Dane. Designer.

Old Blog

Lessons from Driving on the Right

Via a @codinghorror retweet, a comprehensive article on the history of driving on the left versus the right side of the road through history and geography revealing first:

In the late 1700s, however, teamsters in France and the United States began hauling farm products in big wagons pulled by several pairs of horses. These wagons had no driver’s seat; instead the driver sat on the left rear horse, so he could keep his right arm free to lash the team.

And secondly:

An official keep-right rule was introduced in Paris in 1794, more or less parallel to Denmark, where driving on the right had been made compulsory in 1793.

First of all, suck it France. We may have made a short-sighted decision, but at least we were first.

But secondly, that was really quite a loss for horseback riders as well as bicycle riders—a mode of transportation that would rise to prominence about a hundred years later in the late 1800’s, and which is to this day remains the easiest way to get around Copenhagen—as both most commonly dismount to the left, which when you drive on the right, is into traffic.

Sweden found itself driving on the left side of the road up until 1963, even though all the countries around it had long since started driving on the right (Denmark for about 180 years). The practical implications in terms of import, compatibility with neighboring countries and so forth made the otherwise ‘right’ choice wrong, which the Swedish government reacted to, despite little apparent backup from their population at the time:

In 1955, the Swedish government held a referendum on the introduction of right-hand driving. Although no less than 82.9% voted “no” to the plebiscite, the Swedish parliament passed a law on the conversion to right-hand driving in 1963. Finally, the change took place on Sunday, the 3rd of September 1967, at 5 o’clock in the morning.

Today I’m pretty sure Swedes agree that despite whatever hassle it may have been at the time, the long-term benefits have been well worth it.

So as in an episode of GI Joe, what have we learned today?

Laziness and short-sighted solutions have a way of sticking around a lot longer than the reasons for which they were chosen. In those cases, dropping idealism for pragmatism can be a net win. And in the end, as Dick Jones said about Bob Morton, it really never is too late to erase that mistake.