Left- and right-hand traffic Left-hand traffic
) and right-hand traffic
) are the practices, in bidirectional traffic
, of keeping to the left side or to the right side of the road, respectively. They are fundamental to traffic flow
, and are sometimes referred to as the rule of the road
The terms right and left hand drive refers to the position of the driver in the vehicle and are the reverse of the terms right and left hand traffic.
Countries by handedness of road traffic, c. 2020
RHT is used in 165 countries and territories, with the remaining 75 countries and territories using LHT.
Countries that use LHT account for about a sixth of the world's land area, with about a third of its population and a quarter of its roads.
In 1919, 104 of the world's territories were LHT and an equal number were RHT. Between 1919 and 1986, 34 of the LHT territories switched to RHT.
Many of the countries that adopted LHT were formerly part of the British Empire
, although some, such as Indonesia
), and Thailand
, to name a few, were not. Similarly, many of the countries that were a part of the French colonial empire
In LHT traffic keeps left, and cars usually have the steering wheel on the right (RHD – right hand drive), putting the driver on the side closer to the centre of the road. Roundabouts
circulate clockwise. RHT is the opposite of this: traffic keeps right, the driver usually sits on the left side of the car (LHD - left hand drive), and roundabouts circulate anticlockwise.
In most countries rail traffic follows the handedness of the roads, although many of the countries that switched road traffic from LHT to RHT did not switch their trains. Boat traffic on rivers is effectively RHT. Boats are traditionally piloted from the starboard
side to facilitate priority to the right
Countries with left- and right-hand traffic, currently and formerly. Changes since 1858 when Finland
changed to the right are taken into account.
Now RHT, formerly a mix of LHT and RHT in various parts of the country
Historically, many places kept left, while many others kept right, often within the same country. There are many myths that attempt to explain why one or the other is preferred.
About 90 percent of people are right-handed
and many explanations reference this. Horses are traditionally mounted from the left, and led from the left, with the reins in the right hand. So people walking horses might use RHT, to keep the animals separated. Also referenced is the need for pedestrians to keep their swords in the right hand and pass on the left as in LHT, for self-defence. It has been suggested that wagon-drivers whipped their horses with their right hand, and thus sat on the left hand side of the wagon, as in RHT. It has been written that in the year 1300, Pope Boniface VIII
directed pilgrims to keep left; however, it has also been written that he directed them to keep to the right, and there is no documented evidence to back either claim.
One of the first references in England to requiring traffic direction was an order by the London Court of Aldermen
in 1669, requiring a man to be posted on London Bridge
to ensure that "all cartes going to keep on the one side and all cartes coming to keep on the other side".
It later was legislated as the London Bridge Act 1765
(29 Geo. II c. 40), which required that "all carriages passing over the said bridge from London shall go on the east side thereof" – those going south to remain on the east, ie the left-hand side by direction of travel.
This may represent the first statutory requirement for LHT.
A frequently-heard story is that Napoleon
changed the custom from LHT to RHT in France
and the countries he conquered after the French Revolution
. Scholars who have looked for documentary evidence of this story have found none, and it should be assumed untrue unless contemporary sources surface.
In 1827, long after Napoleon's reign, Edward Planta wrote that, in Paris
, "The coachmen have no established rule by which they drive on the right or left of the road, but they cross and jostle one another without ceremony."
Rotterdam was LHT until 1917,
although the rest of the Netherlands was RHT.
Russia completely switched to RHT in the last days of the Tsars in February 1917.
After the Austro-Hungarian Empire
broke up, the resulting countries gradually changed to RHT. In Austria
switched in 1921, North Tyrol
in 1930, Carinthia
and East Tyrol
in 1935, and the rest of the country in 1938.
, the Banat
were LHT until 1919, while Wallachia
were already RHT. Partitions of Poland
belonging to the German Empire
and the Russian Empire
were RHT, while the former Austrian Partition
changed in the 1920s.
Croatia-Slavonia switched on joining the Kingdom of Yugoslavia
in 1918, although Istria
were already RHT.
The switch in Czechoslovakia
from LHT to RHT had been planned for 1939, and was accelerated by the start of the German occupation of Czechoslovakia
West Ukraine was LHT, but the rest of Ukraine, having been part of the Russian Empire, was RHT.
it had been decreed in 1901 that each province
define its own traffic code
, including the handedness of traffic,
and the 1903 Baedeker
guide reported that the rule of the road varied by region.
