May 26 - Anniversary of an Overnight Reversal

Posted on May 26, 2020

May 26, 1968, was The Right Day.

In Iceland, that is, so in Icelandic, it's Hægri dagurinn - also known H-dagurrin.

It was the day when, at 6:00 in the morning, Iceland changed from left-hand traffic (or LHT, like Britain) to right-hand traffic (or RHT, like the United States).

Iceland used to be ruled by Norway and then Denmark, and both were RHT nations from way back before there were automobiles... So isn't it odd that Iceland (and Sweden, by the way) stayed LHT until the 1960?

When Iceland became independent of Denmark in 1918, the nation planned to go to RHT. But the plan got sidetracked by World War II. When Nazi Germany invaded Norway and Denmark, in 1940, Britain occupied Iceland (in a friendly way) to keep it safe from Nazis, mostly for shipping reasons. And of course, Britain is a LHT nation, so Iceland of course kept to that direction during the war.

In the early 1960s, Iceland's parliament dictated that plans would start to make the change to RHT, and Sweden's decision to also go to RHT bolstered Iceland's resolve. Iceland was becoming more popular as a tourist destination, with many tourists coming from the U.S. and RHT European nations, so that was one benefit to switching. Also, almost all cars in Iceland were driven on the left, which works better with RHT, although buses were driven on the right.

After extensive planning, Iceland's Traffic Commission ordered new signs and Right-Hand-Driving buses. They widely publicized the change and the date and time for the change.

During the night before the change, signs all over Iceland were changed. 

Wouldn't you assume that there would be mayhem on the roads at the beginning of this massive switchover?

Well, there wasn't. The changeover caused only one injury: a boy on a bicycle, who broke his leg.

As a matter of fact, just as Sweden had experienced the year before when it made its LHT-to-RHT switch, Icelandic drivers were way more careful the first day and week of the switch, so accident rates dropped for a while. But of course people soon got used to the new normal, and they began to eat and talk and sing and argue and everything while driving instead of keeping laser-focused on actually driving...

...So the accident rate went back to normal. Oh, well.

Nations in red are Right Hand Traffic.
Nations is blue (most of which were once in the British Empire)
are Left Hand Traffic.

By the way, my husband and I drove around Iceland, and it was the Best. Roadtrip. Ever!!!


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