Hitting the Gas Across the Globe: Major Driving Differences Around the World

With travel season in full swing, people everywhere are gearing up to vacation both domestically and internationally. And if you elect to be a passenger (or a driver!) of a vehicle in a strange new land, understanding the rules of the road can feel a little overwhelming.

That’s because when it comes to driving laws around the world, it’s easy for info to get lost in translation. With cultural and language variations at play, it can be difficult to tell left from right, kilometers from miles, and your trunk from your “boot.”

Luckily, knowledge is horsepower, so we’ve laid out some of the basics for you here. Here are some major differences (and the reasons behind them) between manning the wheel at home versus driving abroad.

Choosing Sides: Left or Right?

In the U.S., driving on the right side of the road feels natural, but for some visitors, it feels more foreign than a goat speaking pig Latin. In fact, 35% of the world’s population drives on the left side of the road. Australia, the Bahamas, Barbados, England and Thailand are among these dedicated lefties.

So, why the discrepancy?

The roots of left-sided driving can be traced back to the Ancient Romans, who steered with their left hands while keeping their right hands free to wield weapons against potential attackers. Talk about defensive driving!  Nations like France broke with the trend and veered to the right (as it happens, Napoleon was left-handed).

Here in the U.S., our right-sided roots stem from 18th century freight wagons, which were pulled by teams of horses. Drivers rode on the left rear horse and steered the rest of the herd with their right hands. Correspondingly, traffic patterns naturally galloped to the right, and remain there today.

You know what they say. If driving on the right is wrong, then we don’t wanna be...right.  

The Need for (Measuring) Speed: MPH vs. KM/H

We may be on the same page as most countries about which side to drive on, but when it comes to measuring distance, the U.S. differs greatly from the world at large. We’re one of just three countries that still uses miles instead of kilometers. Liberia and Myanmar are the other two outliers.

So why haven’t we made the shift to the (almost) universally used metric system?

The debate has literally lasted for centuries, with the metric system even being championed by our old pal Thomas Jefferson. Today, major obstacles remain. Between the metric learning curve faced by most Americans, and the high cost of conversion (imagine replacing every sign that mentions “miles” with “km” versions) there are serious practicality issues at play.


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With that being said, many products sold in the U.S. are now measured in metric units, such as soda sold by the liter. So we may gradually make the change...one millimeter at time.

“I fought the law, and you can probably guess what happened next...”

Since driving laws vary greatly from state to state, it’s no surprise that international laws are all over the place. Here are some of the most unusual ones:

  • Drivers in Denmark must check under the car before starting their vehicle to see if there is a person underneath.
  • In Spain, it’s better shady, than sorry. Drivers must keep an extra pair of sunglasses in the car, even if they’re already wearing a pair.
  • Don’t get caught ridin’ dirty in Russia. Driving a filthy car could cost you a fine.
  • Leave the lights on in Scandinavia. Headlights are required at all times, day or night.
  • In Japan, splashing a pedestrian with rainwater could mean a $65 penalty, so you should avoid putting the “puddle” to the metal.
From going the extra kilometer, to keeping it clean in Russia, driving is a different adventure wherever you go. Now you know a little more about the lay of the “lane” all around the world.

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