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What’s the Reason Behind Right-Hand Driving in Some Countries?

It has always been a mystery why the world seemed to be divided when it comes to the location of their car’s steering wheel. Nowadays, it’s known as “right-hand driving”, where the steering wheel is placed on the right side of the car. “Left-hand driving”, on the other hand, is where the steering wheel is placed on the left side of the vehicle.

Right-hand drive vs. Left-hand drive

Typically, a right-hand drive vehicle drives on the “left side of the road“, or left-hand traffic (LHT). In normal conversation, it’ll be a car that “drives on the left.”

On the other hand, a left-hand drive vehicle drives on the “right side of the road“, or right-hand traffic (RHT). It will be a car that “drives on the right.”

Right-hand drive in the Philippines

Interestingly, the Philippines was once a left-hand driving country under American rule. After that, it changed to right-hand driving when it was colonized by Japan. And while our country went back to left-hand driving after the Japanese lost to the Philippines (with some help from the U.S.), there are still around 55 countries that still practice right-hand driving even today.

Reasons Why Right-Hand Driving Exists in Some Countries

Many countries that practice right-hand driving are former (or current) British colonies. And there’s a reason behind it. During English feudalism where knights or sword fighters were still in the norm, right-handed swordsmen would prefer to keep to the “left side of the road” for the following reasons:

  • So they can easily use their right hand to wield their sword to an approaching opponent
  • To avoid bumping into another’s scabbard, which is the thin cover of the sword that’s attached to a belt and placed on the left part the body
  • To easily mount from the left side, and dismount from the right side of the horse
Illustration of an English Knight with a sword.

Napoleon started to enforce left-hand driving when he conquered European countries like Germany, Switzerland, Poland, and many others. Of course, his staunch opponents like Britain stubbornly refused to do so, and maintained their right-hand driving tradition. In fact, Britain enforced this rule in all its colonies, which is the reason why India and most of its African colonies still use right-hand driving even today.

The United States, on the other hand, wanted to escape its British roots, so went towards left-hand driving, instead.

Also, ten years after the U.S. colonized the Philippines, Henry Ford first produced his Model T vehicles and placed the steering wheel on the left side of the car. Once these rules were set, the U.S., and many countries like the Philippines, started practicing left-hand driving.

Ford's first Model T

Still, there are some countries that want to maintain their right-hand driving tradition — particularly the U.K. Other countries that also practice it include:

  • Thailand
  • South Africa
  • Singapore
  • New Zealand
  • Malta
  • Malaysia
  • Kenya
  • Japan
  • Jamaica
  • Isle of Man
  • Ireland
  • India
  • Hong Kong
  • Cyprus
  • Channel Islands
  • Caribbean Islands
  • Australia

You can also go here for a more complete list.

Is It Forbidden to Drive a Right-Hand Car in the Philippines?

Yes. This rule is found in the Republic Act No. 8506, entitled “An act banning the registration and operation of vehicles with right-hand steering wheel in any private or public street, road or highway, providing penalties therefore and for other purposes.”

If you break this rule, you will be imprisoned for a period from two years, four months and one day, up to four years and two months, plus a fine of P50,000.

So there you have it. Right-hand drive cars are actually getting smaller these days, but still, there are some countries that are surprisingly switching to the “right”. The most recent one was Samoa, a former German colony. This move was a practical maneuver on their part, since they wanted to import cheap cars from Australia and New Zealand, which practice right-hand driving even today.

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  1. April 3, 2018 at 7:37 am — Reply

    Even though most of Europe is LHD-oriented, the majority of EU member countries allow the registry of RHD cars. And there are also some RHD countries which allow the registry of LHD vehicles, such as Suriname, Guyana and Jamaica. Actually, in Japan some imports are seen as more prestigious in their LHD versions, including British ones.

    • April 3, 2018 at 8:36 am — Reply

      Hi Daniel,
      Thanks for giving us more information about this. 🙂

  2. morton
    January 9, 2019 at 11:07 pm — Reply

    It makes total sense to drive on the left. Driving a right hand drive car goes way beyond just being about which hand one would have held a sword in medieval times. As most shooters are right handed today anyway. Besides if you are positioned on the right hand side of a car it makes shaking hands with other motorist much easier. Not to mention that the clutch pedal is operated by the left foot and the gear lever by the left hand which makes gear change coordination much easier and faster. Road design and traffic flow seems a lot easier to me in countries that drive on the left. Those that drive on the right seem lost and confused.

