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March 10, 2015


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Could it be that there was a convergence of interest groups in the Philippines and the United States that kept up the drive on the left law and as a result the reconfiguration of imports as a requirement?

I would imagine that in the Philippines those interested in independence would prefer that the Filipino road code remain distinct from the American road code in order to discourage the prospects for the total integration as either an incorporated territory or statehood. This I imagine would also be mirrored by those in the United States who did not want the full integration of the Philippines into the United States (and if I remember one of your earlier postings on the Philippines correctly these interest groups also had a hand in maintaining a separate Filipino currency and currency standard).

Once the drive on the left rule was maintained then it would seem likely that an interest group of mechanics would be formed once it became a requirement to reconfigure American imports (since American imports would presumably be the most affordable anyway depending on the tariff situation) and that this group might well have had a role in maintaining the drive on the left rule.

Hmmm...I guess if it wasn't for the Japanese then the Philippines might still drive on the left today. If they hadn't invaded in 1941, the Commonwealth of the Philippines would have been granted independence on July 4, 1945 and this would have occurred without the massive influx of American soldiers and vehicles from 1944 which necessitated the March 1945 conversion from driving on the left to driving on the right.

I wonder why the USVI still drive on the left though..?

I like that analysis. You're spot-on about American resistance to anything that integrated the Philippines and the mainland. That said, the decision would have been made by the Philippine Commission until 1917 ... and the Commission was staffed by pro-imperial Republicans. So it doesn't explain everything.

The USVI ... my best guess is that it just didn't matter. The islands aren't eligible for standard federal highway funding, so that incentive doesn't apply. There's never been a big military presence, so that incentive doesn't apply. (The above two reasons are why we hypothesized that "American Trinidad" would have switched to the right soon after 1931.) Large-scale tourism didn't get started until the 1970s.

The islands are tiny: St.Thomas covers 31 square miles, St. John is 20, and St. Croix is 82. (Manhattan is 23.) Only St. Croix is really large enough to start generating heavy traffic, but it has only 50,000 people.

So my guess is apathy. The U.S. Navy couldn't be bothered, the territory was buying American cars anyway, so who cared? The real way to test this would be to go through the records of the USVI Legislature back to 1954 and see if anyone tried to introduce bills mandating the switch. I suspect not ... but if that's wrong, it would be interesting to see why the bills failed.

Sadly, the minutes of the USVI Legislature do not seem to be easily available on-line ... and I have to admit that travel there is very low down on our priority list.

Apathy seems like a very good explanation for why the USVI still drives on the left then..

For the Philippines though, could it be that the Commission didn't make a decision on the right or left usage of the road or that its preferred option for this was stymied by anti-integration interests in the United States? After all there must have been some reason why the pro-imperial Republican-staffed Philippine Commission until 1917 did not end the Philippine peso and replace it with the dollar nor switch traffic from the left to the right side of the road...

Regarding the peso, have you seen this post?


The difference is that the currency was Congress's responsibility, whereas traffic codes fell within the Commission's powers under the Organic Act. Section 74 gave the Commission the authority to write traffic regulations; Section 77, meanwhile, gave the Commission only the ability to mint small change. (See http://www.gov.ph/constitutions/the-philippine-organic-act-of-1902/.)

I actually had that post in mind when I originally referred to the peso :-)

But it's been a while since I read it and it slipped me that Congress had a big say in the currency issue versus the organic government of the Philippines itself.

So with all that you have pointed out just now it really is rather puzzling that the Commission ignored the drive on the left rule given its make up and powers. Maybe it just never really occurred to them to change it or they had other issues that pushed the traffic regulations way down on their list of priorities.

Whatever the reason I love a good puzzle.

About driving on the the left in Panama: are your sure? I remember that there were odd traffic rules concerning the swing bridge at Pedro Miguel and a Bailey Bridge somewhere near Gamboa, but that was it. I'm pretty sure that I would have known.

On this point, Myanmar switched to driving on the right in the 1970's because a fortune-teller advised the government head to do so. Strangely, they kept right-hand side drive cars. The result is that a left hand turn in Myanmar is an extremely dangerous operation.

And in Bolivia, they import cars with steering wheels on the right and move the pedals and wheel to the left leaving the other controls on what is now the passenger side.

Regarding Panama --- yup, we're sure. The country switched in '43. We saw the archival documents while writing our book, but you can also see some photos here: http://www.panamahistorybits.com/article.asp?id=2011-07-22.

Myanmar sounds the reverse of the Bahamas or USVI.

The Bolivian thing sounds nuts. The controls are one side but all the dials on the other??

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