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.
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.
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.
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….
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.
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.
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.
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.