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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 72.djvu/59

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THE RULE OF THE ROAD

The English rule of the road as to vehicles obtains on the continent only in some Swiss cantons next to Italy, and in Italy. Nowhere, apparently, do foot-passengers, in meeting, ever pass to the left. The method of passing when overtaking another wagon or carriage is also a result of that adopted in meeting. If wagons pass to the right they overtake to the left, and vice versa. The rule of all nations at sea, including the English, is uniform—Port your helm!—i. e., pass to the right! This international rule was settled in 1862, yet Harper's "Book of Facts" says that near Great Britain alone there were in the six years ending 1895, some 13,000 collisions at sea.

The English rule of the road was of course socially recognized long in advance of any formal laws or decisions on the subject. So far as I can learn, the first Act of Parliament was enacted in 1835, and reads as follows:

Any person driving any carriage whatsoever, or riding any horse or other animal, who meeting any other carriage or horse or other animal, shall not keep his carriage or horse or other animal on the left or near side of the road or street, or, if passing any other carriage or horse or other animal going in the same direction shall not in all cases where it is practicable go and pass to the right or off side of such other carriage or horse or other animal, shall be liable to a fine not exceeding 10 shillings. Any person riding any horse, and leading any other horse, who shall not keep such led horse on the side farthest away from any carriage or person passing him on any public road or in any street of a town shall be liable to a fine not exceeding 10 shillings. (In 14 and 15 Vict. Cap. 92, Sec. XIII.)

The led horse, and especially if the man is himself mounted, requires the man's right hand in leading on the halter of the led horse. Another evident reason why the led horse should be at the right edge of the road is to avoid dangers, both to the led horse and to the approaching person, if the led horse were to pass in the center of the road, and thus graze the passing vehicle, man, or animals.

The universal ancient custom, derived from military drill and right-handed habit, of passing to the right, was therefore unexceptionally continued by all nations except two—England and Italy—and in these two it was continued as to sea-going vessels, as to led horses, and as to foot-passengers. But by these two nations the strange exception is found that vehicles pass to the left. Why?

The suggestion has been made that in England and Italy the diligences, and post-coaches, had to be protected from highwaymen and brigands and this was done by armed postilions; these sat, of course, on the near or left-hand horses, because they were right-handed men (and thus mounted from the left side of the horse), and also because in driving the left hand held the rein while the right hand was kept free to handle the firearms. The theory is that they passed to the left in order the better to fight the highwaymen, who were thus kept on the