Each country has specific rules for uniform road traffic flow. A country either follows left-hand traffic (LHT) rule, or right-hand traffic (RHT) rule to manage their traffic. Left-Hand Traffic (LHT) is the practice of keeping to the left side of the road in bidirectional traffic. In the same way, Right-Hand Traffic (RHT) refers to the practice of keeping to the right side of the road in bidirectional traffic. An elementary rule of the road, it is worthwhile knowing which side of the road to drive before attempting to drive in foreign countries.
Zimbabwe implements left-hand traffic rule. Countries that implement LHT almost always use left-hand drive (RHD) vehicles. The steering wheels of these cars are located on the right-hand side. The driver sits on the right and uses the left hand to change gears. People go around roundabouts in clockwise direction. Overtaking is usually done from the right, and it is not permitted to stop on the right-hand side of the road facing oncoming traffic. Most traffic signs facing motorists are on the left side of the road in these countries.
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Globally speaking, only about 30% of the world's countries and territories implement left-hand traffic (LHT), which accounts for about a sixth of the world's area, 35% of its population and 25% of its roads. Currently, about 75 countries and territories of the world follow LHT, while 165 countries practice RHT.
In the past, well before cars were invented, all traffic used to follow the left-hand traffic rule. Most people, being right-handed, found it easier to mount their horses from the left. It made sense to climb from the side of the road rather than from the middle, hence they chose the left-hand rule. At the same time, the right hand would be free for greetings or for defense (by holding a sword).
However, when Napoleon came to power, he began changing the left-hand rule to right-hand to suit his own requirements. He being left-handed, preferred to stay on the right side of the road with his sword braced in his left-hand, ready for attack or defense. So he introduced the right-hand system in countries or territories he conquered.
The French Revolution also contributed to popularizing the right-hand traffic rule. The farmers in France were earlier forced to travel on the right side of the road while the aristocrat travelled on the left side. Post the revolution, travelling on the right side became a symbol of freedom that quickly spread to other European countries.
Napoleon’s conquests spread the new right-hand traffic rule to Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Germany, Poland and many parts of Spain and Italy. The states that resisted Napoleon like Britain, the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Portugal, kept left.
The French introduced RHT to its colonies in Africa, while the British and Portuguese colonies followed LHT. Left-hand driving became mandatory in Britain in 1835. Countries which were part of the British empire followed suit.
Britain introduced LHT to the Cape Colony (now Zambia, Zimbabwe and South Africa), Rhodesia, and the East Africa Protectorate (now Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda). Most countries and territories which were formerly British colonies – like Zimbabwe – still drive on the left-hand side of the road.
At present, about 41 countries and territories in Africa follow right-hand traffic (RHT), while only 14 African countries and territories practice left-hand traffic (LHT). Below is a list of African countries that follow RHT and a list of countries that follow LHT.
Countries that follow LHT in Africa:
2 Eswatini (Swaziland)
10 South Africa
Countries that follow RHT in Africa:
4 Burkina Faso
7 Cape Verde
8 Central African Republic
11 Côte D'Ivoire
12 Democratic Republic Of Congo
15 Equatorial Guinea
31 Republic Of Congo
34 Sierra Leone
36 South Sudan
38 São Tomé And Príncipe
41 Western Sahara