Could Britain drive on the right?
The Flipper Bridge between Hong Kong and China. (NL Architects)
It isn’t impossible for a country to switch from one side of the road to the other.
Sweden managed it successfully in 1967. More recently, the pacific island of Samoa flipped from right to left in 2009. Driving on the right would bring us into line with Europe and the USA, spelling an end to the expensive process of engineering cars with steering wheels on the wrong side.
But it’s never going to happen. Cost – that’s the problem. A couple of years after Sweden made the switch from left to right, the British government estimated it would cost £264m to do the same here – approximately £4bn in today’s money. But that was four decades ago. Today, you could add a zero to that £4bn figure for starters. Maybe two zeros. A couple of years ago, the AA calculated that the cost of simply changing Britain’s road signs from miles to kilometers would be £750m. Just the distance signs, nothing else. Imagine how many thousands of other signs would have to be moved, rewritten for a left-to- right flip – and that’s just the start of it. Nine out of 10 motorway junctions could be easily modified for right-hand drive, but the remaining 10% would have to be entirely rebuilt. Not to mention the one-way systems, the traffic lights, the junctions...
And what about the moment of the switch itself? You can’t gradually introduce right-hand drive, town by town. The whole country must switch at once. In Sweden, all private traffic was banned between 1am and 6am... but imagine trying to achieve that in Britain, even in the middle of the night. It’d be chaos. no one would get their milk delivered. And we’d be left with a nation full of back-to-front cars, where all the buses would deposit their passengers into the middle of the road. It might not be right, but we’re staying on the left.
Left versus right in the car world
- 76 countries drive on the left
- 163 countries drive on the right
- 83% of Swedes opposed changing from driving on the left to the right. The government implemented the change anyhow.
- 66.1% of the world’s population lives in right-hand-drive countries
- 1858 was the year of the first national switch, when Finland changed from left to right
- Two countries have switched from right to left – Namibia and Samoa