem, because in general, one has to stop at a border crossing anyway.

In most cases, it seems that you drive into the customs area, park your vehicle for inspection, and then when you leave via the other side of the parking lot, you simply make sure you are on the correct side of the road.

Here are a few reports from the scene...

Andrew Myles: It was not a problem at the only border I have been to like this (Zaire -Uganda). The traffic was slow and there was very little of it. There was just a sign reminding you to swap sides.

Lynn Garry Salmon: The border crossing from China (where they drive on the right) to Pakistan (where they drive on the left) merely has a sign at the side of the road that says "Entering Pakistan, Drive Left" and for those going the other way "Entering China, Drive Right".

agsmith@matai.vuw.ac.nz: Usually you don't drive straight through a border post. The only place I've crossed a land border where the side of the road for driving changes is between Afghanistan and Pakistan. We drove into a car park (using the right hand side) and after the border formalities, drove out using the left hand side. Douglas Clark: Both Hong Kong and Macao drive on the left and China on the right. In each case, now, when you cross the border, you do so through a car park/customs area and merely exit onto the correct side of the road.

4. OTHER INTERESTING TIDBITS

The USA once drove on the left. Most people in the USA don't realize this, but the United States of America drove on the left when they were settled by Europeans -- they were, after all, British colonies and of course adopted British driving practices. The native Americans already on the continent presumably either had no preference established and/or were not involved in the decision.

I have been told that the USA began to switch to right-hand driving state by state beginning in 1792 I don't know why the change was made, but I will continue to gather more information. Napoleon marched on the right Mark Brader writes: "...a Toronto Star article of October 21, 1991... notes that in Europe, left-side driving was once the general rule, but it was promulgated by the popes; Robespierre changed France to the right, apparently to weaken papal influence over everyday lives. Then Napoleon's armies also marched on the right, and other countries that he invaded changed perforce." Others have stated that the keep-left rule become law across Europe because of a papal decree around 1300 that on all roads leading to Rome, pilgrims must keep to the left side of the road. Changing from one side to the other

Trevor Jordan says, "The Channel Isles drove on the right, under German influence, in the early 1940s just as the Falkland Islands did, under Argentine influence, in the early 1980s... the influence of conquerors did not end with Napoleon but has not generally been as great or as permanent."

Malcolm Roe writes, "Sweden changed from driving on the left to driving on the right in the 1960s. This, of course, was because all its neighbors drove on the right. I remember the newspaper reports of this happening. The roads were completely closed, apart from emergency vehicles, for a day or two while changes were made to road signs etc. I think this was over a weekend. Then a very low speed limit was applied which was raised in a number of steps. The whole process, if I remember correctly, took about a month. Everyone knew that it was going to happen several years before and started to buy left hand drive vehicles so, by the time the change occurred, many of the vehicles had been replaced.

Mark Brader notes that until the 1920s, the 10 present Canadian provinces were split 5-5 between driving on the right and the left. Others have noted that Ontario switched from left to right in the 1820s, and B.C. and the Maritimes switched from left to right in the 1920s.Those who really have it tough

Almost always, in countries where one drives on the right-hand side of the road, the cars are built so that the driver sits on the left-hand side of the car. Conversely, driving on the left-hand side of the road usually implies that the driver's seat is on the right-hand side of the car. The driver generally sits on the side of the car that is nearest the centerline. However, this is not universally true.

Joe Flake notes that in 1983, he visited St Thomas (US Virgin Islands) and found that one drives on the left side of the road, but the cars are all US-standard, with the driver sitting on the left-hand side of the car. "Confusing enough to be on the 'wrong' side, but passing on the narrow roads was a real treat. You really depend on the passenger! Ease out across the center line and get either approval or a loud 'NO!' from the passenger."

Malcolm Roe says that in Cyprus, both north and south, they drive on the left. "However, because of the political isolation of the North, vehicles are imported from Turkey, mostly second hand. As a consequence the same situation has arisen as in the US Virgin Islands: i.e., left hand drive cars driven on the left."

What about trains?

