Have you ever wondered which came first—steering wheels on the left-hand side of the car or the right-hand side? Actually, the first steering wheels were in the center of the car.
When cars were first manufactured they didn’t have steering wheels. The driver would use a tiller mounted in the center of the car to turn the wheels in the direction of choice. In 1894, Alfred Vacheron replaced his Panhard et Levassor’s (first registered automobile in Portugal) tiller with a steering wheel for the Paris-Rouen motoring competition.
Four years later, steering wheels came standard on Panhard cars. It didn’t take long for others to create experimental cars with steering wheels. By 1898 Thomas B. Jeffrey and his son moved the steering wheel column from the center of the car to the left side.
However, in the early 1900’s, new rules for the road were created in American to standardize driving. A great campaign released a memorable statement for drivers to “keep to the right.” Prior to the campaign cars were driven on any part of the road the driver chose.
To help with the campaign, all car manufacturers placed the steering column on the right side of the car. Unfortunately, most accidents during that time were side swiped cars, as neither passing driver could see the opposite side of their car well enough to know if they would clear the approaching car.
For safety purposes, the steering wheel was moved back to the left side of the car where it had started. The number of accidents dropped dramatically and soon all cars world wide mounted the steering wheel on the traffic side of the car so the driver had better visibility.