Why Does Thailand Drive on the Left Side of the Road? - TravelGreatness.com (2023)

Why Does Thailand Drive on the Left Side of the Road? - TravelGreatness.com (1)

Before going to Thailand for the first time I heard that they drive on the left side of the road.

And since I then never had visited a country that drives on the left side I thought I would find out why just Thailand drives on the left side of the road.

This is what I found out:

The reason why Thailand drives on the left side of the road is that the first car in Thailand was a gift from the Royal Family of England to the King of Thailand back in the 1900s. Since the United Kingdom drives on the left side of the road, the car given was made for left-hand driving. Car trading happened and as a direct result, Thailand built its roads to drive on the left.

Thailand is one of the 78 out of 195 countries in the world drive left.

But look a little closer to why the Thai people drive on the left side of the road? Is it the same reason as in other countries?

A lot of people think that colonization has something to do with determining the driving side of the road.

Well, that’s partially true but Thailand was never colonized and is the only country in Southeast Asia that wasn’t colonized by the Europeans.

History of left-side driving

About 35% of the world population drives on the left and the countries that do are mostly old British colonies.

Left side driving can be traced back to old times where people would ride their horses on the left during swordfights.

The reason why they do this is that most people are right-handed so swordsmen would keep to the left so that their right arm is nearer to the opponent.

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When big wagons that were pulled by several pairs of horses were used to carry heavy objects, there was no driver’s seat so the rider would sit on the left rear horse so he could use his right arm to guide the horses.

Naturally, he would want the oncoming wagons to pass by his left so he could check if his wagon’s wheels would get caught so he would stick to the right side of the road.

While the rest of the world seems to practice right-side driving, Britain didn’t follow this trend and became the first country that made left hand driving mandatory in 1835.

The colonies of the British Empire also followed.

This is why the majority of countries that drive on the left side are former British colonies.

Countries switching to right-side driving

Did you know that right side driving was first noticed in Russia?

In 1709, the Danish envoy observed that it was a custom in Russia that cars would pass on the right.

This custom became law when Empress Elizabeth officially made it into law in 1752.

The standard reason for driving to the right is because that’s what Napoleon wanted.

Since he was left-handed, it was easier and more comfortable for him to drive on the right side of the road.

And since he conquered most of Europe, he can pretty much tell all of them to drive the way he wanted to.

Some countries drive originally on the left but made to switch to the right.

Here are some of the countries that did:

France

The original traffic in France is based on their social status.

The aristocrats rode on the left side of the road while the peasants would walk on the right side so they can see the incoming wagons.

But after the French Revolution in 1789, the aristocrats joined the peasants on the right side of the road to keep a low profile.

The United States of America

Being a former colony of the United Kingdom, the USA drove on the left side of the road because Britain made it mandatory to do so.

But when the USA gained its independence, they wanted to remove every links and customs that they were doing when they were still a colony.

That includes left side driving so over the years they gradually shifted to right-side driving.

Canada

Canada continued to drive on the left side of the road until after World War II.

Quebec to Louisiana was controlled by the French so they drove on the right while the territories of British Columbia, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland were occupied by Britain, so they drove on the left.

After the war, the territories that Britain held was switched to right-side driving to conform with the rest of Canada.

Austria

Austria was divided when it comes to driving. Half of the country drove on the left side and the other half on the right side.

This is because when Napoleon went on a conquest, he only managed to conquer half of Austria which is why the remaining half still drives on the left.

But when the Nazis marched into Austria, Hitler commanded that Austria should drive on the right side of the road.

South Korea

When Korea was under the Japanese colonial rule, they followed the traffic regulations of Japan which are left-side driving.

However, when they were passed directly to the USA, Korea changed to right-side driving.

Up until now, traffic regulations in Korea are heavily influenced by the Americans. One example is their adaptation of US interstate highways signs and numbering system.

Countries switching to left-side driving

Interestingly enough, not all driving switches are made from left to right.

Samoa is the only country that switched from the right side driving to left side driving since the 1970s.

Samoa Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Lupesoliai Malielegaoi made the decision to switch the driving road of the entire country to left in 2009.

Samoa made this decision to switch so that they could import cheap vehicles from the left like New Zealand and Australia.

The way they prepared for this is incredibly extensive.

The government widened and made new roads, put up new signages, adjusted their speed bumps, provided a lot of road markings, lowered the speed limit, and even banned the alcohol sales for three days.

