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DR. JERRY WILSON


QUESTION: Why do we drive on the right side of the road and not on the left, like the British? (Asked by a curious traveler.)

REPLY: If you have driven in Great Britain, New Zealand, Australia or most any former British colony, you were in for a treat driving on the “opposite” side of the road. (I recall the first time I drove out of London’s Heathrow Airport with a rental car. You really keep your mind on the road -- and I had to shift with my left hand. It might be a little more expensive, but an automatic is the way to go.)

Since the U.S. is a colonial descendant of Great Britain, one would think that we would be driving on the left, too. However, somewhere along the line we changed. There is no definitive answer for this; however, it is generally accepted that it occurred because most early horse-drawn carriages and wagons had the driver sitting on the right side next to the brake, which was operated with the right hand or foot. Also, there was a place for storing the whip on the right side. With this, it would seem that the driving would be done on the left.

However, our early roads weren’t the greatest, and when approaching oncoming traffic, the passing vehicles could stir up a lot of dust, rocks, mud, etc., depending on the road conditions. Since the driver sat on the right side, he could avoid some of this by passing on the right, so as to be sitting away from the center of the road. Of course, a front-seat passenger would get the worst of it, but the driver was responsible for the safe operation of the vehicle. Later, when the driver was more protected, things were shifted to the left (as in our present-day cars), but the habit of driving on the right was carried on.

That was a short question, so here’s a bit of trivia to enjoy:

-- Mercury and bromine are the only elements that are liquid at room temperature (68-70 degrees Fahrenheit).

-- The little channel in the ear is called the Eustachian tube after the 16th century Italian physician Bartolomeo Eustachio, who first identified it.

-- Not all oils float on water. Oil of cloves and oil of wintergreen are denser than water.

-- The International Date Line (180th meridian) is where the date changes when crossed. (It is the date of the next day when crossing from east to west.) There is only one road crossing the IDL and it is in the Fiji Islands, making it easy to leave one day and arrive the next.

C.P.S. (Curious Postscript): “I never said most of the things I said.” -- Yogi Berra

Curious about something? Send your questions to Dr. Jerry D. Wilson, College of Science and Mathematics, Lander University, Greenwood, SC 29649, or e-mail jerry@curiosity-corner.net. Selected questions will appear in the Curiosity Corner. For Curiosity Corner background, go to www.curiosity-corner.net.