Vancouverites haven’t always driven on the right side of the road. Once upon a time – until January 1922 to be exact – we were a town of left-siders (the City of Vancouver Archive image above depicts left side drivers on Granville St. in 1921). Most countries made the switch from left to right in the first half of the century, but Sweden was a holdout until 1967. The switch was momentous, and is remembered in the country as “Dagen H”. This short film details that chaotic day and the long, preparatory lead up to it, and why most countries drive on the right side of the road instead of the left.
In 1955 Sweden held a referendum on the issue of driving directionality and a staggering 83% voted against changing the direction. The national legislature known as the Riksdag promptly responded by deciding to make the change. The rational was that every single one of Sweden’s neighbors drove on the right and most imported cars—which were the cheapest cars—were designed to be driven on the right. In the months leading up to Dagen H every intersection was outfitted with an extra set of signals and signs wrapped in black plastic. 8,000 busses were retrofitted with new doors on the right side and the rest were sold to Pakistan and Kenya. New lines were painted on the roads then covered in black tape. Milk cartons and underwear with the day’s logo were sold in stores around the country. Contests were held for songs about the change. Then finally, on September 3rd, 1967 at 3pm, the law switched, and the entire country had one enormous traffic jam as drivers slowly inched across the white line to get to the new normal. No one died that day on Swedish roads…in fact, nobody died the day after as well.
Ahem, there were no accidents or lives lost on Vancouver’s switch day, either.