Keep Left!

Keep Left!

Good Morning and a happy Monday to you all!  I’m afraid that I have some not so great news this morning, but it needs to be addressed.  For it comes with a little PSA that I suppose is necessary given the number of first time visitors traveling to the USVI this winter and the unfortunate events of last week.  So, today, we need to go back to St. John basics….Driving on the left side of the road.

On Tuesday, there were two incidents on the roads of our little island.  One resulted in a damaged vehicle and one in casualty. Both involved notable St. John residents that were negatively impacted by a vehicle(s) not adhering to the rules of the road.  A St. John boat captain and EMT was hit and killed on impact by a vehicle while riding his motorcycle down Centerline last Tuesday.

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Photo Courtesy VIPD Press Release

The operator of the motorcycle was identified by next of kin as Ceneca E. Lindo of Estate Enighed, said V.I. Police spokesman Toby Derima. Lindo was employed by the V.I. Health Department.

Derima said the crash occurred just before 7 p.m. in Estate Adrian.  The VIPD press release stated that the driver of the vehicle rounded a curve and saw the motorcyclist coming straight toward the car. The police are still investigating the accident and no further details have been released as of today.

On the same day, our own infamous photographer, Steve Simonsen, was involved in a head on collision that DID involve a visitor who was driving on the wrong side of the road.  He was on his way to Trunk Bay to film one of his sunset streams when the accident occurred.  Steve is OK.  His truck is not.

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Our condolences go out to the family and loved ones of Ceneca.  Love City lost a dedicated front line worker and cherished community member last week.  And we wish Steve and Janet good fortune in the repairs of their vehicle.

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In light of these tragic events and the surge of first timers traveling to the USVI this year, I wanted to share a bit of the lore behind driving on the left side of the road.  I do so in hopes that you will share this message far and wide so that first time visitors will see it, read it and remember it!

There is a lot of chatter in regards to the “stay left” driving style here in the Virgin Islands.  The donkeys preferred to pass to the left of each other, the driver had a better view of the cliff ledge if they were closer to it, etc., etc., etc….

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I did a little digging in some more factual arenas than the coconut telegraph may be.  And here’s what I found:

The tradition of driving on the left side of the road stretches back to horse and cart days when keeping to the left side of the roads made so much sense.  You see, in England, the coaches were driven on the left by coachmen who were predominately right handed.  They would drive on the left and sit on the right side of the carriage with the whip in their right hand.

This would keep them away from on coming traffic and still allow them to control the horse(s).  Additionally, right handed swordsmen on horseback preferred to travel on the left side so that they could quickly draw their weapon for oncoming opponents as needed.  These would generally both support the donkey theory.  Before times of automobiles in the USVI, donkeys, in lieu of horses, were likely used for transportation of people and goods.

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Colonies settled by the British are predominately left side driving while colonies settled by the French tend to keep to the right.  That’s why, in areas controlled by the UK, they still drive their cars on the left side of the road.  Additionally, British born vehicles have the steering column on that same side of the auto.

Fast forward across the Atlantic…The original colonies were, in fact, left side drivers until they broke up with the Queen. Anxious to cast off ties with the British, the new country moved to the right side of the road….and switched from tea to coffee 🙂 Pennsylvania was the first to formally move to the right in 1792.

But, I digress.  The USVI were originally settled by the Danish before the US purchased them in 1917, correct? And Denmark moved drivers and riders to the right side of the road in 1793.

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Keeping left on historic Main Street St. Thomas

Yes, but legend has it that British expats controlled the majority of the land based vehicles used for trade and commerce.   Many traders and agriculturalists that settled in the USVI were from England and they brought their left side driving habits with them.  Thus, continuing the trend.

So, by the time the US purchased the USVI, ALL of the states had adopted the right side driving rules because, well, how awkward would it be to be driving through Ohio and have to switch to driving on the opposite side in Indiana?  But, outside of federal roadways, the Federal Government does not control the states’ (or territories’) rulings over these things.  So, the VI stayed left through the transition.

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When the US took over control of the Philippines, the right side rule was not imposed.  Later, right-side driving in the Philippine case was mandated by the Commonwealth government under President Osmeña.  In Puerto Rico right side driving was imposed by the Regulations for Road Order and Conservation of 1884.  I’d imagine they moved to the right side of the road because of so many heavy freight vehicles being brought in from the states for utilization on major highways.

