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WildaBeast 04 December 2017 09:29 PM

We drive on the right because of Napolean
I just came across this claim on another board:


It's one of those little things that annoy me - when people think the English are quaint and on the "wrong" side of the road. The truth is that *everyone* used to mount from the left / ride on the left / pass on the right hand. For exactly the same reasons as the steer-side discussion above(*) - the majority are right handed! You pass on the right so you can defend yourself with your sword arm!

Believe it or not, driving on the other side is only common now since a few countries in continental Europe were converted when the French army marched that way, because... Napoleon was left handed!

Then more followed during the political upheavals of the early 20th century where conquering countries imposed their own rules.
I mean, the obvious flaw in that claim is that even if Napoleon was left handed, surely most of his soldiers weren't. If the reason for riding on the left was so you could use your sword to defend yourself, why would he force his soldiers use a side that made it more difficult to defend themselves?

Dr. Dave 04 December 2017 09:49 PM

The UL I heard was that driving on right was a French thing, but it was because of being in horse drawn carriages, the driver sat to the left- and therefore drove on the right side of the road- so he could use his right hand to control the horse reins.

Sword in right hand = ride on left side of road.
Reins in right hand = ride on right side of road.

The presumption being you sit closest to the center of the road unless you are delivering mail.

ganzfeld 05 December 2017 07:44 AM

It partly depends on who the poster means by "we". The "left-handed Napoleon" theory makes no sense for the reasons mentioned. Also, while Napoleonic rules were probably influential in may places (as they were in many other issues), much of Europe remained left-handed until the 20th century. Since the US began codifying right-hand traffic before Napoleon really came to power it seems rather unlikely to have had any effect. Many countries have changed over the years. Like everything else around the world, imperialism (and reactions to it) seem to have played a large role. In the case of Japan, it was apparently a combination of some tradition and the fact that the first railways were contracted by British companies.

Now, can we please start the urban legend that left-handed driving started from left-handed molecules and therefore the right-handers are doomed to fail? :p It seems to be the same sort of situation, though: Maybe there was some basic reason for starting it one way or another but, in the end, one way tends to dominate and it's just by chance that we have almost entirely left-handed life and majority right-handed driving.

RichardM 05 December 2017 04:08 PM

This just proves that the British are more warlike than those of us in North America. We are more peaceful and see no reason to have our swords at the ready. ;)

Don Enrico 06 December 2017 02:07 PM

No, you tend to shoot your enemies at sight, not letting them approach to within sword range. And since your enemies are natives coming from the side of the road, it's better to ride in the right side of the road, so your likely gun-hand is facing outward and you don't have to shoot across oncoming traffic.


Mouse 07 December 2017 02:52 AM

I just assumed that the reason the Brits drove on the opposite side of the road, was out of a desire to be contrary and confusing towards the Americans. Then again, I should probably stop assuming that everything Britain does—driving on the opposite side of the road, adding U’s to words and spelling them with an “re” instead of an “er,” along with possessing an accent that could make anything, even an ad for condoms, sound like the Magna freaking Carta—is payback for the Revolutionary War/War of 1812. :p

ganzfeld 07 December 2017 03:05 AM

US folk complimenting the UK on "the accent" always sounds a bit strange to me. It's as if you have a couple of rugs around your own home and you express your envy of the local rug collector on "your awesome rug". It's like, huh?? Which one?

Don Enrico 07 December 2017 08:44 AM

Coming back to the OP, the way I heard it was that the Romans had their troops pass each other on the left side. Consequently, every nation once under Roman rule - and those that we're influenced by Roman-ruled neighbours - retained the "pass on the left" law - until Napoleon's troops imposed a "pass on the right" law.

Since Britain and Scandinavia weren't conquered by Napoleon, they were driving on the left up until the 1970s (Sweden) or still do (Britain).

But I have no cite for that, and it doesn't explain why, for example, Norway was driving on the right much earlier than Sweden.

RichardM 07 December 2017 03:11 PM

Norway and Sweden is easy. A Norwegian will always do the opposite of what a Swede says - just because.
Richard (grandson of Norwegians) ;)

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