For example, in Northern Italy
, the provinces of Brescia
, and Ravenna
were RHT while nearby provinces of Lecco
, and Varese
as were the cities Milan
, and Florence
In 1915, allied
forces of World War I
imposed LHT in areas of military operation, but this was revoked in 1918. Rome
was reported by Goethe
as LHT in the 1780s. Naples
was also LHT although surrounding areas were often RHT. In cities LHT was considered safer since pedestrians, accustomed to keeping right, could better see oncoming vehicular traffic.
Finally, in 1923 Italian Duce Benito Mussolini
decreed that all LHT areas would gradually transition to RHT.
In spite of this, some Italian heavy commercial vehicles were right-hand drive until the traffic code was changed in 1959.
Border sign showing change of traffic direction between Sweden and Norway in 1934
Traffic converts from left to right in Stockholm
, Sweden, on 3 September 1967
switched to RHT in 1967, having been LHT from about 1734
despite having land borders with RHT countries, and approximately 90% of cars being left-hand drive (LHD).
A referendum in 1955 overwhelmingly rejected a change to RHT, but a few years later the government ordered it, and it occurred on Sunday, 3 September 1967
at 5 am. The accident rate then dropped sharply,
but soon rose to near its original level. The day was known as Högertrafikomläggningen, or Dagen H
When Iceland switched to RHT the following year, it was known as Hægri dagurinn
Most passenger cars in Iceland were already LHD.
RHT roundabout sign
LHT was introduced in British West Africa
. All of the countries formerly part of this colony border with former French RHT jurisdictions and have switched to RHT since decolonization. These include Ghana, Gambia,
Sierra Leone, and Nigeria. Britain introduced LHT to the East Africa Protectorate
(now Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda), Rhodesia
, and the Cape Colony
(now Zambia, Zimbabwe and South Africa). All of these have remained LHT. Sudan, formerly part of Anglo-Egyptian Sudan
switched to RHT in 1973, as most of its neighbours were RHT countries, with the exception of Uganda and Kenya, but since the independence of South Sudan
in 2011, all of its neighbours drive on the right. Despite it sharing land borders with two LHT countries, South Sudan has retained RHT.
The Portuguese Empire
, then LHT, introduced LHT to Portuguese Mozambique
and Portuguese Angola
Although Portugal itself switched to RHT in 1928, Mozambique
remained LHT as they have land borders with former British colonies. Other former Portuguese colonies in Africa including Portuguese Angola
, São Tomé and Príncipe
, and Cape Verde
switched to RHT in 1928.
France introduced RHT in French West Africa
and the Maghreb
where it is still used. Countries in these areas include Mali
, Ivory Coast
, Burkina Faso
, and Tunisia
. Other French former colonies that are RHT include Cameroon
, Central African Republic
, and the Republic of the Congo
are RHT but are considering switching to LHT (see "Potential future shifts" section below).
Some special-purpose vehicles in the United States, including certain postal service trucks, garbage trucks, and parking-enforcement vehicles, are built with the driver's seat on the right for safer and easier access to the curb. A common example is the Grumman LLV
, which is used nationwide by the United States Postal Service
Parts of Canada were LHT until the 1920s, shown here in Saint John, NB
In the West Indies
, colonies and territories drive on the same side as their parent countries, except for the United States Virgin Islands
. Many of the island nations are former British colonies and drive on the left, including Jamaica
, Antigua and Barbuda
, Saint Kitts and Nevis
, Saint Lucia
, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
, Trinidad and Tobago
, and The Bahamas
. However, most vehicles in The Bahamas
, British Virgin Islands
, Cayman Islands
, Turks and Caicos Islands
and United States Virgin Islands
are left hand drive.
Vehicles entering and leaving Macau cross over each other at the Lotus Bridge
Japan was never part of the British Empire, but its traffic also drives on the left. Although the origin of this habit goes back to the Edo period (1603–1868), it was not until 1872 that this unwritten rule became more or less official. That was the year when Japan’s first railway was introduced, built with technical aid from the British. Gradually, a massive network of railways and tram tracks was built, with all trains and trams being driven on the left-hand side. However, it took another half century until 1924, in which left-hand traffic was clearly written in law. Post-World War II Okinawa
was ruled by the United States Civil Administration of the Ryukyu Islands
and was RHT. It was returned to Japan in 1972 but did not convert back to LHT until 1978.
