This was a question I was asked at a second round interview for a graduate job in the IT department at a large US-based investment bank. Not so much hard, but definitely challenging. This was back in 1997.
The year is now 2010, and a federal Europe is a reality. In their infinite wisdom, the government in Brussels has decided that the UK, like the rest of Europe, should change to drive on the right hand side of the road. You are the minister in government who has the responsibility to implement this decision. What do you do?
Of course, there's no definite right or wrong answer to this question, but it provoked some interesting ideas and discussions.
- What time of day does the changeover happen? Midnight is immediately obvious, but this means people will wake up and forget. We decided it would make more sense to do it at, say, 5.00pm, when people can be bombarded with adverts all day about it.
- You'd have to employ a huge number of people to reconstruct motorway slip roads, put up new signs etc, over the months / years running up to the changeover.
- You'd have to erect all these new signs, but covered up, in advance, then have a vast taskforce to uncover the new signs (and cover the old ones) on the changeover day.
- To reduce the traffic on the changeover day, make it a national holiday, in the summer, when people can be persuaded to stay at home.
- Reduce the speed limit significantly on all roads for a short period of time, so any accidents that do happen are less serious.
- A huge advertising campaign on television, radio, newspapers, billboards etc in the run-up to the changeover.
And the list went on. Indeed, this happened in Sweden in 1967. But there were far fewer cars on the road in Sweden than than in the UK in 1997, let alone how many are likely to be on the road in the UK in 2010. The conclusion we reached was that realistically speaking, it wouldn't be possible. This also doesn't take into account how much harder it is driving a right-hand drive car (ie a car with the steering wheel on the right) on the right-hand side of the road.
Someone said to me re Changing the side of the road that we drive on - possible typo: "This also doesn't take into account how much harder it is driving a **right-hand** drive car on the **right-hand** side of the road." Do you mean for one of these to be LEFT-hand?
In countries where you drive on the left (like the UK), the car is right-hand drive (ie the steering wheel is on the right). In countries where you drive on the right (like most of the world!), the steering wheel is on the left. This is so you sit nearer to the centre of the road in both cases.
If you have ever done it the other way round (eg a UK driver taking his car to France), it's actually quite hard, especially moving into faster lanes of traffic on the motorways and pulling out of parking spaces. Hence this would be a major issue.
Andrew Aguecheek said "Just as a side point, I believe it is in fact safer for most people to drive on the left since if you are right handed it means your strong hand is always on the wheel." I'm not sure what the split is, although the perception is that most major countries do drive on the right, including the USA and most of mainland Europe. Australia and Japan, as well as the UK, drive on the left.
mkb says "i think most swedish cars were left-hand drive at the time of the switch for some reason". One thing I read said this was one of the reasons they switched. They made so many cars for Europe that most of their production was left hand drive, so it made sense for them to change as well.
Ashley Pomeroy said "The solution is simple; retain the roads as they are, but drive backwards." Funny, that's what the Irish Parliament said when they were challenged with the same decision.
Two Sheds says he's heard that it is safer to drive on the *right*. The reasoning is that most people are right-handed and that in a state of panic muscles tense, pulling on the steering wheel. It's referable that one drive off the road in this situation, rather than into the oncoming traffic, and driving on the right increases the chance of this. I think all we can learn from this is that there's opinions both ways!