Right Hand Drive | The duty

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Whatever their subject, the frenzied caricatures offered on television by Marc Labrèche remain incomparable. Not long ago, this devil of Labrèche proposed to his viewers, in a cynical wink about the year 2003, an improbable rapprochement between the ideological positions of an ultra-media couple and the new rules of traffic which, that year, will allow the population of Quebec, outside Montreal, to turn right at a red light.

To the couple who confess to him that they “veered straight ahead” when this legislation came into force, Labrèche asks if he is aware that it was an authorization which only concerned the Highway Code and traffic laws. right turns at red lights. In this learned delirium where he plays all the roles, according to a process that he masters like no other, the actor comes to wonder if “by dint of always veering on the same side, we do not end up going in circles”. To which he is answered, in an exasperated tone, that it is “scientifically proven that by always repeating the same thing to people who think exactly the same thing as you, you end up changing the world”.

Of course, it seems quite foolish to think that political positions can translate into driving habits. The rules of conduct seem to us to be taken for granted. Yet they don’t come out of nowhere. They say something about the meaning that has been given to the world, even though we may have forgotten it.

In 1867, at the Stanstead Fall Fair, Henry Seth Taylor presented the first Canadian automobile. The whole of society is still dominated by an equestrian culture. Horse carriages drive on the right, almost always. This allows you to watch the side of the roads, but also to wield the whip with your dominant hand. Seth Taylor’s steam engine, without a brake, will end up crashing down a large hill, on the border with Vermont, at the risk of killing its driver.

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Better automotive vehicles, whether electric, steam or gasoline, will soon appear. Almost all of these early automobiles, like animal drawn cars, were driven on the right.

The first motorized car to circulate in Montreal is the property of a wealthy real estate developer, Ucal-Henri Dandurand, a man to whom we owe the construction and sale of housing on credit, in the neighborhoods of Rosemont and Verdun. Dandurand will quickly buy a second automobile, this one powered by electricity. In 1902, he bought a third. And the following year, the powerful businessman acquired a fourth automobile, this one of French design, a De Dion-Bouton. Price of this acquisition: $ 1,500, which is the equivalent of approximately $ 40,000 today. That’s a good deal, considering that many cars sold from those years on cost three times as much. The De Dion-Bouton of this fat, healthy gentleman who is Dandurand will be the first automobile to be registered in Quebec. She drives on the right, as shown in vintage photos.

The Marquis Jules-Albert de Dion, along with his partner Bouton, was for a brief time, in the early days of the automobile age, the largest automaker in the world. The Marquis acts in France, within committees dedicated to reforming the Highway Code, as an ardent defender of driving on the right. He does not budge, for technical reasons, but also for questions of social rank. Centuries of equestrian culture linked to the aristocracy make it improbable in his opinion that the position of the coachmen should suddenly be inverted in relation to that occupied by their masters. There is therefore no question that the vehicles of the Marquis, who also sits as a right-wing deputy, are fitted with left-hand driving. So much so that the Marquis de Dion will insist that we drive from now on in France, as well as in the other countries where he trades, in the same way as in royalist England. In France, his will comes close to asserting itself. It is the deputies who will end up ruling in the opposite direction.

We will need to legislate, including in Canada, so that steering wheels pass on the left in all vehicles and motorists drive on the right. It doesn’t happen overnight. In Canada, loyalty to the practices imposed by the aristocracy of the mother country meant that, until the early 1920s, automobiles from Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Island Edward and BC drive left on the roadway, similar to UK.

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However, to facilitate economic exchanges with the United States, measures to standardize conduct will be adopted, despite strong opposition from the population. Only Newfoundland resisted and continued to roll against America until 1947. It would be the last stronghold to maintain this British colonial standard in North America.

Even in the United States, many cars are first driven on the right, as in a third of the countries in the world even today. In 1906, a Cadillac had its steering wheel on the right, just like a Ford, a Winton, a Russell or a McLaughlin. Many of these cars are produced in Canada, in whole or in part.

Henry Ford will be one of the first to argue in the United States that driving on the left, when driving on the right on the road, makes it easier to control oncoming vehicles. Forgetting the tensions imposed by a wealthy aristocracy attached to the equestrian past as a mark of its distinction was perhaps easier to achieve in the New World than in the Old.

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