Before going to Thailand for the first time I heard that they drive on the left side of the road.
And since I then never had visited a country that drives on the left side I thought I would find out why just Thailand drives on the left side of the road.
This is what I found out:
The reason why Thailand drives on the left side of the road is that the first car in Thailand was a gift from the Royal Family of England to the King of Thailand back in the 1900s. Since the United Kingdom drives on the left side of the road, the car given was made for left-hand driving. Car trading happened and as a direct result, Thailand built its roads to drive on the left.
Thailand is one of the 78 out of 195 countries in the world drive left.
But look a little closer to why the Thai people drive on the left side of the road? Is it the same reason as in other countries?
A lot of people think that colonization has something to do with determining the driving side of the road.
Well, that’s partially true but Thailand was never colonized and is the only country in Southeast Asia that wasn’t colonized by the Europeans.
History of left-side driving
About 35% of the world population drives on the left and the countries that do are mostly old British colonies.
Left side driving can be traced back to old times where people would ride their horses on the left during swordfights.
The reason why they do this is that most people are right-handed so swordsmen would keep to the left so that their right arm is nearer to the opponent.
When big wagons that were pulled by several pairs of horses were used to carry heavy objects, there was no driver’s seat so the rider would sit on the left rear horse so he could use his right arm to guide the horses.
Naturally, he would want the oncoming wagons to pass by his left so he could check if his wagon’s wheels would get caught so he would stick to the right side of the road.
While the rest of the world seems to practice right-side driving, Britain didn’t follow this trend and became the first country that made left hand driving mandatory in 1835.
The colonies of the British Empire also followed.
This is why the majority of countries that drive on the left side are former British colonies.
Countries switching to right-side driving
Did you know that right side driving was first noticed in Russia?
In 1709, the Danish envoy observed that it was a custom in Russia that cars would pass on the right.
This custom became law when Empress Elizabeth officially made it into law in 1752.
The standard reason for driving to the right is because that’s what Napoleon wanted.
Since he was left-handed, it was easier and more comfortable for him to drive on the right side of the road.
And since he conquered most of Europe, he can pretty much tell all of them to drive the way he wanted to.
Some countries drive originally on the left but made to switch to the right.
Here are some of the countries that did:
The original traffic in France is based on their social status.
The aristocrats rode on the left side of the road while the peasants would walk on the right side so they can see the incoming wagons.
But after the French Revolution in 1789, the aristocrats joined the peasants on the right side of the road to keep a low profile.
The United States of America
Being a former colony of the United Kingdom, the USA drove on the left side of the road because Britain made it mandatory to do so.
But when the USA gained its independence, they wanted to remove every links and customs that they were doing when they were still a colony.
That includes left side driving so over the years they gradually shifted to right-side driving.
Canada continued to drive on the left side of the road until after World War II.
Quebec to Louisiana was controlled by the French so they drove on the right while the territories of British Columbia, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland were occupied by Britain, so they drove on the left.
After the war, the territories that Britain held was switched to right-side driving to conform with the rest of Canada.
Austria was divided when it comes to driving. Half of the country drove on the left side and the other half on the right side.
This is because when Napoleon went on a conquest, he only managed to conquer half of Austria which is why the remaining half still drives on the left.
But when the Nazis marched into Austria, Hitler commanded that Austria should drive on the right side of the road.
When Korea was under the Japanese colonial rule, they followed the traffic regulations of Japan which are left-side driving.
However, when they were passed directly to the USA, Korea changed to right-side driving.
Up until now, traffic regulations in Korea are heavily influenced by the Americans. One example is their adaptation of US interstate highways signs and numbering system.
Countries switching to left-side driving
Interestingly enough, not all driving switches are made from left to right.
Samoa is the only country that switched from the right side driving to left side driving since the 1970s.
Samoa Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Lupesoliai Malielegaoi made the decision to switch the driving road of the entire country to left in 2009.
Samoa made this decision to switch so that they could import cheap vehicles from the left like New Zealand and Australia.
The way they prepared for this is incredibly extensive.
The government widened and made new roads, put up new signages, adjusted their speed bumps, provided a lot of road markings, lowered the speed limit, and even banned the alcohol sales for three days.
On September 7 at exactly 5:50 in the morning, a radio announcement stopped the traffic.
Ten minutes later, the traffic re-started and most of their traffic rules had changed.
Tips for when driving on the left side
Supposedly you just moved to another place that drives on the opposite side of the road, or your country pulled a Samoa and changed the traffic flow.
Here are some of the tips that might come in handy when you switch driving roads:
Automatic Transmission is your best friend
Driving stick-shift on the “wrong” side of the road can be challenging for you.
You’ll have to constantly reach for the stick but only to find out that it’s on the other side.
Keep your driving safe by not wasting a second fiddling for the missing stick and get yourself an automatic car.
Test drive during non-peak hours
Get rid of the uncertainty when driving on the opposite side by making yourself familiar and comfortable with your car and the road.
Avoid the usual morning rush and other traffic jams that might cause additional stress to your drive.
Practice makes a perfectly safe driving.
Add extra time to your schedule
You can’t have yourself speeding through the freeway on an unfamiliar driving setting just because you’re late.
Add some extra minutes to your drive no matter how short it will be.
Get yourself a co-pilot
If possible, have someone on the shotgun seat.
Delegate the task of maps, DJing, and keeping an extra eye on the road to them.
The less distracted you are on the road, the safer you will be.
Let someone else drive first
If you’re unsure about your driving skills on such an unfamiliar road, don’t drive at all.
Let someone else who is used to driving on the opposite side of the road take the driving wheel.
It’s bad enough that you might get into an accident and hurt yourself, you’ll also have to deal with the law on foreign land.
No matter what side you’re driving on, be safe!