Driving on the ‘right’ side of the road – some photographic history

Instruction in both Czech & German to drive on the right!

I started this blog more than two years ago, mainly to keep my friends and family back in the UK and elsewhere, up-to-date about my life, work and activities in the Czech Republic since moving here in September 2008 when I took up my new appointment as Chaplain of the English-speaking Anglican congregation in Prague.

I wrote about the original motivation behind my blog in a February 2010 piece entitled ‘Happy first birthday to my blog’. There I explained that I now know that many of my Prague congregation also read this blog and how I always have to be careful about whom or what I write! But what I never really expected is how much more widely this blog would be read. But using the tools provided by Google analytics, I’ve discovered that in recent months, my blog receives on average, more than fifty visitors a day.

One of the most frequent subjects that brings people here are those looking via search engines, for an explanation as to why two thirds of the world drives in left-hand drive (LHD) vehicles on the ‘right’, (as in the opposite of ‘left’) side of the road, whilst one third of the world drives in right-hand drive (RHD) vehicles on the ‘left’ (as in the opposite of ‘right’) side of the road. My two posts from June 2009 entitled ‘Driving on the ‘right’ side of the road’ and ‘Check this Czech car out’ both rank highly in Google and other search engines for enquiries of this nature.

As I wrote back in June 2009, the whole of Czechoslovakia drove on the left in RHD vehicles until the change to driving on the right was imposed overnight by Hitler, following his invasion of the country in March 1939. This is the reason why most of the vintage cars that now offer visiting tourists, guided tours around the historic sights of central Prague, are RHD. They all date from the pre-1939 era.

It has been a privilege in the past few weeks to have Johanna, a young lady from Finland, worshipping with us at St. Clements. She has come to Prague to undertake a creative writing course, in particular researching written accounts of the Czech experience of World War Two. As part of her research at the Prague Military Archive, Johanna uncovered two photographs that illustrate the change in driving practice imposed by Hitler. Knowing my interest in this subject, she kindly forwarded them to me.

In view of the wider interest in this topic, I’m posting them here as they are a fascinating record of how this change was imposed by the Nazi authorities in 1939.

Instruction in both German and Czech to drive on the right!

4 comments to Driving on the ‘right’ side of the road – some photographic history

  • Sean

    Excerpted from http://www.radio.cz/en/section/letter/why-czechs-drive-on-the-right
    The states that had resisted Napoleon kept broadly left, including the Austro-Hungarian Empire. When the empire broke up most its former territories stayed left, including Czechoslovakia. Austria itself was a curiosity, with half the country driving on the left and half on the right, with the dividing line reflecting Napoleon’s conquests of 1805.

    Soon after Hitler took after Austria in the Anschluss of March 1938 he ordered the whole country to switch to driving on the right. At this point (outside Scandinavia) there were two countries on the continent of Europe still driving on the left, Czechoslovakia and Hungary.

    Sixty-six years ago, just a couple of days after the Nazis invaded most of Bohemia and Moravia on March 15th, 1939, Czech motorists were forced for the first time to drive on the right. Which, of course, they do to this day.

    Interestingly, the changeover was first introduced in the provinces on March 17, and then just over a week later in Prague, on March 26. “Technical reasons” – a perennial Czech explanation – were responsible for the delay. And the switch to driving on the right is almost always associated with, or blamed on, Hitler.

    But new research by an historian called Pavel Fojtik suggests while the Nazis did indeed enforce this change, it was going to happen anyway. In 1926 Czechoslovakia had signed up to a so-called Paris agreement, committing the country to going right at some unspecified time in the future.

    After failing to honour this pledge for over a decade, in November 1938 the Czechoslovak government finally made the decision to switch to the right, with the changeover planned for the beginning of May 1939. So in fact the Germans merely sped up the process by a number of weeks.

    As the change took place, boy scouts stood by roads and streets with signs saying “jezdime pravo”, “we drive on the right”, and billboards bearing the same slogan appeared around the country. The whole thing went off smoothly, with only minor accidents reported.

  • Ricky

    Sean – Many thanks for this article excerpt from the Radio Praha website. It does confirm much of what I’ve written previously on this topic. I was aware that the government of Czeckoslovakia were throughout the time of the First Republic, considering changing to driving on the right. But there was always a marked reluctance to implement the change.

    Having followed your link, I note with interest that you omitted the inaccurate first paragraph of the Radio Praha article which declares, “Nowadays, Britain and some of its former colonies are almost the only countries where people drive on the left”. As I note in my post, one third of the world drives on the left including such populous countries as Japan and Indonesia which were never British colonies.

  • Sean

    Yes, Radio Prague has some overzealous Americans who take every opportunity to take a swing at the UK for whatever reason. Since it was so obviously WRONG, I decided not to muddy the water on the part that was right:-)

  • What how could an American ever take a swing at Brit, metaphorically speaking, after we got rid of the worst one: King George III. 🙂

    But I want to hear more about Johanna and her interesting research! Any plans for an interview about what she’s studying? Sounds fascinating.