Monday, September 04, 2017

All Change

I recently mentioned that motorists in Japan drive on the left hand side of the road, an oddity in Asian countries, especially non British Commonwealth countries. If you followed the link, and you probably didn't, you would have learnt about the side warriors carried their swords or about when they were on their horses. Something like that. But what I found is far more plausible.

In the late 19th into early 20th century Japan, the country wanted trains. Various countries saw a money making opportunity and bid to help Japan build a train system. The British won and so put the trains on the left side. Japanese trams followed suit and then so did the roads. Post WWII, the Japanese island of Okinawa was occupied by the US, and they changed the island to right hand side driving, but the island went back to left hand driving a good time later.

In 1970 Burma changed from driving on the left, the British colonial side, to right hand side of the road. Which side of the road you drive on in many Asian countries can be a bit of theory anyway, rather than practice.

Places like Poland, Canada, Brazil, Portugal and Spain changed to the right in the early 20 century. It amuses me that Austria changed to the right between 1919 and 1938. It took nearly twenty years. That sounds like chaos.

A quote from The Guardian in 2009 when Samoa joined Australia and New Zealand with driving on the left.  Car horns and sirens sounded, church bells rang out and roads were crowded with vehicles as Samoa today became the first country in decades officially to switch from right- to left-side driving.

But today, the 3rd of September, 2017, marks the fiftieth anniversary of when Sweden changed from driving on the left hand side of the road to the right hand side. Sadly Sweden's trams did not undergo the change and were replaced by buses. 

This rather wonderful photo I believe shows the chaos in a Swedish regional town as motorists adapted to the changed side of the road driving. 


16 comments:

  1. Bleah. Congestion like that would do my head in.
    While in Antartica we were intrigued to notice that the Adelie penguins obviously had a strong British allegiance. We spend a long time watching them labour up a steep hill, and then slide down the the bottom. And they travelled on the left.

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    1. EC, that is interesting about the penguins. I wonder if other animals or birds have a preference.

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  2. Anonymous9:11 am

    Here in Thailand, which was never a colony, they drive on the left hand side of the road. Not that this makes much difference in Bangkok. But then again, motorbike riders cross the double line when approaching traffic lights to get to the head of the queue, or drive on the footpath to get to a side street and they never ever give way. Which makes roundabouts a joy to navigate. - Ian

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    1. Funny Ian, I've been in Thailand three times and I thought they drive on the right. Bangkok driving is not for the timid.

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  3. The reason the entire British Empire drove on the left (except Canada, later on) was because the cars were a direct copy of transport by horse and carriage. The driver held on to the reins in his (passive) left hand and did all active actions on the right eg waving the whip, giving signals. Too bad about the 15% of carriage drivers who were left handed.

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    1. Hels,and slashing at enemies with his sword.

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  4. I remember when Sweden changed sides; the very moment was actually broadcast live on British TV.

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    1. Cro, from other reading I have done, it seemed to go reasonably smoothly.

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  5. I don't understand why change was thought necessary. Stick with the side your country began with and got used to. Tourists will work it out and not get themselves run over.

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    1. River, I believe Sweden changed because its neighbours drove on the right. It makes it complicated for car manufacturers too. I wonder if Australia would have so many Japanese cars if they drove on the right and had to change for our market. It is obviously worth their while for the US market.

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  6. It is a bit off putting going to countries where they drive on the right, especially at corners. When I visited my kids in LA I used to flinch every time we went round a corner thinking we were on the wrong side. It took me a while to get used to getting in the passenger side I often went to get into the drivers seat even in Taxis. I got a few weird looks.

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    1. Diane, if I was younger I would have done it, but now I don't have the driving confidence and I would not drive on the opposite side of the road. Driving in England is easy as everyone is so cautious, painfully so at times. I hate crossing the road where they drive on the right and crossing the road at corners is a nightmare. I can never work out which was the traffic will come at me. You do get used to it though, as we did after a week or so in Canada. New York was not so bad, as the traffic is just crazy there, and quite tolerant. I am trying to think if I have caught a cab in a right hand drive country. That's funny about you trying to get in with the driver.

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  7. What a fascinating post, it's interesting to note how countries changed from one side to the other. Warm greetings.

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  8. Here I am once again chuckling after midnight 😀 I know it's not really funny but that picture made me laugh out loud, I do hope no one was hurt but seriously they should make up their minds and stick to it 😀😀 when I was in France with my French friend, every time we went to get in the car I would head to the drivers seat thinking it was the passenger side and she would laugh and say 'you want to drive?' 😀😀

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    1. Grace, and you would have answered as I would have, no way.

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