Why do people in Japan and the UK both drive on the left side of the road?
When I learned that people in Japan and the UK both drive on the left side of the road, I wondered at such a coincidence! After all, three-quarters of the world drive on the right side of the road, which makes both sets of islands as being in the minority.
Now this got me thinking. Is it really a coincidence? Could there be a perfectly logical reason why Japan and the UK ended up the same way? It turns out that there are indeed some perfectly logical reasons.
The first reason is due to the way swordsman wielded their swords. Most people are right-handed. Therefore, in the days of old, it was safer for these swordsmen to have left-side passage so that their swords could be drawn more easily in an emergency. It also reduced the chances of their scabbards hitting other people, too.
Another aspect is that a right-handed person finds it easier to mount a horse from the left side and even more so if they have a sword. So for mounting and dismounting, again it was easier to keep to the left side of the road.
Yet, it wasn’t only Japan and the UK that were keeping to the left side of the road during these old times. Many other countries were in exactly the same situation. However, as time went by, in many of these other countries, various factors resulted in them switching to the right side of the road. For instance, the seating arrangements found in large wagons meant it was easier to keep to the right side of the road. Wars, revolutions and so on also played a part.
Anyhow, for Japan and the UK, we seem to have stuck to the left. It may have been possible that Japan could have switched to the right side of the road when the United States, France and the UK made bids in the 1870s to provide technical assistance with building a railway network. As Japan selected the UK, though, it further reinforced Japan’s position of sticking to the left side of the road.