On September 7 at exactly 5:50 in the morning, a radio announcement stopped the traffic.

Ten minutes later, the traffic re-started and most of their traffic rules had changed.

Tips for when driving on the left side

Supposedly you just moved to another place that drives on the opposite side of the road, or your country pulled a Samoa and changed the traffic flow.

Here are some of the tips that might come in handy when you switch driving roads:

Automatic Transmission is your best friend

Driving stick-shift on the “wrong” side of the road can be challenging for you.

You’ll have to constantly reach for the stick but only to find out that it’s on the other side.

Keep your driving safe by not wasting a second fiddling for the missing stick and get yourself an automatic car.

Test drive during non-peak hours

Get rid of the uncertainty when driving on the opposite side by making yourself familiar and comfortable with your car and the road.

Avoid the usual morning rush and other traffic jams that might cause additional stress to your drive.

Practice makes a perfectly safe driving.

Add extra time to your schedule

You can’t have yourself speeding through the freeway on an unfamiliar driving setting just because you’re late.

Add some extra minutes to your drive no matter how short it will be.

Get yourself a co-pilot

If possible, have someone on the shotgun seat.

Delegate the task of maps, DJing, and keeping an extra eye on the road to them.

The less distracted you are on the road, the safer you will be.

Let someone else drive first

If you’re unsure about your driving skills on such an unfamiliar road, don’t drive at all.

Let someone else who is used to driving on the opposite side of the road take the driving wheel.

It’s bad enough that you might get into an accident and hurt yourself, you’ll also have to deal with the law on foreign land.

No matter what side you’re driving on, be safe!

FAQs

Does Thailand drive on the left side of the road? ›

Which side of the road do they drive on in Thailand? Thai drive on the left-hand side of the road, like the UK. So, the steering wheel's on the right too, which is good news if you're planning on hiring a car. People in Thailand tend to speed and zip about.

Why do some country drive on the left side of the road? ›

Archaeological evidence suggests that the ancient Romans may have driven their carts and chariots on the left, and the practice seems to have carried over into parts of medieval Europe. The reasons for this are not entirely certain, but some believe it arose as a matter of safety.

Why do the Japanese drive on the left? ›

In essence, driving on the left has little to do with cars. Quite the contrary, it's all for the convenience of the samurai and Japanese road usage logic. You see, at the time of the samurai, city streets and footpaths were quite narrow. In addition, most samurai were right-handed and wore their katana on the left.

Why do the British drive on the left? ›

Traffic congestion in 18th century London led to a law being passed to make all traffic on London Bridge keep to the left in order to reduce collisions. This rule was incorporated into the Highway Act of 1835 and was adopted throughout the British Empire.

Why does Hong Kong drive on the left? ›

When the first automobile hit Hong Kong's streets in 1903, it drove on the left side of the road, not only because Hong Kong was a British colony, but because that had been the accepted order of things for thousands of years.

Why does America not drive on the left? ›

In the US, right-hand traffic goes back to the 18th century. Freight wagons were pulled by teams of horses. and the drivers rode on the left rear horse, using their right hand to more easily control the team. Traffic shifted to the right so drivers could easily avoid collisions.

What is the advantage of driving on the left side? ›

According to the company, left-hand driving greatly improves safety since the driver can easily spot incoming vehicles. At present, only four European countries use the left-hand driving system.

Why is driving on the left better? ›

Left Hand countries deliver safer driving

In left-hand traffic systems, the better-perfoming right eye is used to monitor oncoming traffic and the driver's wing mirror. In right-hand traffic, the weaker left eye takes over. Plus, left-sided driving is safer for the elderly due to their failing visual abilities.

Do Chinese people drive on the right side? ›

In mainland China, traffic drives on the right-hand side of the road. Various neighbours such as Hong Kong, Macau, India, Nepal and Pakistan drive on the left.

Why did Sweden changed driving side? ›

Sweden initiated the driving change in part because its neighbors already drove on the right side of the road. Many members of the Swedish parliament also argued that the left-hand vehicles Swedes drove had caused too many head-on collisions.

Why do Koreans drive on the right? ›

Korea now drives right, but only because it passed directly from Japanese colonial rule to American and Russian influence at the end of the Second World War. Pakistan also considered changing to the right in the 1960s, but ultimately decided not to do it.

