No, this post isn’t about a major change in Swedish politics after an election.
Until 1967, Sweden drove on the left—opposite from its neighbouring countries (Denmark, Finland, and Norway). Swedish drivers who travelled abroad got into car accidents because of their unfamiliarity with the traffic patterns, as did tourists who came to Sweden.
Additionally, Swedish car companies such as SAAB and Volvo made cars that were meant to be driven on the right so they could be more easily exported to the rest of the right-driving world, but many of these cars found their way onto Swedish roads. Swedish drivers were thus seated closest to the outside edge of the road, making visibility difficult.
To fix these problems, the Swedish government made the case for switching driving to the right side of the road, and put the decision up for a public vote.
The response was overwhelmingly negative, with most Swedes wanting to stick with what they were used to. The government just decided to move forward with their plan anyway.
The government went on a major publicity drive to help with the transition. They designed signs and stickers featuring a new “H” logo (short for höger, or “right”). They distributed pamphlets and made public service announcements on TV and radio.
One TV station even ran a competition for a song to help make people aware of the upcoming switch. The winner was Håll dig till höger, Svensson (“Stick to the Right, Svensson”) by The Telstars.
There were multiple issues that need to be addressed. Buses had their doors open to the curb, so bus stops had to be moved to the other side of the road. Road signs face one way, on one side of the road, and they also have to be changed. Intersections need to be reconfigured, and new road lines need to be drawn. Car headlights illuminated the wrong area of the road, and thus had to be replaced.
September 3, 1967 was declared Dagen-H (or “H-Day”), short for Högertrafikomläggningen (“the right-hand traffic diversion”). All nonessential traffic was banned from the roads from 1 a.m. to 6 a.m. If you were on the roads at that time, you had to come to a stop at precisely 4:50 a.m. and sit there for 10 minutes until precisely 5:00 a.m., at which point you had to move to the other side of the road.
H-Day went very smoothly, probably due to the majority drivers displaying excessive caution in the face of what was presumably a terrifying shift – what if someone forgot to changeover, and a head-on collision occurred? However, once everyone had gotten used to the change, accident levels rose to normal.
Several countries (Iceland, Nigeria and Ghana, to name a few) followed Sweden’s lead and changed from the left to the right, but in 2009 Samoa did the opposite, going from the right to the left.