One of the most important facts for anyone planning a road trip outside of their own country is knowing which side of the road to drive on. Some nations follow right-hand traffic (RHT or keep right), while others adhere to left-hand traffic (LHT or keep left). Surprisingly, the majority of countries and continents today drive on the right side – approximately two thirds of the world’s population, or 163 different nations – while only a small handful of nations follow left-hand traffic rules. Those countries that do stick to left-hand traffic are predominantly former British colonies. Here we look through some of the top travel destinations that follow right-hand traffic, in case you’re ever in doubt.
The United States
While the United States was once colonized by the British, they follow different driving rules, driving on the right side, with the driver’s seat on the left. We don’t really know how this rule came about, although some have hypothesized it was an act of rebellion following American independence from British colonialism. Another possible theory is that the rule developed out of animal drivers, or teamsters, who drove animal products around on wagons, and sat on the left rear horse in order to keep their right hand free to lash the horses in front. In this position, the driver would want to remain on the right side of the road so he could see drivers coming in the opposite direction while maintaining control of his vehicle.
Historically parts of Canada used to drive on the left side of the road, while other areas, including Montreal and Quebec, drove on the right, in line with the United States. In the early 1900s a rule was passed to ensure all Canadian drivers remained on the right, so drivers across the entire country were adhering to the same handbook. Sharing the same driving rules as the United States also made life easier for those planning to cross the border from Canada to the US, or vice versa.
Most of Europe
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The majority of European countries – except for the UK, Ireland, Cyprus and Malta – drive on the right side of the road. Rumor has it right-side driving began in Paris under the rule of Napoleon Bonaparte, who was famously left-handed, and preferred to have his fighting hand ready to attack any oncoming rivals. A standard, Europe-wide rule for right-hand traffic was established in 1920 following the Paris convention, aimed at making life simpler for those crossing from one European country to the next. Sweden and Iceland were the most recent countries to adopt right-hand traffic during the 1960s, and have remained that way ever since.
Curiously, mainland China follows the right-hand traffic rule, while Hong Kong, a former British colony, adheres to left-hand traffic rules. Undoubtedly this can make travelling between the two areas tricky to navigate, which is why many travelers choose to hire a driver rather than make the switch themselves. Taiwan moved to driving on the right in 1946 after the Republic of China took hold, while the former Portuguese enclave of Macau continues to drive on the left.
Russia follows the same right-hand traffic rules as many of its neighboring countries. Driving on the right is part of historical tradition in Russia; in 1752, Empress Elizabeth (Elizaveta Petrovna) officially sanctioned a law for drivers to remain on the right, and the rule has been maintained ever since.
Most of Africa drives on the right side of the road – approximately 41 different countries, including Algeria, Cameroon, Cote D’Ivoire, Gambia, Ghana, Ethiopia, Egypt and Cape Verde. However, areas of Southern Africa that are former British colonies follow the left-hand traffic rule, including Namibia, Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa, Lesotho, Zambia, Swaziland, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Botswana and Uganda.