September 3, 2011 - Sweden Switches Sides

– 1967

Yesterday was the anniversary of the British/American switch of calendars: Confusion galore! Riots in the streets as people demanded their stolen days! Today is the anniversary of a very different sort of switch:

On this day in 1967, people in Sweden stopped driving on the left side of the street and started driving on the right side.

Actually, all though the twentieth century, there was a gradual worldwide shift toward uniformity in this basic “rule of the road.” The world went from about half-and-half to predominantly driving on the right side of the road. That means that, all through the twentieth century, nations made the shift from driving on the left to the right.

This change toward uniformity was undoubtedly prompted by the fact that the world has been “shrinking.” Not literally, of course—but every decade there is more worldwide trade and business, communication and entertainment, travel and tourism. This increase in worldwide focus has caused a general shift from having local systems of time, measurements, and road rules to having shared standards. Today, the left-driving nations are mostly associated with the United Kingdom: Britain itself, southern African nations, India, Australia, and a few other nations all drive on the left. All of North America, most of South America, Europe, Asia, and Africa all drive on the right.
Right-side nations are shown here in red.

Now, wouldn't you think this kind of switchover would be tough? Expensive and dangerous?

Well, the Swedes made it look easy! After psychologists and traffic engineers made studies and recommendations, thousands of new signs and traffic lights were ordered, every home, hospital, and prison received manuals about the 107 European road symbols that would replace the inconsistent Swedish markers, and pamphlets were printed in nine languages for foreign workers and visitors. All of that reportedly cost $120 million. Transition day went smoothly, with no accident worse than some dented fenders! There wasn't a single traffic fatality in the whole nation for two days after the transition (and remember, around a hundred people die in traffic accidents each day in the U.S. without making a tricky transition!).


  1. Don't they drive on the left in Japan too?

  2. Yep, apparently Japanese roads are drive-on-left. Notice the dark blue color of Japan on the map, along with the U.K., India, Australia, etc.? I don't particularly associate Japan with the U.K., so I included it in the phrase "a few other nations." ;-)