The Suitcase Lady


June 2, 2020, 9:09 pm

An important life skill is knowing with certainty those things you cannot or should not ever do. Right on top of my list is, “Don’t get behind the wheel in a country that drives on the left side of the road.” My husband has similar feelings.

Exploring new places with a rented car, an open-ended itinerary and a paper map is our idea of pure joy. But it took one rented car in the Turks and Caicos to enlighten us on our driving deficiencies. Fortunately, the car was a rent-a-wreck and the traffic was light. As my husband was headed out of the rental car lot, he noticed the attendant waving frantically to us. We were headed for the wrong lane. After we were rolling on the right side which was left, other problems popped up. I always knew when we were about to make a turn because the windshield wipers came on…all the instruments were reversed on the dashboard. Although we returned the car with no new damage, we were nervous wrecks.

All this means that there are 76 countries and territories in the world where we will not be doing the driving. 34 % of the world’s population drives on the left.

The British Isles and their former territories usually are the first to come to mind when thinking of left-hand driving. But here are some more facts on the lefties.

Japan drives on the left. The custom dates back to the Samurai era when the swordsmen needed their strong hand free to deal with approaching enemies.

Napoleon and his conquests are responsible for much of the right-hand driving in Europe. The aristocracy always drove their carriages on the left with the peasants shunted to the right. Napoleon wanted a whole new society and decreed that traffic would all be on the right.

In 1955, the Swedish government held a referendum on switching from left-hand to right-hand driving. It lost by 82.9 %. However, in 1963, the people were overruled when the parliament approved the change to the right. On Sunday, September 3, 1967, at 5:00 AM, the big switch occurred. This was called “Dagen H”, the “H” standing for Högertrafikomläggningen (right-hand traffic diversion). All traffic was cleared from the roads at 1:00 AM. Amidst fireworks, the first traffic, taxis and bikes, was escorted onto the empty roads at 5:00 AM by police escorts. Throughout the day the volume was increased until it reached near normal by night. Only 157 accidents were reported for the entire day, lower than for a normal Sunday.

And, finally, you can drive on the left in America, but you have to be in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

1 Comment for this entry

  • evie robillard

    Mary & Russ–that makes me nervous just thinking about it!!! yikes! and ach du leiber . . . xxxmoi