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Driving on the Left: Why Some Countries Do, and How You Can Do It Too

Aug 14, 2023
Driving on the Left

The majority of countries around the world drive on the right. One very notable exception is the United Kingdom. England, Scotland, and Wales all practice left-side driving (something we cover in our UK driving guide). But why do these countries drive on the left?

Generally, we trace the roots back to historical tradition. Starting back in the medieval period, it was customary for travelers to pass oncoming strangers on the left side, allowing them to protect themselves better due to the fact that most people were right-handed and this would make it easier to draw their weapon when needed.

This continued to be the case beyond medieval times, following through to later horseback travel. As a result of a majority of individuals being right-handed, it made sense for them to keeping their dominant hand closer to potential threats (e.g., other riders or people passing by). This practice extended to horse-drawn carriages and eventually to motor vehicles.

Of course, it follows that countries that were colonized by the British Empire also drive on the left. Notably, Australia, India, and some countries in Africa and Southeast Asia, still drive on the left today. 

What are tips for Americans or other foreigners driving in the UK (or any other countries where driving on the left is the norm)?

We know it can be scary to drive abroad, a fear that can be even greater when considering opposite side driving. Before we get into some general tips, we do think the best way to learn is to practice. Since that’s not always possible, we’d recommend our UK driving guide. Our patent-pending 360-degree tours are the perfect way to learn in “real-time” as we simulate driving along with an instructor. Our series of instructional mini-videos also cover top things to know before opposite side driving.

 Driving on the left side of the road can be a bit challenging for those who are accustomed to driving on the right. If you're planning to drive in a left-hand traffic country, here are some top tips to help you adapt and drive safely:

  1. Position Yourself in the Middle: Keep yourself centered within your lane. Positioning yourself slightly to the left within the lane can help you maintain a better perspective and avoid drifting too close to the right.

  2. Take Extra Caution at Junctions: Pay close attention to junctions and roundabouts. Remember to yield to traffic coming from the right, as they have the right of way in left-hand traffic countries.

  3. Follow the Flow of Traffic: If you can, take a second to observe how local drivers navigate roundabouts and intersections and follow their lead. This can help you understand the flow of traffic.

  4. Keep Left When Turning: When making turns, remember to keep to the left side of the road. Turning too wide can put you in the path of oncoming traffic.

  5. Be Mindful of Pedestrians (from the “wrong” direction): When crossing roads or intersections, look left first, as pedestrians will be approaching from that direction.

  6. Practice in a Quiet Area: If possible, practice driving on the left in a quiet and less congested area before tackling busier roads and city traffic.

  7. Stay Calm and Focused: Take your time to adjust to the change and remain calm while driving. It can be mentally taxing to drive on the left, so take breaks when you need. Even if it takes a little longer to get there, it’s worth it to be safe.

With some pre-trip study, and taking the time you need to ease in, you can be ready to drive safely and confidently in the United Kingdom and beyond. Take the time to learn and it just might open up completely new travel opportunities to you!

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