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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 72.djvu/62

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POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY

passing to the fact that the early drivers walked on the left of the horses, and consequently they passed to the left to avoid being ground between the two sets of wheels. King Arthur and Tristram and their fellows had settled that, one judges, a thousand years previously.

Why did the American colonists from England reverse the rule of the mother country as to vehicles passing to the left? That is the remaining riddle which has perplexed every writer upon the subject. There seems to be no exception, the Virginia colonists, who were so largely horseback-riders, developed the rule of passing to the right as spontaneously as the New Englanders. In Canada there appears to have been a noteworthy indecision in earlier days; in some places, as Toronto and St. John, New Brunswick, the English custom prevailed. My reports are that to-day the American custom, if we may so name it (passing to the right) is being increasingly adopted.

The change of the colonists to the American practise has been credited to the necessity of keeping to the right in snow-drifted roadways—surely an invalid argument from evident reasons. The use of ox-teams is also said to have brought the change about. This was perhaps a minor contributory cause, but, like the preceding, will not explain the spontaneity and universality of the American habit. Another explanation that has been offered for our passing to the right is that in early days of narrow and depressed roads the driver could the better judge of the danger from the bank or "lift" of the roadway on the right. Lastly, it has been suggested that lurking savages in the woods at the sides (both sides) of the road made the change of practise. But just how either cause compelled the colonial wagoners to pass to the right, or how they bettered their condition by doing so, one vainly tries to discover.

The real explanation of the change comes to light in a more careful observation and history of the actual facts and conditions of the colonial immigrants. In the first place, they were not in the beginning even preponderatingly English. We appear prone to forget that the first Puritan settlers were mostly Dutch, to which France quickly added her complement, both of continental or right-passing people. Then it must be remembered that the long first period of settlement was not only wagonless, but even horseless, and even English folk when afoot had never ceased to be right-passers. The ox-team, the ridden horse and the led horse were the first means of transportation, and all these methods would insure the beginnings of the customs of right-passing and soon establish it as the rule. It must have been a long and fashion-fixing period before the wheeled vehicle could have come into any general use to meddle with the already established custom of right passing. Most powerful too must have been the dominating