    • Suardi
      April 11, 2019 at 10:15 am — Reply

      Couldn’t agree with you more. Plus, majority of us human are right-handed. And I personally believe Napoleon himself was left-handed.

    • zambi
      June 7, 2019 at 6:45 pm — Reply

      it’s actually the british mindset people that are confused if they think that in the 21st century, right-hand driving would seem logical when one is driving to pull out a sword to chop off the approaching motorist’s head. Too, your argument that right-hand driving makes it easy to shake hands with the approaching motorist well-suits the british mindset because nobody sane and in their pure sense minds would ever do that in the middle of the road, however safe it might be.

      of the 195 countries, only 75 have right-hand drive while the majority drive on the right. more countries are willing to switch over to the right – all commonwealth nations are – once the queen of england is no more.

      going by your logic, however, if right-hand driving is convenient and easier, then, the RHD countries won’t be showing willingness to switch over to the LHD at the appropriate time.

  3. Alex
    February 25, 2019 at 4:43 pm — Reply

    Nice topic, I’ve always been fascinated by this LHD/RHD matter as I was born and raised in a country where they drive on the right (Italy) but spent a lot of time of my life in UK, where they drive on the left. As far as I’m concerned, it makes sense that the “natural” side of the road is on the left, for the above cited reasons; furthermore, it’s been confirmed that even “bigas”, the famous chariots in ancient Rome, used to keep left. To top things off, there’s tons of evidence i.e. pictures, paintings and whatever showing that in many Italian cities chariots and even trams used to keep left way before cars appeared. Strange enough, trains in Italy and most EU countries still keep left.
    It’s been found that also other EU counties used to keep left before motorisation kicked off, I know for sure that Czech Republic, Slovakia and Slovenia where among those.
    Curiously Sweden has been driving on the left and side of the road until 1967, when the Government decided to switch for right (there are interesting articles and some funny videos on YT about that); funny enough , although in Sweden they used to keep left, the vehicles used to have the steering wheel on the left!! There are interesting articles and some funny videos on YT about the day when they switched the drive side from left to right which it’s called “The H Day”. I strongly suggest you to have a look, it’s just amazing.
    That said, I don’t think that driving on the left or right affects the quality of the traffic at all; it’s all about the good manners, habits and common sense that’s prevalent in a specific country; I’ve been driving in most EU countries and, personally, my preference goes to England, but not because of the road side but thanks to the good manners they have which are sensibly better than in my homeland Italy, not to mention other countries. And, mind you, I said England because I can’t honestly say the same about Scotland and Ireland (which I both love) where their driving stlyle is often… ehm, crazy.!! Thanks for the article.

    • February 26, 2019 at 12:23 pm — Reply

      Hi Alex,
      I agree with you: right- or left- hand driving doesn’t affect the quality of traffic. It’s more about manners, driver’s skills, and common sense.

  4. Anonymous
    April 1, 2019 at 7:53 am — Reply

    Right hand driving is so strange as to seem almost comical! The countries who insist on driving on the “wrong side of the car—wrong side of the road”, one can’t help but wonder if it’s not just another way to show-up to us Americans, who produce the majority of vehicles seen anywhere in the world!

    • BTXJohn
      April 23, 2019 at 10:12 pm — Reply

      China produces more vehicles than the USA, considerable amounts of German and Japanese manufacturers (who also produce the right-hand and left-hand cars) whilst the USA doesn’t export that much to other countries nor make many right-hand vehicles (probably a reason the US vehicle industry is dwindling).

  5. BTXJohn
    April 23, 2019 at 10:11 pm — Reply

    Actually, the Philippines was left-handed traffic under Spanish and American periods and also during Japanese rule, this changed in ww2 when the Americans decided it was easier to facilitate the movement of military equipment by switching to right-handed traffic.

    P.S. in response to Anonymous comment, China produces more vehicles than the USA, considerable amounts of German and Japanese manufacturers (who also produce the right-hand and left-hand cars) whilst the USA doesn’t export that much to other countries nor make many right-hand vehicles (probably a reason the US vehicle industry is dwindling).

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