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Rules of the road

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This article concerns rules of the road regarding land vehicles; for sea-going vehicles, see International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea.

Rules of the road are the general practices and procedures followed by people on roads, especially those driving cars or on bicycles or other vehicles. They govern interactions with other vehicles, and with pedestrians. Rules of the road are quite different all around the world. Driving safely is usually easier if a driver can adapt to both written and unwritten local rules of the road.

Table of contents
1 Left or right
2 Countries that drive on the left
3 Changing sides
4 Anomalies
5 History
6 Highway code
7 External link
8 Complete List

Left or right

see also road

The first rule to learn for a particular country is which side to drive on. This is so fundamental that it is sometimes known simply as the rule of the road.

In countries where traffic drives on the right:

and conversely.

Traffic flow and road design in both cases are each other's mirror image.

With regard to the driver's seat: Most early motor carss had the drivers seat in the middle. Later some manufacturers chose to have the driver's seat nearest the centre of the road in order to look out for oncoming traffic whilst others chose to put the seat on the other side so that the drivers could avoid damaging their vehicles on walls, hedges, roadside gutters and other obstacles. Eventually the former idea prevailed.

Countries that drive on the left

Approximately one quarter to one third of the world's countries drive on the left-hand side of the road. Most of the countries that drive on the left are former colonies of the British Empire. There are exceptions: Japan and Indonesia drive on the left although they were never British colonies, and Canada drives on the right although it was.

The first legal reference in Britain to an order for traffic to remain on the left occurred in 1756 with regard to London Bridge. The General Highways Act of 1773, contained a recommendation that horse traffic remain on the left and this was enshrined in the Highways Bill in 1835.

The British author C. Northcote Parkinson has presented a "proof" that the British way of driving (on the left side of the road) is the natural one.

List of Left-driving countries

Lumping regions where feasible, and omitting only some countries that are small in both area and population:

Changing sides

Most countries have changed in order to ease border crossings. For example, former British colonies in West Africa, such as Gambia, Sierra Leone, Nigeria and Ghana changed over, as they all shared borders with former French colonies, which drove on the right. There are still many instances of having to change sides at border crossings, such as between Uganda and Sudan, Thailand and Laos or Pakistan and Afghanistan. In Hong Kong and Macau, traffic continues to drive on the left, unlike in mainland China, despite the fact that they are now Special Administrative Regions of the People's Republic of China. However, Taiwan, formerly under Japanese rule, changed to driving on the right in 1946 after becoming part of the Republic of China, along with some mainland Chinese provinces, as did Korea under US and Soviet occupation.

Port Stanley, Falkland Islands, 1982- Arrows, painted on road by Argentine forces, directing islanders to drive on the right

Foreign Occupation

However, many countries changed the rule of the road as a result of foreign occupation, notably during the Napoleonic Wars. More recently there are examples such as Austria, Czechoslovakia and Hungary under German rule in the 1930s and '40ss. The Channel Islands also changed to driving on the right under German occupation, but changed back after liberation in 1945, as did the Falkland Islands under Argentine occupation in 1982. East Timor changed to driving on the left under Indonesian rule in 1976, and continues the practice as an independent state.

Italy

In Italy the practice of 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. The practice was first introduced in cities under socialist control, such as Rome and Naples, with conservative-controlled cities like Milan and Turin continuing to drive on the left. Cars remained right-hand drive (RHD) until the mid 1920s, with Lancia not producing left-hand drive (LHD) cars until as late as the early 1960s.

Canada

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, driving on the left, and the other provinces and territories driving on the right. Between 1920 and 1923, these provinces changed over to driving on the right. Newfoundland was not part of Canada until 1949, and drove on the left until 1947.

Sweden

Stockholm on Dagen H

Sweden had left-hand traffic (Vänstertrafik in Swedish) from approximately 1736. It continued to do so well into the 20th century despite the fact that virtually all the cars on the road in Sweden were actually LHD. Also, Sweden's neighbours, Norway, Finland and Denmark 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 government passed legislation ordering the switch to right-hand traffic. The changeover took place on a Sunday morning at 5am on 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 reduce accidents, 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.

Iceland

After Sweden's successful changeover, Iceland changed the following year, in 1968.

Anomalies

Caribbean

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 if not all passenger cars are LHD, being imported from the United States. Only government cars are RHD.

Japan

In Japan, foreign brands of car sold locally have traditionally been LHD, which is regarded as a status symbol. This even applies to British brands, in spite of the fact that authentic British cars have the steering wheel on the right. However, some US manufacturers have made RHD models for the Japanese market, though with limited success, and as European brands become more popular, the preference is increasingly for RHD models.

Myanmar (Burma)

As a former British colony, Burma (now called Myanmar) drove on the left until 1970, when the military regime of Ne Win decreed that traffic would drive on the right. It is alleged that this was because Ne Win had been advised by his soothsayer, who had said 'move to the right', although this was in fact a reference to economic policy. In spite of the change, most passenger cars in the country today are RHD, being used vehicles imported from Japan. However, government limousines, imported from China are LHD.

Gibraltar

Although the British territory of Gibraltar changed to driving on the right in 1929, in order to avoid accidents involving vehicles from Spain, many 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 used cars brought in from the UK and Japan and some vehicles used by the British forces.

History

There is some evidence of cart tracks from a quarry in Blunsdon Ridge near Swindon which suggests that Romans drove on the left, and until the 18th century, this was probably the most common choice in Europe. However driving on the right was more common in France; this was imposed by Napoleon Bonaparte on the countries he occupied, and thus it became the practice in their colonies.

