Czechs have been driving on the right for 85 years

When they were part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and during the First Republic, Czechs were accustomed to driving on the left. That changed with the Nazi occupation in 1939.  

Photo: Archive of DPP

Driving on the left side of the road used to be the general rule, and was legislated by a papal decree around 1300.  During the Austro-Hungarian Empire people drove on the left and when it broke up  most of its former territories stayed left, including Czechoslovakia.

That changed –almost overnight - in 1939. Just a couple of days after the Nazis invaded most of Bohemia and Moravia on March 15th Czech motorists were ordered to drive on the right.

Interestingly, the changeover was first introduced in the provinces on March 17, and then just over a week later in Prague, on March 26.

Walk on the right! | Photo: Czech Television

Historian Pavel Fojtik suggests while the Nazis did indeed enforce this change, it was going to happen anyway. In 1926 Czechoslovakia had signed up to a so-called Paris agreement, committing the country to going right at some unspecified time in the future.

After failing to honour this pledge for over a decade, in November 1938 the Czechoslovak government finally made the decision to switch to the right, with the changeover planned for the beginning of May 1939. So in fact the Germans merely sped up the process by a number of weeks.

As the change took place, boy scouts stood by roads and streets with signs saying "jezdíme vpravo", "we drive on the right", and billboards bearing the same slogan appeared around the country.

Technically the change-over was successful, but due to force of habit accidents occurred. There were 26 of them on the first day it  was enforced. But drivers and pedestrians soon became accustomed to the change and Czechs have been driving on the right ever since.

We drive on the right | Photo: Czech Television
Source: Český rozhlas