It is the signaling equipment that determines whether a double track railway goes on the left or on the right. Modern main-line railways are usually equipped to allow traffic at full speed in either direction on either track, and in some cases it is normal to use both tracks for trains in the same direction simultaneously. But on tracks with older signaling equipment, as well as on lines with heavy traffic such as metros and suburban traffic, each track is almost always used in one direction only. Most railway authorities then have a general rule. (Jens Brix Christiansen)

Specific rules for some European countries:

Left: Sweden, UK, Belgium, France, Switzerland, Italy

Right: Norway, Denmark, Germany, Netherlands

Most of the time, countries pick one side or the other for their trains, there are often exceptions, sometimes for reasons which are unknown, at least to us, and sometimes for historically interesting reasons. In France (where cars keep to the right), most trains run on the left, but the Paris Metro runs on the right, as does one line of the RER commuter system (which is run by the city transit system (RATP) rather than the national railway, SNCF). (Mark Brader)

Russia's exception is that while trains in most of the country run on the right, the trains on the line between Moscow and Ryazan run on the left. This line was designed and built by British engineers. (Sergey Fedosov) Most trains in Britain operate on the left, like road traffic, but there are a number of short sections on the London Underground where for one reason or another they operate on the right. (Mark Brader)

In the USA and Canada, trains generally keep to the right, with one interesting exception: the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad, running on the left. Two reasons have been suggested for the C&NW's left-hand operation. One possibility is that its original construction was financed by British capital, which influenced the track plans. The other is that the stations, oriented for inbound traffic, were arbitrarily placed all on one side of the tracks when the line was single-track, and when the second track was added it was impractical to change all the station alignments so the outbound track ended up on the left. (Don Howard, Eric Zimmerman)

In Korea the trains drive on the left, presumably because the system was built by the Japanese when Korea was a Japanese colony. The Seoul subway, on the other hand, was constructed beginning in the 1980s with French aid; by that time, Korean and French drivers were both driving on the right, so the subway does too... except for one subway line which connects directly to the National Railway, and therefore must be on the left. "It can be confusing when deciding which side of a concourse to board a train," says Douglas Clark

Rui Gustavo Crespo notes that where neighboring countries run their trains on opposite sides of the track, trains must switch sides at the border. "In Netherlands trains run on the right, but in Belgium they move on the left. Last Sunday I traveled between the two countries. At Roosendal (a Dutch city close to the border), the train stopped at the railway station and had to wait for permission to move to the left track: from then, although we were still in Netherlands, our train was conducted on the left."

And boats?

Rob Dvorak writes (20 Feb 1997) "It's nice to know all shipping and boating is keep to the right. Even in the GB intercostal waterways and canals it is keep to the right. I wonder how the British like that?"

5. POPULATION DISTRIBUTION

Analysis by Bernd Wechner, b.wechner@aitec.edu.au, November 1996:
Having often encountered the implicit assumption that everyone but England and some of her colonies drive on the right side of the road, I compiled from the above list, a quick table of populations to provide a clue as to just how evenly the sides are represented. As it turns out, some 4 billion people drive right, and 2 billion drive left (when they drive at all that is). So a goodly third of the world drives on the left.

