Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Drive one mad

Infographic: Which Side Of The Road Do You Drive On?  | Statista
I get a lot of questions about what life for an immigrant like me is like in New Zealand, how to migrate here, and things about New Zealand in particular, or The Commonwealth, or even the about the Southern Hemisphere in general. One area people are often curious about is driving on “the other side of the road” (from their perspective, of course). But driving on the left side of the road isn’t as rare as some people might think.

The infographic above is from Statista, and which side of the road various countries drive on. Like all maps like this, at first glance it tends to present a somewhat distorted view of the situation.

Nevertheless, two-thirds of the world’s population, living in 163 countries, drives on the right side of the road, while the rest, living in 76 countries, drive on the left side of the road. This is mainly historic. As Statista puts it:
The bulk of countries that drive on the left are former British colonies including South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. Only four countries in Europe still drive on the left and they are all islands. They consist of the UK, the Republic of Ireland, Malta and Cyprus.
Clearly the influence of the British Empire remains active in this area, among others. The thing is, though, that people in those 76 countries are as used to their way as are the people in those 163 countries, so they have no compelling reason to change.

There are two factors that might nudge New Zealand to change. The first is if Japan were to switch, because New Zealand is a major market for used cars from Japan. If that country switched, all their cars would have the steering wheel on the left side of the car, which isn’t appropriate for driving on the left side of the road.

The other factor might be if Australia were to switch, since the two countries have so many business and tourism ties. However, I’m not convinced that a change like that alone would be enough to convince New Zealand to change.

There’s another possible scenario that could force New Zealand, Australia, and many other countries to switch: If left side of the road countries with large populations were to switch sides of the road—say, if the UK, Japan, and India all switched—then there would be little choice for the rest of the left side of the road countries other than to switch. Right-hand drive cars (for use on the left side of the road) are manufactured for use in those 76 countries, but if the big countries switched, there probably wouldn’t be a big enough market for manufacturers to continue to make cars for use on the left side of the road. However, there are companies in New Zealand that specialise in converting cars from left-hand drive to right-hand drive so they can be used here. Maybe that would become a bigger deal, at least for awhile.

The important thing is, though, that there’s no incentive for any country to switch, especially not island nations, or those for whom land links may not be as important or much of a problem. So, it’s pretty unlikely that New Zealand will ever switch.

For me, it actually wasn’t that hard to adjust to driving full-time on the left side of the road, and it’s now second nature. However, there does seem to be a problem with foreign tourists causing crashes by driving on the wrong side of the road. There have been many suggestions for ways to fix that, including some that are pretty heavy-handed, but one thing that’s becoming common everywhere are arrows painted on the road to show which side of the road to drive on, to remind foreign drivers. It’s too early to tell whether that has helped or not.

The fact that New Zealand drives on “the other side of the road” may or may not be interesting in any way, but it’s certainly not the most interesting thing about the country. It’s also not all that unusual. The Internet is a wonderful teacher.

Related: “Linksverkehr”, my 2010 post about getting my New Zealand Driver Licence.

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