If you're a typical child in the United States, you know a few basic things about driving a car. Which side of the car is the steering wheel on? The left! Which side of the road do you drive on? The right! What could be easier, right?
Did you realize, though, that those answers would be reversed if you lived in certain areas of the world? It's true! In certain parts of the world, cars have the steering wheel on the right side of the car because drivers drive on the left side of the road.
Why in the world would anyone drive on the wrong side of the road? Well, “wrong" is all a matter of perspective, of course. But there is an interesting history behind which side of the road different countries drive on.
Since cars are an invention of the modern era, one might think that it would've been natural for all countries to agree on a standard manner of driving. As it turns out, though, which side of the road to drive on has a history that goes back hundreds of years.
Even before there were cars, people drove all sorts of vehicles. Ancient Romans drove chariots. American pioneers drove wagons pulled by teams of horses. So how did they choose which side of the road to drive on?
One of the biggest factors was most likely the fact that most people are right-handed. With the right side being dominant for most people, it was only natural to drive on the right side of the road. In the early days, there were relatively few travelers at any one time and roads weren't paved or marked, so it didn't matter much. Driving on the right was basically just a custom that developed.
After cars were invented, though, everything changed. As roads became paved and more people began to drive, a uniform rule of the road was needed. Car manufacturer Henry Ford was one of the biggest influences on setting the American standard of driving on the right side of the road, because he chose to manufacture his Model T car with the driver on the left side of the vehicle.
Many countries around the world already drove on the right side of the road, and many others followed America's lead after the invention of the automobile. Today, approximately 65% of the people in the world drive on the right side of the road, with the other 35% driving on the left. As far as road mileage goes, about 90% of the world's total road distance carries traffic on the right.
If you look at the countries around the world that drive on the left side of the road, you'll find that the vast majority of them were former colonies of Great Britain. If you've ever been to London, you know that the English still drive on the left. Why is that?
The simple answer is that's the way they've always driven. Hundreds of years ago, when people rode horses from village to village, it may have been easier for right-handed people to mount their horses from the left. As a result, they preferred to ride on the left. This was particularly true if they carried swords that they would want to wield with their dominant right hand.
So why didn't they switch over like so many other countries around the world? Simple stubbornness might be part of the reason. Economics also played a large role. The British Empire was massive. After creating so many roads (and cars!) to be driven on the left — and designing major cities, like London, for left-side driving — it would just be too expensive to switch to right-side driving later on.