Fight for the Right - to Drive on the Left
Last summer, following my return to Canada from a 3 week trip to the UK, I wrote a post for this blog about driving on the left. The left hand side of the road is actually the natural side of the road on which to drive.
The reason is steeped in history. In medieval times, knights on horseback would pass by the left of their enemies in battle in order to engage them in swordplay with their stronger right arm. In modern times, belligerent drivers have the benefit of being able to wind down the driver's side window to use their right arm for digital greeting gestures to other drivers.
Take the Second Exit You Stupid @#&^%$*!
There is an interesting side story from that UK trip regarding hand gestures. I was with a party of fellow visitors from Canada travelling in convoy. The lead car had the benefit of a GPS ("Sat Nav" in UK parlance). As we approached a roundabout the person in the passenger seat of the lead car stuck her hand out of the window and vigorously indicated with her fingers that we should take the second exit from the roundabout.
A lorry driver behind her misunderstood her helpful navigation signal and demonstrated his anger by tailgating her and leaning on his horn. It is always helpful to understand alternative interpretations of hand signals when travelling abroad.
Another aspect of driving on the left comes to mind when approaching a roundabout. British drivers take a clockwise path around the roundabout. Roundabouts (or traffic circles as they are called in Canada) are rare here. I discovered one near Kitchener, Ontario recently and was horrified when I realized that I would have to take a counter-clockwise (anti-clockwise in the UK) route around it.
Counter-clockwise is counter intuitive for one who learned to drive in the United Queendom. It is also very bad luck, a portent of evil. In the northern hemisphere, if one faces the Sun, it appears to move in a clockwise direction across the sky. Travelling counter-clockwise, "widdershins" as it is known to Neo-Pagans, is a movement against the natural order of the universe. If Canada ever adopts roundabouts on a large scale - which seems unlikely - we may expect accident rates to increase for unexpected and unknown reasons.
But drivers do not always stay on the left hand side of Britain's roads. In fact some of Britain's roads do not have a left hand side. Neither do they have a right hand side. They are too narrow to have sides at all. My wife encountered one such road in the south west of England last summer. It was so narrow that the overgrown hedgerows on either side of the road brushed against both sides of the car as she drove. It was raining quite heavily too (but of course). And it was dark. And we met a car coming in the other direction.
Now that Britain is a well-established member of the European community, an idea to switch to driving on the right hand side of the road has been proposed. It will be a phased approach. Starting on 1st April 2010 cars will be switched over to the right hand side of Britain's roads. If the first phase is successful, trucks and buses will also make the switchover 2 years later.
"Comedy always works best when it is mean-spirited" - John Cleese
Author John Corby also writes as "Bulldogge" for the British Canadian newspaper.
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Thursday, June 11, 2009
10 Things I Miss Most About Britain: #6 Driving on the Left
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