We don’t necessarily have that issue here. 

Additionally, PR was more of a melting pot of European settlers than the USVI.  Originally settled by the Spanish (right side!) with a peppering of immigrants of French, American and German descent, the right side ruling made more sense.

But, here in the USVI, we stay to the left.  And, at this point, we probably always will.  So, if you’re visiting our islands, drive slow, KEEP LEFT and please, please, please look out for others who are sharing the narrow and windy roadways.  

10 thoughts on “Keep Left!”

  1. Most important to always be super alert especially around those turns. Most folks new to the left side driving thing will instinctively pull to the right (wrong). Although Steve was pulled off to the left side of the road as far as he could get without going over, it was not far enough. Please everyone slow down… our speed limits are what they are for a reason.

  2. Remembering to drive on the left is important. I would also like to remind people that when leaving from a stop you are to look Right Left Right.

  3. It’s so sad to hear of the passing of Ceneca Lindo and the close call for Steve Simonsen, our thoughts are with their families. On our visits over the years we’ve had a couple of close calls with one car coming straight at us in our lane and one rounding a blind climbing curve too wide. The makes of the vehicles appear to be rental cars. We’ve also noticed the increase in speed. I was very glad to read of speed bumps installed at Maho, they’ve been badly needed. Perhaps the St. John rental car companies could install a sign on the driver’s side sun visor reminding the driver “always drive on the left”, the low speed limit and to watch for Donkey’s. With St. John becoming more and more poplular, it’s worth a try. We don’t want anyone else to experience the sadness of last week. R.I.P. Ceneca Lindo.

  4. This is such sad news and we send heart felt wishes to the family of Ceneca. Glad to hear Steve is okay, and good luck with your truck. Scary stuff ♥️

  5. As a long TimE seasonal visitor/Owner on SJ – 34 years -I think there are too many rental cars now allowed on island. One of the charms used to be the smaller taxis that drove safely. They should go back to ONLY SJ rentals. We have had several instances of near misses by careless tourists coming down the center of road or on wrong side. One side-swiped us and knocked off our side mirror sending pieces of glass into my chest. SLOW DOWN OR DON’t DRIVE!!!
    ML Armstrong

  6. Perhaps it would help to paint large arrows on the road, especially where there are blind curves as a reminder. In fact it would help if the road markings were painted properly. I am surprised and shocked how much lane paint is missing on STJ and STT.

  7. So sad to hear of the 2 accidents and the death of a resident is aweful. 20mph doesn’t seem fast until there is a crash. Keep left, keep left, keep left stays on my mind every time we get to St John. Visitors need to focus so intently as a mistake can happen so quickly. A partner in the car must be the co-pilot always reminding the driver as both need to pay attention. Suggestions like the simple Arrow
    keep left <—- sticker does help, but each driver needs to own the responsibility. Think First, then turn on the car. Stay safe everyone. Island residents also need to heed the 20mph as they sometimes push the limits of the road. Drive responsibility. Love St John

  8. There is one thing that will not eliminate, but would help IMMENSELY to reduce accidents and it is very simple – let’s encourage everyone to drive with their headlights on ALL THE TIME – night and day. A study decades ago in Canada found an overall reduction in accidents of over 30% when test cars were rigged to have headlights on day and night. It was such an overwhelming success that many car companies installed “daylight running lights” in newer models.

    In an environment where there is a mix of left and right- sided minded drivers, it is even more important.
    In a tourist driver’s right hand mind set, the one or two second earlier recognition that a car is coming towards them and they are in the wrong lane, is even more critical. Similarly, the locals’ early recognition that they are facing a wrong-side vehicle is critical.

    Let us not have Ceneca’s passing be in vain. Let us lobby government, car rental companies, insurance companies, public announcement advertisers, the media to make this into a program that raises this issue to the level of wearing seat belts. The sticker on the windshield of rentals should not just say “Drive on the left” but also “TURN HEADLIGHTS ON!”. Locals should likewise be encouraged to drive with headlights on.

  9. This is why we NEVER have rented a car on St. John in our 11 years of vacationing here. Too many rum punches in the vacationers, along with the tendency to revert to driving on the right. Maybe you’ve seen us? We’re the ones hiking and hitching!☺️Please stay safe, all. And consider that the taxi drivers are trying to make a living here.

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