Here is a quote from the latest W.G. Sebald book I’m reading (I’ll probably post about the book when I’m done):
[describing the German invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1939]: “What particularly upset us […] was instant change to driving on the right. It often made my heart miss a beat, she said, when I saw a car racing down the road on the wrong side, since it inevitably made me think that from now on we must live in a world turned upside down.”
I’m sorry, what? It was the Nazis who made the Czechs drive on the right?! I had no idea. So I looked it up. Sure enough, Wikipedia has articles devoted not only to the right- and left-hand traffic, but the switch to right-hand traffic in Czechoslovakia even something called Högertrafikomläggningen (God bless copy and paste). It turns out that the history of right-hand, left-hand driving in the whole world, and especially in Czechoslovakia is…umm…checkered.
“In about 1925, Czechoslovakia accepted the Paris convention and undertook to change to right hand traffic “within a reasonable time frame”. In 1931, the government decreed to change over within 5 years, which did not happen. The main obstacles were financial cost and widespread opposition in rural areas. In November 1938, parliament finally decided to change to right hand traffic with effect from May 1, 1939.” (Also, I’m not sure what “in about 1925” means, but ok.)
Enter the Germans. “The occupation of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia by Germany on March 15, 1939, sped up the change. A few places switched the same day (e.g. Ostrava), the rest of the area of the Protectorate on March 17, and Prague got a few more days to implement the change and switched on March 26.” (Most of Slovakia was already using right-hand traffic, and the last of it switched with Hungary in 1941.)
Most of the world today drives on the right-hand side.
Countries continued to switch throughout the twentieth century, which brings me to Högertrafikomläggningen, or Dagen H. On September 3rd, 1967, Sweden switched over from left to right-hand traffic. Of course, it’s Sweden, so they had a long debate about it, and turned down the change (overwhelmingly) in a referendum in 1955. But then in 1963, the parliament decided to do it anyway. They “began [by] implementing a four-year education program, with the advice of psychologists. The campaign included displaying the Dagen H logo on various commemorative items, including milk cartons, men’s shorts and women’s underwear. Swedish television held a contest for songs about the change; the winning entry was Håll dig till höger, Svensson (‘Keep to the right, Svensson’) by Rock-Boris.”
Apparently, the right-hand, left-hand traffic picture used to be much more complicated.
Red are countries that have always had right-hand traffic.
Orange are countries that originally had left-hand traffic, but moved to the right.
Blue are countries that have always had left-hand traffic.
Purple are countries that originally right-hand traffic, but moved to the left.
Green are countries that had different rules depending on the location, but now drive on the right.