Worried about overseas motorists? Blame NapoleonThis how we do it in New Zealand - we drive on the left side of the road.Next time you get in the driver's seat on the right-hand side of your car, store everything in the centre console to your left, grip the steering wheel with your right hand, then head down the left side of the street, consider that you are doing exactly what your medieval ancestors would have done.
The only real difference is that instead of getting in via the right-hand front door of the car, they would have found it easier to mount their horse from the left, swinging their right leg over before getting in the saddle. Why? Because they would have had their sword stored in its scabbard on their left side, ready to be pulled out with the right hand to help deal to any danger.
And because the most efficient way to use a weapon with the right hand was to make sure the opponent was to the right of the horse, these medieval swordsmen would have ridden on the left side of the road.
What was the driver on the right thinking? Turning right on the other side of the roundabout was a dangerous move.
Today, hundreds of years later, we still drive down the left side of the road, Well, about 39 per cent of do - all the rest of the world now drives on the right side of the road.
Driver caught on camera driving on the wrong side of the road
Apparently there are several reasons why more than half of us now drive on the right.
The story goes that it all began in the 18th Century when large wagons hitched up to several pairs of horses began to be used to haul big loads of farm products In France and the United States. These wagons had no driver's seats, and instead the driver sat on the left rear horse so he could keep his right arm free to use his whip. Because the driver was on the left, visibility was best down the left side of his team of horses, so these teams began keeping to the right side of the road.
Late that century the French Revolution added impetus to the change to the right - up until then the aristocracy travelled to the left and peasants to the right, but after the revolution the aristocrats decided to keep a low profile by joining up with the peasants on their side of the road.
What were the French bureaucrats to do? The answer was obvious - in 1794 they turned into law the trend to travel on the right side of the road. Then when Napoleon embarked on his conquests throughout Europe, he spread the law to those countries as well, with the only nations keeping left being those that resisted Napoleon's advances.
Over the years various countries have shifted their driving habits from one side of the road to the other, almost exclusively from left to right, but some have gone from the right to the left - the latest being Samoa which changed to right-hand driving in 2009 so it could become easier to import second-hand cars from Japan and New Zealand.One of those countries was Great Britain, which in 1835 made it mandatory to drive on the left side of the road. All other members of the British Empire followed suit, and that's why New Zealand and Australia are right-hand drive to this day.
Great Britain once thought it might like to change sides too - which obviously would have meant a change for New Zealand as well. In 1960 it was proposed to join most of the rest of Europe and switch to left-hand drive, but a combination of political opposition and the potential cost of the change soon put a halt to that idea.
So which is best? There is some evidence to suggest that driving on the left side of the road is safer, simply because the greater percentage of the world's motorists are right-handed and therefore right-eye dominant. This means the stronger right hand can be used to control the steering wheel, and the right eye is the one closest to oncoming traffic.
Whatever, it all means that as New Zealand's tourism industry grows, an increasing number of visitors from places as diverse as China, South Korea, USA and Germany will find themselves touring our country on the 'wrong' side of the road. You can blame Napoleon for that.