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How the Philippines became a left-hand-drive country

Motoring shift took place 70 years ago

The Philippines used to be right-hand-drive.

Today marks an important milestone for Philippine motoring because it was on March 10, 1945, that President Sergio Osmeña signed Executive Order No. 34, which directed Filipino motorists to drive on the right side of the road. Until that time, Philippine vehicles had been driven on the left side of the road, which meant our cars had been right-hand-drive (or with the steering wheel positioned on the right).

How the Philippines transitioned from driving on the left to driving on the right side of the road was apparently down to economics. As stated in the EO, changing the driving orientation was economically advantageous to the Philippines since it would "reduce the price of motor vehicles imported into the Philippines from the United States."

Of course, World War II was also a factor as the EO noted that the vehicles used by the United States military on our roads were driven on the right side of the road. It is said that the Japanese demanded that the countries it occupied during WWII drive on the left side of the road. So perhaps our LHD shift was also as much political as it was fiscal. It was likely the Americans letting everyone know that they had wrested back control of the Philippines from the Japanese.

With this day marking the 70th anniversary of that executive order, we're thankful we made the shift to left-hand-drive motoring then because, according to National Geographic, 75% of the world's countries (as of 2013) now drive on the right side of the road, just like we do. Which means more car models are readily available to our market.


Here is the full text of Executive Order No. 34, in italics:


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."

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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

Photo from University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Libraries

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