Why do British say bloody? ›

Bloody. Don't worry, it's not a violent word… it has nothing to do with “blood”.”Bloody” is a common word to give more emphasis to the sentence, mostly used as an exclamation of surprise. Something may be “bloody marvellous” or “bloody awful“. Having said that, British people do sometimes use it when expressing anger…

Why America drives on the right? ›

New York, in 1804, became the first State to prescribe right hand travel on all public highways. By the Civil War, right hand travel was followed in every State. Drivers tended to sit on the right so they could ensure their buggy, wagon, or other vehicle didn't run into a roadside ditch.

Why are old French cars right hand drive? ›

After the Middle Ages, European countries like France and England started to make their own choice about which side of the road to prefer. England was the first nation to pass an official rule, in 1773, which made driving on the left the law. France, on the other hand, chose to drive on the right.

When did China switch to driving on the right? ›

China (mainland)

After 1946, China followed the United States, by changing to driving on the right, due to political reasons that the United States helped China to fight against Japanese occupation during World War II and American cars (mostly LHD) were already popular in the mainland.

Did China ever drive on the left? ›

China Used Drive on the Left

I checked old pictures of Shanghai, and confirmed that in 1930's, people really drive on the LEFT!

Do they drive on the left in Russia? ›

What side of the road do they drive on in Russia? Like in most of mainland Europe, motorists drive on the right-hand side of the road in Russia.

Why does America drive on the right and England on the left? ›

The British Government refused to give up their left-hand driving ways, and in 1773 introduced the General Highways Act, which encouraged driving on the left. This was later made law thanks to The Highway Act of 1835.

Why does Canada not drive on the left? ›

Probably because Canada has a very large next door neighbour that drives on the right, and it's more convenient if they all do the same. Japan and Ireland, like Australia, New Zealand and Malta, are all island countries, with no land borders with any country driving on the right, so they all still drive on the left.

Why do Americans have steering wheel on left side? ›

The reason American automobiles have the steering wheel on the left side of the car comes from wagon drivers. They would sit on the left side of the wagon and hold the reigns while whipping the horses with their right hand.

Which is safer left or right side driving? ›

More traffic means the likelihood that there is a motorist on the road that is going to make an error. It is therefore, more accurate to conclude that collisions are attributed to multiple factors and have very little to do with whether a country drives on the left or on the right.

Why do Europeans drive on the right? ›

Archaeological evidence suggests the ancient Romans drove carts and chariots on the left, likely so they could hold a weapon with their dominant right hands and more easily reach an enemy. The practice was kept alive in Europe all the way through the Middle Ages.

How many countries drive left? ›

Out of 241 countries around the globe, there are still 68 countries where you drive on the left side. Most of them are or were once dependent on the British Crown.

Why do the French drive on the right? ›

As the story goes, the aristocracy in France used to drive on the left side, forcing the peasants over to the right, but after the French Revolution, aristocrats moved to the right to blend in.

What percentage of the world drives left? ›

About 30% of the world's population drive on the left-hand side of the road but why is this? Interestingly, the answer to this question is thought to lie within ancient Rome. Archaeology has suggested that the Romans used to ride their horses, carts and chariots on the left.

Is it harder for lefties to drive? ›

Surprisingly, despite all this, studies have shown that left-handers actually learn to drive faster than right-handers! More lefties pass their driving test the first time than righties, and instructors say they pick up some skills like clutch control much more quickly.

Can an American drive in China? ›

To drive a car in China, you need a Chinese driver's license. China does not recognize the International Driving Permit or other foreign driver's licenses. Only foreigners with a valid residence permit can apply for a Chinese driver's license. Tourists are therefore not allowed to drive in China.

What side do Japanese drive on? ›

In Japan, vehicles usually drive on the left-hand side of the road. Be sure to obey any signs that indicate a speed limit. The legal speed limit is 60 km per hour on general roads and 100 km per hour on expressways.

Is one drive blocked in China? ›

OneDrive is blocked in China.

The problem is, you will not be able to access this service or your OneDrive account without using a workaround. To access OneDrive, or any other restricted website in China, the best option is to use VPN software.

Why did Iceland switch to driving on the right? ›

“By the end of the 1960s, Iceland was facing a monumental transportation infrastructure project, and it was clear that it would be expensive to make any changes to it once complete. And so it was decided to push ourselves into the traffic lane used by the rest of Europe.

When did Europe switch to driving on the right? ›

In 1924, Canada, Poland and Spain switched to the right-hand side, and in 1928 Brazil and Portugal did the same. Austria made the switch gradually between 1919 and 1938. Britain, Ireland, Malta and Cyprus are the only European countries still sticking to the left.

