A Straight Dope Classic from Cecil's Storehouse of Human Knowledge

When happens when you drive between two countries that drive on opposite sides of the road?

September 23, 1994

Dear Cecil:

This summer I'm taking the family on vacation to Rwanda and Uganda. There's just one thing that's bothering me — what happens when I leave Rwanda where they drive on the right and enter Uganda where they drive on the left?

Cecil replies:

You're going to Rwanda and Uganda, two of the globe's most infamous localities, and the main thing you're worried about is switching sides of the road? Man, I'm not having you buy the groceries for my fallout shelter.

Initially I dismissed this question as being too dumb to bother with. However, I got a note from Robert Teeter of San Jose, California, who had wondered about it himself. Robert sent along an article on the subject he had obtained via ftp (remember ftp?) from ftp.cc.umanitoba.ca/rec-travel/general/drive_which_side. Guess what. This question was too dumb to bother with. See for yourself.

Border crossings

This is not such a great puzzle as it might seem. Here are a few stories from people who have accomplished this mystifying feat.

"It was not a problem at the only border I have been to like this (Zaire to Uganda). The traffic was slow and there was very little of it. There was just a sign reminding you to swap sides."

"The border crossing from China (where they drive on the right) to Pakistan (where they drive on the left) merely has a sign at the side of the road that says 'Entering Pakistan, Drive Left' and for those going the other way 'Entering China, Drive Right.'"

"Usually you don't drive straight through a border post. The only place I've crossed a land border where the side of the road for driving changes is between Afghanistan and Pakistan. We drove into a car park (using the right hand side) and after the border formalities, drove out using the left hand side."

So there you have it: they put up a sign telling you to change sides. Who'd have thought it? But for those who found this a real stumper, I'm glad we got things cleared up at last.

Taking sides

Dear Cecil:

Regarding what to do when traveling between countries that drive on opposite sides of the road: I once knew a Norwegian who was a student at Oslo U. When he drove home the road passed several times in and out of Sweden, which until around 1965 drove on the left, while Norway drove on the right. The border was and is unguarded and in many places unmarked. The road was fairly narrow and there was a tendency to drive down the middle especially late at night when there was virtually no traffic. Now picture this: you are driving down this road, probably half asleep, you don't know and don't much care which country you are in and suddenly you see a truck bearing down on you. What do you do?

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