Carlos Yu and I have a long-term plan to write a book on the Philippines under American rule. But it won’t be done until 2018 at the earliest.
One thing that we discovered while writing our book on the Panama Canal was that Panamanians drove on the left until April 15, 1943. The reasons for the changeover are obvious; less so is why Panama started out on the left. The influx from the British West Indies is often cited. (Colombia did not start to regularize its traffic codes until Panama had already seceded but appears to have always driven on the right.) Argentina drove on the left between 1889 and 1945. The first traffic code, from 1872, mandated driving on the right but the country switched to the left in emulation of the British-built railroads. (You can still see this in the Buenos Aires subway.) It moved back to the right on June 10, 1945.
But neither of us had any idea that the Philippines also drove on the left until March 10, 1945! That is more than slightly amazing. The vast majority of cars were imported from the United States. So how did the rule survive so long? Even more amazing, the reason for the shift given in the text of the executive order implies that imported cars had been physically reconfigured to right-hand-drive before the switch:
EXECUTIVE ORDER NO. 34: AMENDING TRAFFIC REGULATIONS FOR VEHICLES
WHEREAS it is deemed advisable to change the existing regulations providing for the driving of vehicles on the left side of the road so that the vehicle traffic in the Philippines shall conform with the practice of driving on the right side of the road obtaining in most countries of the world;
WHEREAS such a change would bring about certain economic advantages to the people of the Philippines in that it would reduce the price of motor vehicles imported into the Philippines from the United States;
WHEREAS during the present emergency the great majority of the motor vehicles of the United States Army used on the roadways in the Philippines are right-hand driven and the drivers thereof are accustomed to driving on the right side of the road; and
WHEREAS the present affords the most propitious opportunity to effect this desired change;
NOW, THEREFORE, by virtue of the powers vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the Commonwealth of the Philippines, particularly Commonwealth Act No. 671, I, Sergio Osmeña, President of the Commonwealth of the Philippines, do hereby order;
1. That section 60 of the Revised Motor Vehicle Law, Act No. 3992, be amended, as it is hereby amended, to read as follows:
“SEC. 60. Drive on right side of road.—Unless a different course of action is required in the interest of the safety and security of life, person, or property, or because of unreasonable difficulty of operation in compliance herewith, every person operating a motor vehicle or guiding an animal drawn vehicle on a highway shall pass to the right when meeting persons or vehicles coming toward him, and to the left when overtaking persons or vehicles going the same direction, and, when turning to the left, in going from one highway into another, every vehicle shall be conducted to the right of the center of the intersection of the highway.”
2. That all other sections or parts of the said Revised Motor Vehicle Law and amendments thereof shall be considered as amended or modified as they are hereby amended or modified accordingly so as to conform with the provisions of the Executive Order; and all other provisions of law inconsistent with or contrary to the provisions of this Executive Order shall be considered repealed as they are hereby repealed.
Done at the City of Manila, this tenth day of March, in the year of Our Lord, nineteen hundred and forty-five, and of the Commonwealth of the Philippines, the tenth.
President of the Philippines
Unless most American imports had been reconfigured before sale in the Philippines, then there is no reason why switching the side you drive on would make imports cheaper. Today the Bahamas drives on the left but enforces no such rule; neither does the U.S. Virgin Islands. Was there a mechanics lobby group in the Philippine Islands that insisted on reconfiguring imports before 1945?
There has got to be a story here.