Which countries keep right driving? ›

Still, there are some countries that want to maintain their right-hand driving tradition — particularly the U.K. Other countries that also practice it include:
  • Thailand.
  • South Africa.
  • Singapore.
  • New Zealand.
  • Malta.
  • Malaysia.
  • Kenya.
  • Japan.
20 Apr 2017

What side does Dubai drive on? ›

Which side of the road do you drive on in Dubai? You drive on the right-hand side of the road in Dubai and the UAE. Vehicles in Dubai have the steering wheel on the left and they drive on the right-hand side of the road.

Can you turn right on a red light in Korea? ›

(1) Red signal--

(b) A vehicle may turn right, provided it will not interfere with a pedestrian or right-of way vehicle. (2) Yellow signal--A driver must come to a complete stop before reaching the stop line, a pedestrian crosswalk, or an intersection.

Why do Koreans turn sideways when they drink? ›

Turn away and cover your mouth when drinking

In Korea, it's a practice to not face someone older straight on when you're drinking. You'll notice that people turn their heads either to the right or away from the table and have their left hands over their mouths as they drink.

What countries still drive on the left? ›

List of Territories and Countries That Follow Left-Hand Traffic Laws
  • Australia.
  • Christmas Island.
  • Cocos (Keeling) Islands.
  • Cook Islands.
  • Fiji.
  • Kiribati.
  • Nauru.
  • New Zealand.

Which side is the driver seat in Thailand? ›

Some of the other major countries not previously mentioned which drive on the left are the Bahamas, Bangladesh, the Cook Islands, the Falkland Islands, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Kenya, Malaysia, New Zealand, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Zimbabwe.

Which countries use left side of road? ›

The bulk of countries that drive on the left are former British colonies including South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. Only four countries in Europe still drive on the left and they are all islands. They consist of the UK, the Republic of Ireland, Malta and Cyprus.

Does Thai go left to right? ›

Thai is written across the page from left to right, with no spaces between words, for example: You are trying to view Flash content, but you have no Flash plugin installed.

Why did Sweden stop driving on the left? ›

Sweden initiated the driving change in part because its neighbors already drove on the right side of the road. Many members of the Swedish parliament also argued that the left-hand vehicles Swedes drove had caused too many head-on collisions.

When did the US stop driving on the left? ›

Thus, most American cars produced before 1910 were made with right-side driver seating, although intended for right-side driving. Such vehicles remained in common use until 1915, and the 1908 Model T was the first of Ford's cars to feature a left-side driving position.

Can you cross your legs in Thailand? ›

You can sit cross-legged or on your knees, provided you keep your feet out of view.

Is it hard to drive in Thailand? ›

Though being behind the wheel in any foreign place takes a little getting used to, once you get out of the capital of Bangkok and beyond other big cities—where traffic, tailgaters, and navigating your way around can be challenging—you'll find tropical Thailand in Southeast Asia is actually a pleasant place to drive, as ...

Does China drive on the left? ›

Laws. In mainland China, traffic drives on the right-hand side of the road. Various neighbours such as Hong Kong, Macau, India, Nepal and Pakistan drive on the left.

Which is safer left or right driving? ›

It has been noticed that countries that drive on the left side of the road have considerably fewer traffic accidents and fatalities than those that drive on the right side of the road. A study performed in 1969 by J.J.

Which side do Japanese drive on? ›

In Japan, vehicles usually drive on the left-hand side of the road. Be sure to obey any signs that indicate a speed limit. The legal speed limit is 60 km per hour on general roads and 100 km per hour on expressways.

Is thumbs up rude in Thailand? ›

Traditionally, giving someone the “thumbs up” gesture is similar to giving them the middle finger – ultimately derogatory in nature. While adults in Thailand today have adopted its more international meaning of approval or a job well done, it's still common for kids to exchange the gesture during a childish argument.

Why is pointing rude in Thailand? ›

Gestures: Thai people generally do not use their hands to emphasise their point in conversation. Overly dramatic gestures or frequent and rapid gestures may be misinterpreted as anger in Thailand. Pointing with a single finger is considered to be rude and accusatory.

What is considered rude in Thailand? ›

Don't lose your cool: Shouting, blowing your top, or displaying strong emotions is generally frowned upon in Thailand. Always keep in mind the rules of saving face. Keep your cool even when things go wrong; you'll be respected for doing so.

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