The UK is well-known for driving on the left. However, which other countries follow suit? Moreover, are these places suitable for those looking to embark on a self-drive holiday? We’ve compiled a useful guide for you.
- How many Countries Drive on the Left?
- Which Countries Drive on the Left?
- Why does the UK Drive on the Left-hand Side?
- What are the Advantages of Driving on the Left?
- What are the Disadvantages of Driving on the Left?
- Can I Take My Car to a Country that Drives on the Left?
- Are Left-side Driving Countries good for a self-drive holiday?
- Tips for Driving Abroad
- Frequently asked questions
How many Countries Drive on the Left?
Out of the 193 countries that are acknowledged by the United Nations, approximately 54 have adopted the practice of driving on the left-hand side of the road.
This means that less than a third of the world’s countries prefer this system. In contrast, the majority, which accounts for about two-thirds of nations globally, follow the right-hand driving convention.
It is particularly noteworthy that the vast majority of countries across mainland Europe have the custom of right-hand driving. Therefore, if you’re thinking of embarking on a road trip across Europe, it’s crucial to remember that you’ll likely be driving on the right for most of your journey.
This small piece of knowledge is not only essential for route planning but also vital for safety and compliance with local traffic laws.
Which Countries Drive on the Left?
The tradition of driving on the left-hand side of the road is quite prevalent among nations that were once part of the British Empire. This includes countries like Australia, India, South Africa, and various nations within the Caribbean.
Below is a comprehensive list of countries, territories, and islands where left-hand driving is the norm:
In Europe, you can Drive on the Left in the following places:
- Channel Islands (includes Jersey and Guernsey)
- Isle of Man
- UK mainland
In Asia, Left-hand Driving is observed in:
- East Timor
- Hong Kong
- Sri Lanka
Oceania has several countries and territories with Left-hand Driving, including:
- Christmas Island
- Cocos (Keeling) Islands
- Cook Islands
- New Zealand
- Norfolk Island
- Papua New Guinea
- Pitcairn Islands
- Solomon Islands
In Africa, you’ll find Left-hand Traffic in:
- Eswatini (formerly Swaziland)
- South Africa
- St Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha
In the Americas, these places Drive on the Left:
- Antigua and Barbuda
- British Virgin Islands
- Cayman Islands
- Falkland Islands
- St Kitts and Nevis
- St Lucia
- St Vincent and the Grenadines
- Trinidad and Tobago
- Turks and Caicos Islands
- US Virgin Islands
Remembering which side of the road to drive on is crucial for safety and conforming to local laws, especially when travelling abroad. Whether you’re in the bustling cities of Japan or the scenic landscapes of New Zealand, make sure to stay on the left to ensure a smooth journey.
Why does the UK Drive on the Left-hand Side?
The practice of driving on the left-hand side of the road in the UK has its roots deeply entrenched in history, well before the invention of cars. These reasons are more closely related to combat and defence tactics than modern road regulations.
Going back to the days of the Roman Empire, chariot riders preferred to travel on the left side of the road. This strategic choice was made to keep their right arm—the dominant arm for the majority—free to wield swords or other weapons to fend off attacks.
As time progressed and horse-drawn vehicles became the norm, the tradition continued for practical reasons. Drivers often sat on the right-hand side of the carriage, leaving their right hand free to use the whip to control the horses, without the risk of hitting other vehicles.
Fast forward to the bustling streets of 18th-century London, traffic congestion was becoming problematic, particularly on London Bridge. To tackle this, a law was passed mandating that all traffic should keep to the left to minimise collisions and streamline the flow of carriages and pedestrians alike.
The practice was formally codified in Great Britain in 1835 with the passing of the Highway Act, and subsequently, this rule of the road was adopted by many countries within the British Empire.
Did you know?
The British government once pondered the idea of transitioning to right-hand driving. In 1969, the notion was seriously considered but ultimately abandoned due to concerns over safety and the staggering costs that such a monumental change would incur.
Switching driving sides is a significant undertaking; nonetheless, some countries have successfully made the transition, such as Sweden, Nigeria, and Ghana. Each of these nations had their own reasons for making the switch and managed the changeover with varying strategies to adapt their road systems and driving practices.
What are the Advantages of Driving on the Left?
According to the Automobile Association (AA), a study from 1969 indicates there are safety benefits associated with driving on the left side of the road, although the advantage is somewhat slight. The key points of this finding include:
- Right-Hand Dominance: Since a majority of the population is right-handed and right-eye dominant, driving on the left side could potentially enhance the driver’s ability to make quick and accurate decisions on the road.
- Improved Judgement and Control: When the driver’s dominant hand is closer to the centre of the road, it may result in better control of the steering wheel and more precise judgement of distances and speeds of oncoming traffic.
While the study suggests that the benefits are marginal, these small margins could translate into important safety improvements when considering the vast number of vehicles and drivers on the roads.
It’s worth noting that driving customs and vehicle designs have been adapted to suit the rules of the road in different countries. For instance, the driver’s seat in British cars is positioned to complement left-hand driving, thereby aligning with the majority’s natural tendencies for better visibility and control.
What are the Disadvantages of Driving on the Left?
While there are some argued benefits to driving on the left, there are also notable disadvantages that come with this system:
Higher Car Costs: A significant portion of the world drives on the right, leading to a greater global demand for cars designed for right-hand driving. Consequently, cars tailored for left-hand driving, like those used in the UK, can be costlier due to lower production volumes. This often means that British consumers may face higher prices for their cars compared to their counterparts in mainland Europe.
