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American Government Special Collections Reference Desk


The New York Times
December 5, 1909

English Custom, with Approval of M. Millerand, to be Adopted.

PARIS, Nov. 19.—Pending the time when special motor roads are expected to form a network over France, a Parliamentary committee is busy drawing up a rule of the road for the country.  Each Department hitherto has seemed to possess its own rule, while in Paris no rule is observed or enforced at all—meeting vehicles turning to the right or left as is most convenient for them.

The plan of the committee is to adopt the English system of keeping to the left.  This plan, which, as Americans will observe, is the opposite of the rule followed in the United States, has the approval of M. Millerand, the Minister of Public Works.  Arguments in favor of the "Keep to the Left" rule take the following shape:

The English rule of proceeding to the left is founded upon logic and good sense, and is the result of the experience of a people habituated to horses.  The fact that a driver keeps to the left of the road and yet sits over the right wheel of his vehicle gives him a better chance of steering, with a wider margin of safety, than the man who keeps to the right and cannot, in consequence, see how far off he is his neighbor's wheel.  The advantage is, also, to the English system in passing to the off-side of a vehicle.  The "Keep to the Right" style is condemned because of the danger to which it exposes the man who is leading a horse.  The driver of the fast-moving vehicle is unable to see the man on foot until he is right upon him.  There have been a large number of fatal accidents for this very reason on French roads.

Meanwhile, it would be interesting to learn just how the "Keep to the Right" rule came to be established in the United States.  Was it invented by the colonists or did it become the fashion as a sort of anti-British demonstration at the time of the American Revolution?

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