On the Left…

Being a former British protectorate, Zambians drive on the wrong side…er…I mean left side of the road.  For me, it requires a whole new mindfulness while driving.  Everything is reversed, including the stick shift (you have to change gears with your left hand).  The turn signal is on the right side of the steering wheel (where our windshield wipers normally are) and the wipers are on the left.  I still frequently turn on the windshield wipers when I’m trying to signal a turn.

Another thing to get used to is passing on the right.  Given the frequency of overloaded, slow-moving vehicles, you get used to this pretty quickly or else you’ll double or triple your travel time.  The photo on the left shows one type of “taxi” here.  (And just think, in Michigan it’s illegal for even a single person to ride in the back of an open-bed truck.)

Remember in kindergarten being taught to look left-right-left when crossing the street?  There’s even a Sesame Street song about it so it’s completely ingrained in my psyche.  That advice will get you run over here!  I’m constantly repeating to myself, right-left-right, and then forcing myself to look right for the close lane, left for the far lane, right for the close lane,  when pulling out from a driveway and/or making a right hand turn.  It’s harder than it sounds!

Fortunately, in many parking lots they have the lanes labeled because of the large numbers of people who just drive down the middle (like me!).


I’ve only had a couple of close calls and fortunately when the cars in my lane flashed their brights at me, I realized that I was in their lane.  Oops.  I still haven’t retrained my brain regarding being a passenger — I still walk to the right side of the car when riding with friends thinking it’s the passenger side.  They invariably ask if I want to drive.

I’ve noticed that once people get used to driving on the left side of the road, they also start walking on the left side of the street (that’s Thom and our neighbor on the road in front of our home — notice they’re sticking to the left side).

According to an encyclopedia about a quarter of the world drives on the left, yet over the past 100 years more and more countries are switching to right-side driving (i.e., Canada switched from left to right side driving in 1923, Portugal in 1928, Taiwan in 1946).  A variety of reasons are given for right versus left-side driving.  Wikipedia says the earliest Roman roads showed travelers rode horses on the left-side of the road.  They suggest the reason for this was that the majority of people were right handed and being on the left side of the road allowed the right hand to be free to either greet friends or hold weapons when meeting foes.

There are at least two reasons given for the switch in preference to right-side driving — one being that it was easier for teams of horses to be on the right because the large wagons hauled by horses had no seats, “instead the driver sat on the left rear horse, so he could keep his right arm free to lash the team. Since he was sitting on the left, he naturally wanted everybody to pass on the left so he could look down and make sure he kept clear of the oncoming wagon’s wheels. Therefore he kept to the right side of the road.” (source: http://www.lhdspecialist.com/history_of_lhd_and_rhd.php)  The other more popularized reason given for the switch from left to right side driving is that Napoleon wanted to do everything he could to antagonize and/or distance himself from the British, so he decreed that if the British marched on the left side of the road, the French would march on the right.

One other interesting little factoid I discovered while searching for why some countries drive on the left versus the right is that research has shown that “countries driving on the left have a lower collision rate than countries driving on the right. It has been suggested this is partly because humans are more commonly right-eye dominant than left-eye dominant. In left-hand traffic, the predominantly better-performing right eye is used to monitor oncoming traffic and the driver’s wing mirror.  In right-hand traffic, oncoming traffic and the driver’s wing mirror are handled by the predominantly weaker left eye. In addition, it has been argued that left sided driving is safer for elderly people given the likelihood of their having visual attention deficits on the left side and the need at intersections to watch out for vehicles approaching on the near-side lane.” (source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Driving_on_the_left_or_right)

Okay, I can see I’ve lapsed into professor-mode, but now ya’ll have some interesting factoids to share as you make the rounds at this weekend’s cocktail parties.

In the meantime, I’ll try to keep concentrating on keeping to the left side of the road, though highway distractions like this fruit-seller tax my limited brain band-width!  Just another thing to think about when driving…should I buy the pears, oranges or apples?


About Kimm X Jayne

Gravatar Photograph from the exceptionally talented Ben Heine. http://www.flickr.com/photos/benheine/3794765860/
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3 Responses to On the Left…

  1. Lisa Murray-Johnson says:

    Kimm check your msu email –the concert is starting. Email jeff at his johns225@msu.edu for the passcode

    • Maureen Witte says:

      I can remember when we spent a month in New Zealand. We got used to driving “on the wrong” side and it was really tough reversing it all when we got back home. Amazing how the brain works.

  2. Mikey says:

    We never got used to the windshield wipers!

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