Right Side Drivers Left Side Drivers
Afghanistan 22,664,136
Albania 3,249,136
Algeria 29,183,032
Andorra 72,766
Angola 10,342,899
Argentina 34,672,997
Armenia 3,463,574
Austria 8,023,244
Azerbaijan 7,676,953
Bahrain 590,042
Belarus 10,415,973
Belgium 10,170,241
Belize 219,296
Benin 5,709,529
Bolivia 7,165,257
Bosnia and Herzegov. 2,656,240
Brazil 162,661,214
Bulgaria 8,612,757
Burkina Faso 10,623,323
Burma 45,975,625
Burundi 5,943,057
Cambodia 10,861,218
Cameroon 14,261,557
Canada 28,820,671
Cape Verde 449,066
Central African 3,274,426
Chad 6,976,845
Chile 14,333,258
China, Mainland 1,210,004,956
China, Taiwan 21,465,881
Colombia 36,813,161
Comoros 569,237
Congo 2,527,841
Costa Rica 3,463,083
Croatia 5,004,112
Cuba 10,951,334
Czech Republic 10,321,120
Denmark 5,249,632
Djibouti 427,642
Dominican Republic 8,088,881
Ecuador 11,466,291
Egypt 63,575,107
El Salvador 5,828,987
Equatorial Guinea 431,282
Eritrea 3,909,628
Estonia 1,459,428
Ethiopia 57,171,662
Finland 5,105,230
France 58,040,988
Gabon 1,172,798
Gambia, The 1,204,984
Gaza Strip 923,940
Georgia 5,219,810
Germany 83,536,115
Ghana 17,698,271
Gibraltar 28,765
Greece 10,538,594
Guam 156,974
Guatemala 11,277,614
Guinea 7,411,981
Guinea-Bissau 1,151,330
Haiti 6,731,539
Honduras 5,605,193
Hungary 10,002,541
Iceland 270,292
Iran 66,094,264
Iraq 21,422,292
Israel 5,421,995
Italy 57,460,274
Ivory Coast 14,762,445
Jordan 4,212,152
Kazakstan 16,916,463
Kuwait 1,950,047
Kyrgyzstan 4,529,648
Laos 4,975,772
Latvia 2,468,982
Lebanon 3,776,317
Liberia 2,109,789
Libya 5,445,436
Liechtenstein 31,122
Lithuania 3,646,041
Luxembourg 415,870
Macedonia 2,104,035
Madagascar 13,670,507
Mali 9,653,261
Marshall Islands 58,363
Mauritania 2,336,048
Mexico 95,772,462
Micronesia 125,377
Moldova 4,463,847
Monaco 31,719
Mongolia 2,496,617
Morocco 29,779,156
Netherlands 15,568,034
Nicaragua 4,272,352
Niger 9,113,001
Nigeria 103,912,489
North Korea 23,904,124
Northern Mariana 52,284
Norway 4,383,807
Oman 2,186,548
Panama 2,655,094
Paraguay 5,504,146
Peru 24,523,408
Philippines 74,480,848
Poland 38,642,565
Portugal 9,865,114
Qatar 547,761
Romania 21,657,162
Russia 148,178,487
Rwanda 6,853,359
San Marino 24,521
Sao Tome 144,128
Saudi Arabia 19,409,058
Senegal 9,092,749
Serbia 9,979,116
Sierra Leone 4,793,121
Slovakia 5,374,362
Slovenia 1,951,443
South Korea 45,482,291
Spain 39,181,114
Sudan 31,065,229
Sweden 8,900,954
Switzerland 7,207,060
Syria 15,608,648
Tajikistan 5,916,373
Togo 4,570,530
Tunisia 9,019,687
Turkey 62,484,478
Turkmenistan 4,149,283
Ukraine 50,864,009
United Arab Emirates 3,057,337
United States 265,562,845
Uruguay 3,238,952
Uzbekistan 23,418,381
Vanuatu 177,504
Venezuela 21,983,188
Vietnam 73,976,973
Wallis and Futuna 14,659
West Bank 1,427,741
Western Sahara 222,631
Western Samoa 214,384
Yemen 13,483,178
Zaire 46,498,539
Anguilla 10,424
Antigua and Barbuda 65,647
Australia 18,260,863
Bahamas, The 259,367
Bangladesh 123,062,800
Barbados 257,030
Bermuda 62,099
Bhutan 1,822,625
Botswana 1,477,630
British Virgin Islands 13,195
Brunei 299,939
Cook Islands 19,561
Cyprus 744,609
Dominica 82,926
Fiji 782,381
Grenada 94,961
Guernsey 62,920
Guyana 712,091
Hong Kong 6,305,413
India 952,107,694
Indonesia 206,611,600
Ireland 3,566,833
Jamaica 2,595,275
Japan 125,449,703
Kenya 28,176,686
Kiribati 80,919
Lesotho 1,970,781
Macau 496,837
Malawi 9,452,844
Malaysia 19,962,893
Maldives 270,758
Malta 375,576
Mauritius 1,140,256
Mozambique 17,877,927
Namibia 1,677,243
Nauru 10,273
Nepal 22,094,033
New Zealand 3,547,983
Pakistan 129,275,660
Papua New Guinea 4,394,537
Saint Kitts and Nevis 41,369
Saint Lucia 157,862
Saint Vincent 118,344
Seychelles 77,575
Singapore 3,396,924
Solomon Islands 412,902
Somalia 9,639,151
South Africa 41,743,459
Sri Lanka 18,553,074
Suriname 436,418
Swaziland 998,730
Tanzania 29,058,470
Thailand 58,851,357
Trinidad and Tobago 1,272,385
Turks and Caicos Islands 14,302
Tuvalu 10,146
Uganda 20,158,176
United Kingdom 58,489,975
Virgin Island 97,120


Right Side Total 3,814,799,906 Left Side Total 1,949,490,917

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