The conversion operation was known as 730
, which refers to the date of the changeover, 30 July). Okinawa is one of few places to have changed from RHT to LHT in the late 20th century.
became RHT as part of French Indochina
, as did Laos
. In Cambodia, RHD cars, many of which were smuggled from Thailand, were banned from 2001, even though they accounted for 80% of vehicles in the country.
A sign on the Great Ocean Road
, heavily visited by international tourists, reminding motorists to keep left in Australia.
, a former German colony, had been RHT for more than a century, but switched to LHT in 2009.
This made it the first territory in almost 30 years to change sides.
The move was legislated in 2008 to allow Samoans to use cheaper vehicles imported from Australia, New Zealand or Japan, and to harmonise with other South Pacific nations. A political party, The People's Party
, was formed by the group People Against Switching Sides (PASS) to try to protest against the change, with the latter launching a legal challenge,
and in April 2008 an estimated 18,000 people attended demonstrations against it.
The motor industry was also opposed, as 14,000 of Samoa's 18,000 vehicles were designed for RHT and the government refused to meet the cost of conversion.
After months of preparation, the switch from right to left happened in an atmosphere of national celebration. There were no reported incidents.
At 05:50 local time, Monday 7 September, a radio announcement halted traffic, and an announcement at 6:00 ordered traffic to switch to LHT.
The change coincided with more restrictive enforcement of speeding and seat-belt laws.
That day and the following day were declared public holidays, to reduce traffic.
The change included a three-day ban on alcohol sales, while police mounted dozens of checkpoints, warning drivers to drive slowly.
was a colony of Portugal until the early 19th century and during this century and the early 20th century had mixed rules, with some regions still on LHT, switching these remaining regions to RHT in 1928, the same year Portugal switched sides.
Other Central and South American countries that later switched from LHT to RHT include Argentina, Chile, Panama,
Potential future shifts
, former Belgian colonies in Central Africa
, are RHT but are considering switching to LHT
like neighbouring members of the East African Community
A survey in 2009 found that 54% of Rwandans favoured the switch. Reasons cited were the perceived lower costs of RHD vehicles, easier maintenance and the political benefit of harmonious traffic regulations with other EAC countries. The survey indicated that RHD cars were 16% to 49% cheaper than their LHD counterparts.
In 2014, an internal report by consultants to the Ministry of Infrastructure recommended a switch to LHT.
In 2015, the ban on RHD vehicles was lifted; RHD trucks from neighbouring countries cost $1000 less than LHD models imported from Europe.
Changing sides at borders
Although many LHT jurisdictions are on islands, there are cases where vehicles may be driven from LHT across a border into a RHT area. Such borders are mostly located in Africa and southern Asia. The Vienna Convention on Road Traffic
regulates the use of foreign registered vehicles in the 78 countries that have ratified it.
LHT Thailand has three RHT neighbours: Cambodia, Laos, and Myanmar. Most of its borders use a simple traffic light to do the switch, but there are also interchanges that enable the switch while keeping up a continuous flow of traffic.
There are four road border crossing points between Hong Kong and Mainland China. In 2006, the daily average number of vehicle trips recorded at Lok Ma Chau
The next largest is Man Kam To
, where there is no changeover system and the border roads on the mainland side Wenjindu
intersect as one-way streets with a main road.
The Takutu River Bridge
(which links LHT Guyana and RHT Brazil
) is the only border in the Americas where traffic changes sides.
Road vehicle configurations
Legality of wrong-hand-drive vehicles by country
Registration illegal, but usage legal
Registration illegal except for diplomatic vehicles
Steering wheel position
In RHT jurisdictions, vehicles are typically configured LHD, with the steering wheel on the left side. In LHT jurisdictions, the reverse is true. The driver's side, the side closer to the centre of the road, is sometimes called the offside
, while the passenger side, the side closer to the side of the road, is sometimes called the nearside
Most windscreen wipers are designed to clear the driver's side better and have a longer blade on the driver's side
and wipe up from the passenger side to the driver's side. Thus on LHD configurations, they wipe up from right to left, viewed from inside the vehicle, and do the opposite on RHD (Right Hand Drive) vehicles.
Historically there was less consistency in the relationship of the position of the driver to the handedness of traffic. Most American cars produced before 1910 were RHD.
In 1908 Henry Ford
standardised the Model T
as LHD in RHT America,
arguing that with RHD and RHT, the passenger was obliged to "get out on the street side and walk around the car" and that with steering from the left, the driver "is able to see even the wheels of the other car and easily avoids danger."
