Saturday, September 21, 2002
G O O D  M O T O R I N G

Driving on the other side
H. Kishie Singh

IN some sixty countries in the world, including India, UK, South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania and Nepal, vehicles are driven on the left side of the road.

The logic behind driving on the left hand side of the road stands an historical as well as social values. A lady is always escorted by a gentleman who offers her his left arm. He must keep his sword arm, the right hand free.

While on horseback, the lady was again on the riders left hand side, that is, on the left side of the road.

This, historians will tell you, is the reason for driving on the left side of the road.

When a man guides a horse cart, he holds it with his right hand and thus has to walk on the left.

A coach man, sitting on the roof, sat on the right so that he could crack the whip held in his right hand. To avoid whips of incoming coaches, he kept to the left. Thus another reason for driving on the left.


France was different. The royalty rode on the left. The common man kept to the right. His safety and comfort were not important. After the Revolution, when some people lost their heads for being the royalty or the elite, it was not a good idea to be identified as one of the upper classes. So the elite mingled with the commoners. Thus, the practice of walking as well as driving on the right side of the road was established.

The tradition continued and Napoleon, who imposed French rules in most of the Europe that he had conquered, kept to the right.

The Europeans who migrated to North America took along with them the concept of driving on the right side. Quebec and Ontario, of course, adhered to French rules.

British Columbia and the Atlantic provinces, loyal to the English, practised left-hand driving. Sometime in the 1920s, Canadians decided to conform with the practice followed by the rest of North America and opted for driving on the right.

There is no basis to the theory that everyone in North America was left-handed. To keep their sword-arm free, the left hand, they kept to the right side of the road! Itís only a theory.

The first few kilometres of driving on the other side, the wrong side, requires concentration. Habits die hard. In an emergency, your reaction may be for left-hand traffic.

In London, pavements at intersections have "look right" painted for European pedestrians. This is not possible on a highway but paying attention to road signs is a great help. The Canadian authorities are great sticklers for rules and regulation. Pay heed.

A good driver is one who is flexible. Compensating for the other driversí mistakes is part of a survival course. In India, we are used to every type of traffic and have developed an extra-sensory perception to danger. In Canada, where the traffic is disciplined, orderly and regulated, it is not difficult to make a transition from left to right, especially when the car is a left-hand drive. Remember, the driver sits close to the centre line.

This rule becomes a problem when motor traffic crosses the Channel. A car manufactured in England i.e. right-hand drive for left-hand conditions like those in France is at a slight disadvantage. The driver is farthest from the centre. This means being alert and extra cautious.

Truckers who routinely cross the channel say it becomes second nature after a while.

Keep your wits about you and you will be safe!

Happy motoring!