Look left, look right. Or was it right, left?



In the months leading up to my return to the US in January, I spent a lot of time in countries where the traffic drives on the left-hand side of the road. Not only the UK, but also southern Africa, Singapore, Australia, and New Zealand.

As a pedestrian, I got used to looking right, and then left, before crossing the road. Even if I hadn’t been used to it, in London I was constantly reminded of it by the friendly “LOOK RIGHT–>” signs painted on the road next to the crosswalks, which had no doubt been installed to reduce the incidence of left-looking tourists getting mowed down by buses, which is not good for the tourism industry.

Well, I don’t blame them, because this is a surprisingly difficult habit to learn or unlearn. In my first few weeks back in the US, I had to make a conscious effort to remind myself when driving and bicycling that the default position was the right hand side of the road (oddly enough, my brother seemed slightly stressed about lending me his car and bicycle).

One thing that struck me is that the right-hand / left-hand traffic distinction seems to apply not only to the movement of vehicles along the road, but also the movement of people along the sidewalk or other thoroughfare. What I mean is that if you are walking down a sidewalk and someone is walking toward you, then you sort of instinctively or subconsciously follow the national road rules when passing that person. In the UK, you would pass the person on the left; in the US, you would pass them on the right.

It is something you do totally without thinking. The only reason I became consciously aware of it is because I found that, when I returned the US, I kept on doing these awkward sidewalk dances with people – as they approached me, I would move left, but meanwhile they would move to the right (my left), so that we were still walking right toward each other. Then there’d be a bit of odd bobbing/swaying, followed by a shuffle to the right and a mumbled apology on my part. I’m sorry, you’re right… about being right.


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Filed under Practicalities, Transport

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