Is driving on the left safer than driving on the right?

In all North American countries the law is literally one-sided:  ‘drive on the right.’  But in our corporate ‘defensive’ and ‘advanced’ driver training courses at Advanced Drivers of North America, we are very frequently asked which is safer — driving on the left or the right.

Far more people drive on the left in the world than many realise, and this is because India is one of the countries concerned. In this photograph from England, traffic is shown on the M6 motorway. (Copyright image, 2014.)

Up until now, our considered, ‘official’ answer has been that it probably makes no difference, as long as people do the correct one for the country they are in.  But it’s now looking possible that this is not correct.

Let me stress that we are posting this topic here only for fun and its curiosity value; clearly no countries will be switching their national system anytime soon… or maybe ever.  (As far as we know, Sweden was the last country to do so, many years ago, because it was originally drive-on-the-left but was surrounded by countries where everyone drove on the right).

A new research paper which became available online from Elsevier only two days ago, on 12 February 2020, suggests that because “‘the rule of the road’ and neurophysiology may have important unrecognized ‘side’ effects,” driving on the left-hand side of the road may actually be safer.

This is based upon “plausible links between neurophysiological aspects such as handedness, eye movement bias, and hemispheric lateralisation and how safe, in theory, LHT vs. RHT may be for whom.”

The title of this research is ‘(Side) effects of the rule of the road and neurophysiology on traffic safety: A hypothesis,’ and both the (free) abstract and the full paper (at a price) are available here.

In a realistic sense, however, what this research does serve to illustrate is that maximum safety when driving is a dramatically more complex issue than virtually anyone gives it credit for.  The vast majority of people have a subconscious belief that just because they have been driving for 10/20/30/40 years, they know all they need to know about safe driving.  Sadly, nothing could be further from the truth.

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Author: EddieWren

Eddie Wren is the CEO and Chief Instructor at Advanced Drivers of North America. His driver safety background is given at: http://www.advanceddrivers.com/ceochief-instructors-resumecvbio/

2 thoughts on “Is driving on the left safer than driving on the right?”

  1. Not directly driving related but certainly how the brain works. As a hobby I draw and paint, mainly pencil drawing. As I love cars itry to draw them. If I try to draw a car that is facing as a. Assimetric drawing with the front on the car on the right with the rear away to the left background I cannot even start the drawing. I am going to try an experiment drawing such a car with my left hand, to see if my brain works using this method. As far as driving on the right I have found that ( laws and markings aside) seeing everything in a mirror image works fairly well. The most mind bending for me is turning left at an intersection where both roads are 6 Lane roads as they are around Phoenix. After being used to rural Lincolnshire Town junctions!

    1. Interesting, David.

      Naturally, one of the key challenges for people travelling and driving in what to them is the ‘wrong’ configuration, is that years or decades of habit and muscle-memory mean that they very often look the wrong way when turning out of a junction/intersection. As you will realise, talking about lefts and rights can fail miserably with many people so we always teach that when turning L or R onto a main road, “always look to the driver’s side first.” That seems easier for people to remember.

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