Travel Inconvenience: For UK drivers travelling abroad, the transition to driving on the right-hand side can be challenging. Adjusting to a different side of the road can be disorienting and potentially hazardous, especially when hiring and driving a car that has the driver’s seat and controls on the opposite side to what they are accustomed to.
These drawbacks highlight some of the logistical and financial implications of left-hand driving, which can affect both local car markets and international travellers from the UK.
Can I Take My Car to a Country that Drives on the Left?
Yes, it’s entirely possible to take your car to a country where the norm is to drive on the left, provided you have all the necessary paperwork in order.
- A valid driving licence
- Car insurance that is valid in the country you’re visiting
- The vehicle registration document (V5C)
However, the practicality of this can vary depending on your destination.
If you’re planning to visit a European country that drives on the left, your choices are:
For Ireland, the journey is relatively straightforward. You can take a ferry across, and the process is quite user-friendly, with numerous services running between the UK and Ireland.
On the other hand, if you’re aiming for Malta or Cyprus, things get more complicated. These countries are island nations, which means:
- You’d likely have to ship your car, which can be expensive and involves a lot of logistics.
- You’d need to consider the duration of the shipping, as it will take significantly longer than travelling to Ireland.
- There may be additional regulations or import duties to consider, even for a temporary visit.
It’s also worth considering whether taking your car is cost-effective and practical when compared to hiring a car upon arrival, especially for longer distances or when crossing seas. Always do your research and plan to ensure that taking your car abroad is the best option for your trip.
Are Left-side Driving Countries good for a self-drive holiday?
The Appeal of Familiar Road Rules
If you’re considering a self-drive holiday and the thought of adapting to driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road fills you with dread, then choosing a destination with the same driving side as the UK can make your journey less stressful.
Juggling the challenges of foreign road signs, varying speed limits, and unfamiliar languages is quite enough without having to rewire your driving instincts as well.
Scenic Destinations with Left-Hand Driving
There’s a wonderful array of destinations where you can enjoy the scenery without the hassle of adjusting to right-side driving:
- New Zealand
- South Africa
These countries are renowned for their stunning landscapes and are considered some of the best places in the world for scenic drives. Plus, they all drive on the left, making them ideal for British travellers looking for a road trip adventure.
Car Hire and Insurance Abroad
When hiring a car:
- Insurance is typically included in the rental cost.
- Always read the terms and conditions carefully to avoid any unexpected costs for damages.
Local Self-Drive Holidays
If you’re inclined to stay closer to the UK:
- Jersey offers an appealing option for a driving holiday.
- You can take your own vehicle on a ferry from Poole or Portsmouth.
- Explore the island with the comfort of familiar road rules.
- Your UK car insurance usually has you covered, but it’s prudent to double-check before you set off.
Embarking on a self-drive holiday in a left-side driving country not only eases the transition but also enriches your travel experience by providing a sense of confidence behind the wheel, letting you fully immerse yourself in the new sights and experiences.
Tips for Driving Abroad
When preparing for an overseas driving adventure, it’s crucial to be well-informed and prepared. Here are some pointers to help ensure a smooth experience:
Research Local Driving Laws: Even in countries that drive on the left, road rules can differ significantly from those in the UK. Familiarise yourself with local traffic laws, including speed limits, parking regulations, and any unique driving customs.
Understand Road Signage: Road signs may use different symbols or be in a foreign language. Study the most common signs you’re likely to encounter to avoid confusion on the road.
Carry the Right Documents: Always have the necessary paperwork to drive legally in the country you’re visiting. This usually includes:
- Your full valid driver’s licence
- An International Driving Permit if required
- Motor insurance certificate
- Vehicle registration document (V5C)
- Your passport (or national ID for EU countries)
Check Vehicle Requirements: Some countries have specific requirements for vehicles, like the need for winter tyres or an emissions sticker. Check these in advance to ensure your vehicle is compliant.
Plan Your Route: Before setting off, plan your route carefully. Consider using GPS but also have a physical map as a backup.
Hire Cars: If renting, thoroughly check the hire car for any existing damage before driving away to avoid disputes later on.
Stay Informed: Keep an eye on travel advisories from the UK Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) for up-to-date information on your destination.
Remember, a well-prepared driver is a safer driver, especially when navigating the roads in a foreign country.
Frequently asked questions
Yes, it is legal to drive a left-hand-drive (LHD) car in the UK. These cars are often imported and if you’re bringing one into the country on your own, here’s what you need to do:
- Register the vehicle with HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC).
- Following this, ensure it is also registered with the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA).
For comprehensive guidance on the import process, you’ll find all the details on the UK Government’s website under the section for importing vehicles. It’s a helpful resource for understanding the steps and paperwork required.
Yes, you can arrange insurance for a left-hand-drive car in the UK, and you don’t have to seek out specialist insurers for this purpose. Here’s how you can go about it:
- When using comparison services, you’ll typically be asked if your car is a right-hand drive. If you have a left-hand drive, simply update the details accordingly.
- After this adjustment, you’ll be presented with a range of insurance quotes from providers willing to insure your left-hand-drive vehicle.
Do keep in mind, however, that insurance premiums for left-hand-drive cars can be higher than for their right-hand-drive counterparts. This is usually due to several reasons:
- Many left-hand-drive cars in the UK are imports, often from countries like the USA.
- Imported cars may have different specifications and standards.
- Replacement parts for these vehicles can be harder to source.
- Such cars can sometimes be more attractive to thieves.
All these factors can contribute to an increase in the cost of insurance premiums. It’s wise to factor in these potential extra costs when considering owning and driving a left-hand-drive car in the UK.