Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Afghan, Frederick Forsyth: left is right driving campaign

"It is proven that in a no-thought instinctive emergency a man will normally pull left. That is why driving on the left of the highway, though confined to very few countries, is actually safer. A panicking driver pulls off the road into the meadow rather than into a head-on collision."

The Afghan by Frederick Forsyth, his latest brilliant page-turner, is a story of a retired SAS man, Colonel Mike Martin, who is called back from retirement to go on a suicide mission inside Al-Qaeda. Mission impossible is to thwart a plot to kill the leaders of a G8 meeting on board an American cruise liner steaming from New York to England.

I have already recommended the book to fans of the genre on this blog. Here is just a little correction to Forsyth's passing statement that driving on the left is confined to just a few countries in the world, mostly former members of the British Empire. The error is that


While Europe-centric thinking puts Britain's highway code in the 'weird' league, world-wide numbers contradict this. Include Ireland (population 4 mln.), Cyprus and a few other smaller European and American (Guyana) countries, Japan (population 130 million), another leading motorcar nation with a left-hand traffic tradition going back to Medieval Ages, African nations such as South Africa (population 50 million), Kenya (32 mln), Tanzania (37 mln.), Zambia (11 mln.), Botswana (17,8 mln.) and Zimbabve (12 mln.), Australia (20 million), Thailand (62 mln.), Malaysia (25 million), Singapore (4,5 mln), New Zealand (4,1 mln.) and such populous giants as India (population 1,13 billion), Indonesia (235 mln., not a former British colony), Pakistan (170 million) and Bangladesh (150 million), and it will be instantly clear that left driving is as dominant in the world as it is more natural than driving on the right, as Forsyth rightly claims.

Even in right-hand driving countries like Russia 'driving nalevo' (left driving) has been considered as a means of survival - not just something more natural. For proof read one of the best books about modern Russia, Hedrick Smith's The Russians (and Gorbachev's period sequel by the same author The New Russians). And there is even one major road where driving is on the left (no collisions!)

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