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Is driving on the left safer than on the right

It sure would be convenient if every country drove on the same side of the road. This would surely make it easier for tourists and prevent them from making a potentially fatal error by driving on the wrong side of the road.

However, it's a fact that some countries drive on the left (74 countries) while others drive on the right (166 countries). Australia is among the minority of countries that drive on the left. The question then is whether driving on the left or right really makes a difference from a safety standpoint.

The History of Keeping Left and Keeping Right

As early as the Roman Empire and middle ages, there was a “keep left” rule on the road. The reason being that most soldiers and armed civilians had their sword strapped on their left side, which made it easier for right handed users to quickly draw their sword in a second’s notice and face the enemy going in the opposite direction.

By the 18th century, however, a “keep right” rule was adopted as horse-drawn carriages became the norm. Operators would typically sit on the leading horse positioned on the left. Riding on the left horse, keeping to the right made it easier to control and navigate the carriage to effectively avoid oncoming traffic.

For some countries, driving on the left or right is a function of history. Driving on the left in Australia is most likely something carried-over from the early English influence.

Is it Safer to Drive on the Left?

Some developed countries like the United States and Germany drive on the right, while other developed nations like Australia and the UK drive on the left. According to statistics, both the US and Germany experience more road fatalities than both Australia and UK. However, you do have to look at overall road conditions, such as total number of vehicles per kilometer, weather conditions, and driving behavior and geography.

Here is the statistical breakdown of road-related fatalities for every 100 million miles driven:

  • Australia – 38
  • UK – 50
  • US – 111
  • Germany – 85

Both Australia and UK, however, do experience a greater number of road fatalities involving a pedestrian, and accounts for 15% and 22.7% of crashes respectively, compared to 12.2% for the U.S., and 14.8% for Germany.

All in all, while more road-related deaths occur in countries that drive on the right, those nations also have more vehicles, which leads to more congested traffic. 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.

For Australian motorists, being a cautious and alert driver is what will keep you safe and from becoming a statistic.