A Brief History Of The Motor Car Chapters 6
Left or Right

A Brief History Of The Motor Car
The early years. Chapter 6 Left or Right
Published by: All Car Central Publishing
Date published: 06/11/2014

As late as 1914 America was still undecided about driving on either the left or right of the highway.

A Mr. McMurty addressing the annual conference of The Motor Corporation in Detroit proclaimed that the choice was dependent on what you drove and in what conditions. He reported that as an engineer and a automobile executive he had tested four cars, three with left-hand drive and the other right hand drive. When driving for pleasure he found the right hand to be better. It was easier to see the side of the road and if driving at night it saved being blinded by electric lights on passing cars. For some reason that he either missed out or was not reported there seems to be no given advantage with the left hand wheel when driving a commercial vehicle except that in his opinion electric lighting was a danger to night driving as, Quote: The driver of a left hand car is always in the full beam of the passing headlights. Yes I agree, it's a little confusing but the interesting thing is that such discussions were taking place within the automobile industry at that time. The last country to change from one side to the other was Sweden in 1969. The order of the days was simple...As from a given date at midnight all traffic with change from right-hand to the left had regardless of where the steering wheel may be located on your car! It was something like the Canadians changing from imperial to metric measurement over a given weekend.

In Canada all that happened was people stopped purchasing until the retailers displayed both measurements, a policy that lasted several years. In Sweden it was a different story with cars hitting each other, commercial traffic virtually at a standstill, public transport in the wrong lane or location simply because the drivers where trying to maintain their previous service route leaving thousands of people stranded. It was estimated that about two percent of the cars on the road had the steering wheel on the correct side while ninety-eight did not. A simple task like going to the fuel station to get gas became a nightmare. To make matters worse, where there was a serious accident it was difficult for the ambulance to reach the required location simply because the road layout did not cater for people driving on the other side of the highway, also where there were stop lights they usually, because of the change over, now faced the wrong way.

Until 1938 Czech's drove on the right hand side but when invaded by Germany the first thing the new pro-German administration did was change to the left so that German transport could use the roads. This left a lot of cars almost useless for much the same reason that we saw in Sweden thirty years later. In Australia where following in the footsteps of Britain they drive on the right hand side in company with New Zealand, Ireland and of course India. Did I also mention China who shares the same type of situation? It's all too easy to think that the left is the most popular until you start to look at the number of cars/drivers in either group. As I learned to drive with a $30 right-hand car in my college days, a car that I eventually sold for $50 on graduating, (Always thought that I had a great future in finance after that but, in the fullness of time proved me wrong!) when I am back in the UK there seems to be no problem until I come face to face with a large truck, wrong side of the road!

WWI was the deciding factor for the American auto industry. Although America did not enter the war until 1917 the auto industry was making vehicles for most of the allies from early in 1915. All of these with the exception of Britain and Ireland were left hand drive so it was economical to make all production follow the same design which as we now know continued when the war was over. The Ford Motor Company had a factory in Britain that supplied vehicles to France Italy etc., with left hand drive as well as supplying the British with right hand vehicles... Quite an achievement for the time.

The British never changed the steering position despite being one of the very few countries in Europe who did not move to the left. In the early 1930's there was a serious suggestion that Britain should change driving sides but when the government added up the cost in terms of changing the whole road system they changed their mind. Remembering the situation in Sweden many years later, I guess they were right!

Next time let's take a look at post war modern classics ...Geoff Wheatley

McLaren F1 1992-98

McLaren F1 1992-98 McLaren F1 1992-98

McLaren could be accused of trying to solve the 'Left-Right' hand issue with the F1 road car. Giving a nod to its Formula 1 race car performance, the McLaren F1 was designed and produced with the driver located in the center of the car leaving a passenger seat on each side of the driver. (Ed.)

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