By 1915 other manufacturers followed Ford's lead, due to the popularity of the Model T.
In specialised cases, the driver will sit on the nearside, or curbside. Examples include:
- Where the driver needs a good view of the nearside, e.g. street sweepers, or vehicles driven along unstable road edges. Similarly in mountainous areas the driver may be seated opposite side so that they have a better view of the road edge which may fall away for very many metres into the valley below. Swiss Postbuses in mountainous areas are a well known example.
- Where it is more convenient for the driver to be on the nearside, e.g. delivery vehicles. The Grumman LLV postal delivery truck is widely used with RHD configurations in RHT North America. Some Unimogs are designed to switch between LHD and RHD to permit operators to work on the more convenient side of the truck.
Generally, the convention is to mount a motorcycle on the left,
are usually on the left
which makes it more convenient to mount on the safer kerbside
as is the case in LHT. Some jurisdictions prohibit fitting a sidecar
to a motorcycle's offside.
Headlamps and other lighting equipment
Bird's-eye view of low beam light pattern for RH traffic, with long seeing range on the right and short cutoff on the left so oncoming drivers are not dazzled.
Most low-beam headlamps produce an asymmetrical light suitable for use on only one side of the road. Low beam headlamps in LHT jurisdictions throw most of their light forward-leftward; those for RHT throw most of their light forward-rightward, thus illuminating obstacles and road signs while minimising glare for oncoming traffic.
In Europe, headlamps approved for use on one side of the road must be adaptable to produce adequate illumination with controlled glare for temporarily driving on the other side of the road,:p.13 ¶5.8
. This may be achieved by affixing masking strips or prismatic lenses to a part of the lens or by moving all or part of the headlamp optic so all or part of the beam is shifted or the asymmetrical portion is occluded.:p.13 ¶5.8.1
Some varieties of the projector-type headlamp
can be fully adjusted to produce a proper LHT or
RHT beam by shifting a lever or other movable element in or on the lamp assembly.:p.12 ¶5.4
Some vehicles adjust the headlamps automatically when the car's GPS
detects that the vehicle has moved from LHT to RHT and vice versa.
Rear fog lamps
In the European Union, vehicles must be equipped with one or two red rear fog lamps
. A single rear fog lamp must be located between the vehicle's longitudinal centreline and the outer extent of the driver's side of the vehicle.
Crash testing differences
reports that some RHD cars imported to that country did not perform as well on crash tests as the LHD versions, although the cause is unknown, and may be due to differences in testing methodology.
Handedness of rail traffic worldwide
In most countries, rail traffic travels on the same side as road traffic. However, in many cases, railways were built using LHT British technology and, while road traffic switched to RHT, rail remained LHT. Examples include: Argentina, Belgium, Bolivia, Cambodia, Chile, Egypt, France, Iraq, Israel, Italy, Laos, Monaco, Myanmar, Nigeria, Peru, Portugal, Senegal, Slovenia, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Tunisia, Venezuela, and Yemen. In Indonesia it is the reverse (RHT for rails (even for LRT systems) and LHT for roads). France is mainly LHT for trains, except for the classic lines in Alsace-Lorraine
which belonged to Germany from 1870 to 1918, when the railways were built, along with most metro systems. China is basically LHT for long-distance trains and RHT for metro systems. Spain, which is RHT for railways has LHT for metros in Madrid and Bilbao. Metros and light rail sides of operation vary, and might not match railways or roads in their country. Trams generally operate at the same side as other road traffic because they frequently share roads.
Helmsman's station on a Philippine Marine Corps patrol boat
Boats are traditionally piloted from starboard
(the right-hand side) to facilitate priority to the right
. According to the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea
, water traffic is effectively RHT: a vessel proceeding along a narrow channel must keep to starboard, and when two power-driven vessels are meeting head-on both must alter course to starboard also. For aircraft the US Federal Aviation Regulations
suggest RHT principles, both in the air and on water, and in aircraft with side-by-side cockpit seating, the pilot-in-command (or more senior flight officer) traditionally occupies the left seat.
Worldwide distribution by country
Of the 195 countries currently recognised by the United Nations, 141 use RHT and 54 use LHT on roads in general. A country and its territories and dependencies are counted as one. Whichever directionality is listed first is the type that is used in general in the traffic category.
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