I've noticed that cars/automobiles manufactured for countries with right-hand traffic (where vehicles drive on the right hand side of the road) place the driver's seat on the left hand side of the car from the driver's perspective, and cars/automobiles manufactured for countries with left-hand traffic (where vehicles drive on the left hand side of the road) place the driver's seat on the right hand side of the car from the driver's perspective.

Essentially, you sit in one side of the car, and drive on the other side of the road.

This seems like it's a less safe configuration than having people sit in the same side of the car as the side of the road they drive on, given the increased likelihood that a head-on collision will strike the drivers' compartments. (Which would always be occupied, as opposed to passenger compartments which may or may not be empty.) This probably isn't a particularly big deal with modern automobile safety features, but even as recently as the 90's, before features like airbags and effective crumple zones were standard on everything, this seems to me like it would have been a big deal, and I can think of no benefit gained from this less safe configuration.

Is there a benefit that I'm missing that comes from configuring automobiles with the driver's compartment on the opposite side of the vehicle, relative to the flow of traffic? Why are our cars configured this way?

  • 1
    Did you do any research into this before posting this question? I mean Wikipedia gives you the answer and that's not exactly an unheard of site for such information.
    – JonW
    Jan 16, 2015 at 15:19
  • @JonW Yeah, but I didn't get any useful search results - I only seemed to get back results about why people drive on the side of the road they do, not why the seats are where they are. Jan 16, 2015 at 15:23

2 Answers 2


The reason you sit on the outside of the car (on the right when driving on the left hand side of the road in the UK or on the left when driving on the right as in the US) is so you can more easily see oncoming traffic. This is especially important if you want/need to overtake the vehicle in front.

If you are sitting on the nearside you'll find it very difficult to see ahead of the vehicles in front of you to see if it's safe to pull out into the oncoming traffic lane to overtake. This is still a problem on motorways/freeways where the traffic is travelling in the same direction as the lane you want to pull out into may be occupied by a vehicle just ahead of the one you want to overtake.

The idea is to prevent a crash occurring in the first place, not make a crash safer.


The answer to this question is not initially obvious, but it has a lot to do with the safety of passengers.

Lets say you have a bus that is right hand drive and also drives on the right hand side of the road. When they let off passengers, they are let off right into traffic instead of safely at the curb.

It is also easier to judge the distance from the center line, if the driver is on the opposite side of the lane they drive in. This could help drivers from veering into the opposite lane and prevent accidents.

  • 1
    Why would the passenger exit door have to be on the same side of the driver?
    – JonW
    Jan 16, 2015 at 15:15
  • 4
    Most buses I take tend to have the driver on the side opposite to that of the passenger doors. I can't recall any one time I've taken a bus where that has not been the case.
    – user
    Jan 16, 2015 at 15:17
  • @MichaelKjörling Ah yes, what I meant in my comment was that I was unsure why the position of the driver seat has to have a direct relationship with the passenger exit door.
    – JonW
    Jan 16, 2015 at 15:32
  • Your second point has value, but I don't think the first one is correct, as this would be easily fixed by having the passenger exit behind the driver's cabin instead of next to it.
    – Pete
    Mar 12, 2018 at 8:52

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