The following article recently appeared in the MGs of Baltimore
newsletter, "The Octagram". One of our members researched and wrote the
piece. Hope it sheds some light on the question.
Why do the Brits drive on the wrong side? Perhaps the question should
be, "Why does nearly everyone else
drive on the right?", for the practice of driving or riding to the left
was once universal.
The custom of using the left side of the road originated centuries ago
in the need for horsemen to keep
their right, or sword, arms free to defend themselves when meeting
oncoming riders. The practice was
formalized in the Middle Ages when Pope Boniface VIII decreed that
everyone should use the left side of the
roadway. So things remained for several hundred years until the French
Revolution. For no reason other
than to thumb their noses at the established order of the Roman Catholic
Church, the French decided that
everyone should use the right side of the roadway. The United States,
having recently been through its own
revolution, adopted the practice in a show of sympathy for the French
cause and the nations of Europe
gradually followed suit.
Ironically, in 1911 the French briefly considered reverting to left-side
driving. Meanwhile, the Italians
were attempting to compromise, driving to the right in rural areas and
changing to the left when they entered
towns. Right lane driving was standardized at the beginning of the
Mussolini administration in 1923.
Sweden was the last mainland European country to change from left to
right lane, making the switch in
September 1967. Iceland, in May 1968, became the last nation to adopt