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New Zealand:  Where Driving Left is Right

(Reprint from News: December 16, 2001)

December 16, 2001


As you may know, people in New Zealand, Australia, and on many Pacific Islands drive on the left side of the road... or as Americans refer to it, the Wrong side of the road.  Although I had driven a rental car in Rarotonga for a day, I was still a little uneasy about driving on the left side.  The cars are screwy too:  you tend to get in on the passenger side, the steering wheel is on the right side of the car, which feels pretty strange, and the turn signal and windshield wiper levers are exactly opposite of where you'd expect to find them..  


As I was driving my Corolla down the streets of Auckland, I kept turning on my windshield wipers before making a turn.  Aucklanders are probably used to this, though, and when they see this, I'm sure they snicker to themselves, "There goes another dumb American."  Also the slow lane is the left lane, which feels a bit strange.  Despite all this, though, I arrived safely 30 minutes later at The Amberley, the Bed-and-Breakfast in Devonport north of Auckland where I had made reservations.


Most countries in the world have right-side driving, although England and many former English colonies, such as Australia, New Zealand, and Hong Kong have left-side driving.  Why do some countries have left-side driving and others right-side driving?  From what I've learned, left-side driving had its beginnings back in the days of King Arthur when jousting knights, carrying their weapons in their right hands, would pass to the left of each other.  Right-hand driving had its beginnings in Pennsylvania in the 1790s on one of the first toll roads in the U.S.


Regardless of how it got started, driving on the left side of the road isn't that big of a deal and I've gotten pretty used to it.  I don't even think about it anymore.  Of course, that's when old habits take over and accidents happen.



Above left:  Clearing customs in Auckland was a breeze.

Above center:  Then it was on to Easy Rentals, where I rented this Corolla from Sigit.  I've gotten used to driving on the left side and haven't had any accidents... yet.

Above right:  Before I committed on the rental car, though, I wanted to check out the Auckland Car Fair.  I was hoping to purchase a single-cab pickup here, like my truck in the U.S.  But, as I discovered, there are very few single-cab pickups in New Zealand.


Home > Travels (2001-02) > Story List > New Zealand and Cook Island Stories > New Zealand: Where Driving Left is Right