World’s Strangest

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Why Don’t We All Drive on the Same Side of the Road?

Yesterday, the residents of Samoa began driving on the right side of the road instead of the left. This is the first major switch since the 1970s, when Ghana, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone made the change. Randy James of Time magazine has an article exploring how different nations came to use different sides of the road:

Theories differ, but there’s no doubt Napoleon was a major influence. The French have used the right since at least the late 18th century (there’s evidence of a Parisian “keep-right” law dating to 1794). Some say that before the French Revolution, aristocrats drove their carriages on the left, forcing the peasantry to the right. Amid the upheaval, fearful aristocrats sought to blend in with the proletariat by traveling on the right as well. Regardless of the origin, Napoleon brought right-hand traffic to the nations he conquered, including Russia, Switzerland and Germany. Hitler, in turn, ordered right-hand traffic in Czechoslovakia and Austria in the 1930s. Nations that escaped right-handed conquest, like Great Britain, preserved their left-handed tradition.

Link via Outside the Beltway

Image by flickr user multitrack used under creative commons license.

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