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Blog Post  Why do we drive on the right side of the road?

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Horse and buggy

An Act establishing the Law of the Road was approved by the Governor of the Commonwealth on February 14th, 1821. It said “That in all cases of persons meeting each other on any bridge, turnpike, or other road, within this Commonwealth, travelling with carriages, waggons, carts, sleds, sleighs, or other vehicle, the persons so meeting, shall seasonably turn, drive and convey their carriages, waggons, carts, sleds, sleighs, or other vehicle, to the right of the centre of the travelled part of such bridge, turnpike, or road, so as to enable each other’s carriages, waggons, carts, sleds, sleighs, or other vehicle, to pass each other, without interference or interruption.”

This was the first time that it became the law to drive on the right. Well before the automobile came on the scene.

Nineteenth century case law reveals that winter road conditions obscured the location of the road in some cases. It was not obvious where the center of the road was to be found, nor was it clear that a vehicle needed to stay to the right. The Judge in Jaquith v. Richardson49 Mass. 213 (1844) opined “when that part of a road which is wrought for travelling is hidden by snow, and a path is beaten and travelled on the side of the wrought part, persons meeting on such beaten and travelled path are required to drive their vehicles to the right of the middle of such path.”

“In an action of trespass, the plaintiff alleged that the defendant, at Stoneham, on the 24th of March 1843, made an assault upon him, and with a certain stage or sleigh drawn by four horses, did direct and guide the same horses against the sleigh of the plaintiff, in which he was then and there sitting, and did drive said horses against the plaintiff’s said sleigh, and overturned the same, and greatly injured the plaintiff.”

– Jaquith v. Richardson49 Mass. 213 (1844)

A caption on a 1903 image in The New York Public Library Digital Collections reads “But the problem will be solved when the automobile supersedes the horse.”

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