Most people are right-handed and it seems natural that people used the left hand side of the road when riding horses or simply walking. In case of conflict a weapon could be easily put between you and the opponent.

However, I've read the change to drive on the right is due to Napoleon. How accurate is this story? What's the real origin of the move?

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    I'm unclear as to your confusion, you link in to Wikipedia which has 100+ references at the bottom of the article. have you looked through those to see if you answer is in there? – MichaelF Nov 1 '12 at 12:10
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    When you're carrying a sword, you want to be on the left (if you're right-handed). If you're carrying a rifle, you want to be on the right. – American Luke Nov 1 '12 at 19:41
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    @MichaelF, many sites seem to copy from each other and do not bring up enough solid explanation. This article from New Scientist, however, seems to provide more relevant information than most. Having said that, I still find it hard to believe a centuries-long tradition was changed just like that, but the French Revolution triggered a change to life at all levels after all. – fledermaus Nov 2 '12 at 16:54
  • They started driving on the right because left aint right. – user202 Feb 1 '13 at 23:58

I have been doing some (online) research on the issue.

What is clear and factual is that when Napoleon conquered most of Europe he set a lot of standards in the Conquered region. From driving on the right side, common measurements/weights to require people to have a last name. So this should be your answer already. All other countries driving direction can be easily found and were documented, mostly because of kolonial/trade influences.

But, the whole story that Napoleon forced France to drive on the right side because he was left handed, an outcome of the revolution or as a statement against the church (because it is also believed -yet undocumented- that there was a Papal degree in 1300 making people keep to the left)

I believe the true answer to your question lies in the research of an the author Peter Kincaid who wrote The Rule of the Road: An International Guide to History and Practice, in which he answer the question:

Did France change sides of the road in rebellion against papal authority?

Probably not. This is a common belief, but Kincaid, besides refuting the existence of any papal order pertaining to the rule of the road in Europe, finds no evidence that left-hand driving was ever common in France. It appears likely that France has always driven on the right. Nicholas Hodder reports a rumor that some pre-Napoleonic pictures show traffic travelling on the left of the Champs-Elysées, but I have yet to confirm this.

source: Brian Lucas: Which Side of the road do they drive on?

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    if it were in rebellion against a papal decree, the UK would have switched the moment the Church of England was established :) – jwenting Jan 31 '13 at 7:30
  • Everything from the Napoleon era has been documented so carefully, that something like switching sides of roads because of whatever reason would have surely been written down, just like all the other laws and systems he imposed. Apparently Austria(Hungaria) continued to have two different side of the road driving. Precisely on the line up to where they were conquered by Napoleon. – Hendrik Beenker Jan 31 '13 at 8:08

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