Highway code

In many countries, the rules of the road are codified, setting out the legal requirements which if broken may lead to prosecution. In the United Kingdom, the rules are set out in the Highway Code, including some obligations, but also a lot of other advice on how to drive sensibly and safely. For this second set of advice, it states Although failure to comply with the other rules of the Code will not, in itself, cause a person to be prosecuted, The Highway Code may be used in evidence in any court proceedings under Traffic Acts to establish liability.

External link

Complete List

This list should be consulted regarding any country that is small in both area and population. Year of changeover is listed where applicable.

Countries and areas driving on the left

Anguilla (United Kingdom)
Antigua and Barbuda
Australia
Bahamas
Bangladesh
Barbados
Bermuda (United Kingdom)
Bhutan
Botswana
Brunei
Cayman Islands (United Kingdom)
Christmas Island (Australia)
Cocos (Keeling) Islands (Australia)
Cook Islands (New Zealand)
Cyprus
Dominica
East Timor or Timor-Leste (drove on right 1928 -1976)
Falkland Islands (United Kingdom)
Fiji
Grenada
Guernsey (Channel Islands, cars are not allowed on the islands of Sark and Herm)
Guyana
Hong Kong (China itself drives on the right)
India
Indonesia
Ireland
Isle of Man (United Kingdom)
Jamaica
Japan
Jersey (Channel Islands)
Kenya
Kiribati
Lesotho
Macau (China itself drives on the right)
Malawi
Malaysia
Maldives
Malta
Mauritius
Montserrat (United Kingdom)
Mozambique
Namibia (1918)
Nauru (1918)
Nepal
New Zealand
Niue (New Zealand)
Norfolk Island (Australia)
Pakistan
Papua New Guinea
Pitcairn Islands (United Kingdom)
Saint Helena (United Kingdom)
Saint Kitts and Nevis
Saint Lucia
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
Seychelles
Singapore
Solomon Islands
Somaliland (northwest of Somalia seeking independence)
South Africa
Sri Lanka
Suriname
Swaziland
Tanzania
Thailand
Tokelau (New Zealand)
Tonga
Trinidad and Tobago
Turks and Caicos Islands (United Kingdom)
Tuvalu
Uganda
United Kingdom
British Virgin Islands (United Kingdom)
U.S. Virgin Islands (the United States itself drives on the right)
Zambia
Zimbabwe

Countries and areas driving on the right

Afghanistan
Åland Islands (Finland)
Albania
Algeria
American Samoa (United States)
Andorra
Angola (1928)
Argentina
Armenia
Aruba (Netherlands)
Austria (1936)
Azerbaijan
Bahrain (1968)
Belarus
Belgium
Belize (1961)
Benin
Bolivia
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Brazil
British Indian Ocean Territory (1960s?- the United Kingdom itself drives on the left)
Bulgaria
Burkina Faso
Burundi
Cambodia
Cameroon (Former British Cameroon 1961)
Canada (British Columbia and Maritime provinces during 1920s, Newfoundland 1947)
Cape Verde (1928)
Central African Republic
Chad
Chile
China, mainland (southern provinces 1946)
Colombia
Comoros
Congo, Republic
Congo, Democratic Republic
Costa Rica
Côte d'Ivoire
Croatia
Cuba
Czech Republic (1938)
Denmark
Djibouti
Dominican Republic
Ecuador
Egypt
El Salvador
Equatorial Guinea
Eritrea (1964)
Estonia
Ethiopia (1964)
Faroe Islands (Denmark)
Finland
France
French Guiana (France)
French Polynesia (France)
Gabon
Gambia (1966)
Georgia
Germany
Ghana (1974)
Gibraltar (1929 - the United Kingdom itself drives on the left)
Greece
Greenland (Denmark)
Guadeloupe (France)
Guam (United States)
Guatemala
Guinea
Guinea-Bissau (1928)
Guyana
Haiti
Holy See (Vatican City State)
Honduras
Hungary (1940)
Iceland (1968)
Iran, Islamic Republic of
Iraq
Israel
Italy (change between 1890s and 1920s)
Jordan
Kazakhstan
Korea, Democratic People's Republic of (1946)
Korea, Republic of (1946)
Kuwait
Kyrgyzstan
Lao People's Democratic Republic
Latvia
Lebanon
Liberia
Libyan Arab Jamahiriya
Liechtenstein
Lithuania
Luxembourg
Macedonia, The Former Yugoslav Republic of
Madagascar
Mali
Marshall Islands
Martinique (France)
Mauritania
Mayotte (France)
Mexico
Micronesia, Federated States of
Midway Atoll (United States)
Moldova
Monaco
Mongolia
Morocco
Myanmar (1970)
Netherlands
Netherlands Antilles (Netherlands)
New Caledonia (France)
Nicaragua
Niger
Nigeria (1972)
Northern Mariana Islands (United States)
Norway
Oman
Palau
Palestinian Territory, Occupied (occupied by Israel)
Panama
Paraguay
Peru
Philippines (1946)
Poland
Portugal (1928)
Puerto Rico (United States)
Qatar
Réunion (France)
Romania
Russian Federation
Rwanda
Saint Pierre and Miquelon (France)
Samoa (mid-1990s?)
San Marino
São Tomé and Príncipe (1928)
Saudi Arabia
Senegal
Serbia and Montenegro
Sierra Leone (1971)
Slovakia (1938)
Slovenia
Somalia ''(1970s? except Somaliland)
Spain
Sudan (1973)
Svalbard (Norway)
Sweden (1967)
Switzerland
Syrian Arab Republic
Taiwan (Republic of China) (1946)
Tajikistan
Togo
Tunisia
Turkey
Turkmenistan
Ukraine
United Arab Emirates
United States
Uruguay
Uzbekistan
Vanuatu
Venezuela
Viet Nam
Wake Island (United States)
Wallis and Futuna (France)
Western Sahara (occupied by Morocco)
Yemen (South Yemen in 1977)