Which side of the road to drive on?

Pour­quoi conduit-on à droite dans la plu­part des pays ?

Vocable (Anglais) - - Édito Sommaire -

Le sens de cir­cu­la­tion au­to­mo­bile de nos voi­sins bri­tan­niques n’est-il qu’une ex­cen­tri­ci­té de plus ? Pas né­ces­sai­re­ment... Si la conduite à gauche est de ri­gueur au Royaume-Uni et dans une mi­no­ri­té d’autres pays, et si le reste du monde roule à droite, ce n’est pas un ha­sard. Ex­pli­ca­tions.

In the lead-up to Hö­ger­tra­fi­komläg­gnin­gen, or Day H, Swe­den’s traf­fic plan­ners were hard at work. They spent weeks dra­wing up new in­ter­sec­tions and re­vi­sing one­way sys­tems; wor­kers la­bou­red to add new doors to the other side of thou­sands of buses. The night be­fore, road mar­kings were has­ti­ly re­pain­ted, bus stops mo­ved and some 360,000 street si­gns re­jig­ged. Then, fol­lo­wing a na­tio­nal count­down on the ra­dio, at 5am on Sep­tem­ber 3rd, 1967, Swe­dish mo­to­rists swit­ched from the left to the right-hand side of the road. Des­pite pu­blic op­po­si­tion, the switch made sense. Most Swedes ow­ned cars with stee­ring wheels on the left, and drivers po­si­tio­ned on the out­side of the road cau­sed lots of ac­ci­dents when over­ta­king. By swit­ching to the right, Swe­den be­came the last coun­try in conti­nen­tal Eu­rope

1. lead-up jours/se­maines/mois pré­cé­dant / Swe­den (la) Suède (ca­pi­tale: Stock­holm) / to spend, spent, spent pas­ser (temps) / to draw, drew, drawn up ré­flé­chir à, créer / to re­vise ici, re­voir, mo­di­fier / one-way en sens unique / to la­bour tra­vailler dur/d'ar­rache-pied / road mar­kings mar­quage au sol / has­ti­ly en toute hâte / si­gn pan­neau / to re­jig ré­or­ga­ni­ser / count­down compte à re­bours / to switch from... to (faire) pas­ser de... à / to make, made, made sense avoir du sens, être lo­gique, ri­mer à qch / Swede Sué­dois (per­sonne) / to own pos­sé­der / stee­ring wheel vo­lant (voi­ture) / on the out­side of the road ici, dans la voie de gauche / to over­take, over­took, over­ta­ken dé­pas­ser / to conform to a rule now fol­lo­wed by al­most three-quar­ters of coun­tries. How do coun­tries de­cide which side of the road to drive on?

A RECENT NORM

2. Driving on the right was not al­ways the norm. Th­rou­ghout the Middle Ages, traf­fic ten­ded to stick to the left (though this was more a ge­ne­ral rule-of-thumb than en­for­ced re­gu­la­tion). Even be­fore that, Ro­man sol­diers mar­ched on the left-hand side. His­to­rians are not en­ti­re­ly sure why. Ma­ny think this was be­cause it sui­ted sword­smen, the ma­jo­ri­ty of whom were right-han­ded. Being on the left, the thin­king goes, meant that when they drew their wea­pons, their sword-wiel­ding arm would be in the middle of the road and could the­re­fore best strike on­co­ming foes.

rule ré­gle­men­ta­tion / al­most près de. 2. th­rou­ghout ici, pen­dant tout / to tend to avoir ten­dance/tendre à / to stick, stuck, stuck to ici, res­ter/ conduire à / though bien que / rule-of-thumb règle (gé­né­rale) / en­for­ced im­po­sé / re­gu­la­tion ré­gle­men­ta­tion / even même / to suit conve­nir/être adap­té à / sword­sman per­sonne qui se bat à l'épée / right-han­ded droi­tier / the thin­king goes pense-t-on / to draw, drew, drawn ici, sortir, s'em­pa­rer de / wea­pon arme / to wield ma­nier / the­re­fore par consé­quent / to strike, struck, struck at­teindre, at­ta­quer, se dé­fendre contre / on­co­ming ve­nant en sens in­verse/vers soi / foe en­ne­mi. 3. Things star­ted to change in parts of North Ame­ri­ca in the late 18th cen­tu­ry. One theo­ry puts this down to more big wa­gons trund­ling up and down roads. These wa­gons, pul­led by mul­tiple pairs of horses, had no seats. The dri­ver sat on the back left horse so that his whip could reach eve­ry ani­mal and, his­to­rians spe­cu­late, conse­quent­ly stayed to the right to see on­co­ming traf­fic clear­ly.

REVOLUTIONARY FRANCE

4. At around the same time, tra­vel­ling on the right caught on in revolutionary France, where the side of road people tra­vel­led on car­ried class conno­ta­tions. The poor ge­ne­ral­ly stuck to the right and aris­to­crats to the left. Those who had re­tai­ned pos­ses­sion of their heads swit­ched to the right to avoid sti­cking out. In 1794 Ro­bes­pierre made it of­fi­cial with an or­der that all traf­fic in Pa­ris stick to the right. La­ter, as Na­po­leon, an en-

3. in the late... à la fin de / cen­tu­ry siècle / to put, put, put sth down to im­pu­ter/at­tri­buer qch à / to trundle rou­ler len­te­ment de ma­nière mou­ve­men­tée et bruyante / seat siège, place as­sise / whip cra­vache / to reach at­teindre, tou­cher / to spe­cu­late sup­po­ser, ima­gi­ner. 4. around en­vi­ron / time pé­riode, époque / to catch, caught, caught on ga­gner en po­pu­la­ri­té, se gé­né­ra­li­ser / to car­ry ici, être as­so­cié à / those who had re­tai­ned pos­ses­sion of their heads ceux qui n'avaient pas été guillo­ti­nés / to avoid évi­ter / to stick, stuck, stuck out ici, se faire re­pé­rer, être dé­mas­qué / to make, made, made ici, rendre / or­der dé­cret /

thu­sias­tic rule-ma­ker, swept through Eu­rope, he swit­ched the coun­tries he conque­red to the right-hand side. Co­lo­nial po­wers ac­ted si­mi­lar­ly, sub­jec­ting their do­mains to their traf­fic rules.

MO­TOR CARS

5. The ten­den­cy to­wards the right was ce­men­ted in the 1920s with the advent of mo­tor cars and ac­com­pa­nying stan­dar­di­sa­tion. Coun­tries with mixed sys­tems, such as Ca­na­da, set­tled on the right be­cause their neigh­bours were al­rea­dy on that side. The tilt to the right ac­ce­le­ra­ted with de­co­lo­ni­sa­tion in the 1960s. Once a big coun­try swit­ched, its neigh­bours ge­ne­ral­ly fol­lo­wed suit. Af­ter Ni­ge­ria chan­ged to drive on the right in 1972, for ins­tance, the pres­sure grew on Ghana, the last re­mai­ning coun­try in west Afri­ca still sti­cking to the left. It swit­ched two years la­ter.

6. Is­lands such as Bri­tain and Ja­pan, on the other hand, held out and stayed left. Most of the 58 coun­tries on the left side of the road are for­mer Bri­tish co­lo­nies or their neigh­bours. Might any of them be lu­red to the right? It is unlikely, consi­de­ring the costs that would be in­vol­ved com­pa­red with last cen­tu­ry, when traf­fic was ligh­ter. The last coun­try to switch was Sa­moa, in 2009, which went the other way, swap­ping right for left to match re­la­ti­ve­ly near­by Aus­tra­lia and New Zea­land.

(Istock)

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