This Day in History: Swedish Traffic Switches Sides – September 3, 1967

Kungsgatan in Stockholm on Dagen H.
Kungsgatan in Stockholm on Dagen H.

You’ve heard of D-Day, but have you ever heard of Dagen H (Swedish for H Day)? H stands for Högertrafikomläggningen, or the Right-Hand Traffic Diversion. On Sunday, September 3, 1967, Sweden changed from driving on the left-hand side of the road to driving on the right. As you might imagine, this switch was anything but easy.

The decision to move to the other side of the road was not taken lightly. In fact, the idea had repeatedly been voted down during the preceding decades. In 1955, a popular referendum showed that 83 percent of the Swedish population was opposed to the change. However, in May 1963 the Swedish Parliament voted overwhelmingly in favor of implementing the switch to right-side driving. With all of Sweden’s neighboring countries driving on the right, it made sense for Sweden to do the same. Also, despite the left-hand driving rule, cars in Sweden typically had the steering wheel on the left, leading to many accidents, especially on narrow roads.

512px-Dagen_H.svgPreparing the country for the change was a costly and complicated endeavor. Traffic lights had to be reversed, road signs changed, intersections redesigned, lines on the road repainted, buses modified, and bus stops moved. A massive PR campaign was conducted to reconcile the public to the change and educate them about how it would be implemented. Dagen H even got its own logo, which appeared on everything from milk cartons to underwear, and a song contest (the winning tune was “Håll dig till höger, Svensson” — “Keep to the right, Svensson” — by The Telestars).

Goteborg-dagen-h
Dagen H on Kungsportsavenyn in Gothenburg.

Finally, everything was ready. At 4:50 a.m. on September 3, 1967, as crowds of people gathered to watch, all vehicles on the road were instructed to come to a halt. They were then directed to move carefully from the left side of the road to the right, and wait. At the stroke of 5:00, following a radio countdown, an announcement was made — “Sweden now has right-hand driving” — and traffic was allowed to resume. Time Magazine called the event “a brief but monumental traffic jam.”

The Swedish Minister of Communication (and later Prime Minister), Olof Palme, said on the radio on the morning of Dagen H:

This is a very large change in our daily existence, our everyday life. The doubts have naturally been great. But our innate hesitancy towards a fundamental transformation of our daily traffic environment has given way before a rational internationalism, before a reform that we are confident will benefit traffic safety. I dare say that never before has a country invested so much personal labor, and money, to achieve uniform international traffic rules.

Overall, the change went smoothly. For about two years after Dagen H the number of traffic accidents dropped, perhaps partly as a result of increased caution on the part of drivers still getting used to the new rules.

So was it all worth it? From a safety standpoint, it’s hard to say. A couple of years after the switch, accident levels returned to their earlier levels, despite the hopes that bringing vehicle design and road rules into harmony would improve matters. But given the ever-increasing number of cars on the road, it’s possible today’s accident levels would be even higher if the change had not been made. And given the numbers of travelers driving across borders these days, not having to switch to the other side of the road when entering and leaving Sweden must surely be a good thing.

Swedish speakers may be interested in this video about the change to right-side driving.

16 thoughts on “This Day in History: Swedish Traffic Switches Sides – September 3, 1967”

  1. I still believe driving on th left is safer. firstly becasuse with stanadrad shift veicles you kep you right hand on the steering heel and shift the left. alo on minor roads if there is a decision o mke when opposing cars approach eah other, th elsft hand drive car will go in th ditch, th right hnd into oncoming traffic

    1. I agree. The left is much safer for cars with manual gearboxes. The right hand is dominant in most people and it shouldn’t be removed from the steering wheel to change gears. Obviously, this doesn’t apply to cars with auto gearboxes.

  2. I’m in Australia and we have driven on the left all my life, I’m just a little confused about how Sweden had cars driving on the left with the steering wheel on the left as well would have been a nightmare to drive then, no wonder they changed it.

    1. Yes, that was weird. I’m in Sweden but was only two when they made the change (I do remember that song, though). My dad later remarked he was hesistant about the whole thing, until he realised he could actually see the road ahead of him before he’d try to overtake someone. That got him sold on the idea.

      1. Yes my wife Eva was in Stockholm in a car with friends when the change over occurred. They thought it was very exciting and of course made sense to align with the rest of Europe.

    2. Aussie as well and thought the same after researching this and after reading “an on this day article” today that back in 1967 Sweden changed sides 😉

  3. I remember it well.
    Together with my friend from college we had travelled from our home in the UK to Gothenburg and were planning to hitch-hike (common in those innocent days!) to Stockholm, where we were to stay with a Swedish friend. We had no idea that Sweden was planning to change from driving on the left (as we do) to driving on the right.
    Imagine our astonishment at seeing cars driving at 4 miles per hour, some drivers wearing crash helmets, some with students walking in front of them. We thought we had arrived in a madhouse!

  4. I drove up from Frankfurt Germany the week before the switch, specifically to see what this was about. Having always driven on the right, it was particularly strange because all the road markings had been repainted for the right. New road signs were already up, but each had a cloth over it.

    As I recall, the first casualty was an elderly pedestrian who was not aware of the change and looked the wrong way before stepping into the street.

  5. Everyone in every country used to drive on the left, and by drive, I mean travel , ie by cart wagon horse etc, throughout history. Foot traffic was on the right. It is the most natural and safest option, as your sword arm was free to defend and protect and. the passenger was tucked in on the left side out of harms way. It has been this way throughout history since man has travelled on tracks, roads and pathways, until only a couple of centuries or so ago when Napoleon started traveling on the right, to show solidarity for the poorest of the French peasants, who were generally too poor to afford horses carts or wagons, and were on foot and naturally walking against the oncoming traffic on the left. As as result of Napoleons maverick ways, America, fighting the British at the time, switched sides to show solidarity with the French, as They we’re also fighting the Brits back home. So everyone, yes, including the Americans), travelled on the left, it goes way back before the motor car, it’s all about being able to defend yourself/safety. We can blame Napoleon for the switch!

  6. Democracy is a value until “the good people” decide that your vote have to be suppressed because of “the greater good”. If you want have a left-hand driving rule, then you can and your vehicles have to have the steering wheel on the right.

  7. I read an article in an American motor magazine in the 1960’s about the subject. Whomever wrote it was either daft or just pulling our legs. He stated that because they drive on the right in the USA it adversely affects the weather! The writer did seem serious and he quoted various scientists. I’ve Googled a few times to see if I could find something related to that article, but have had no luck. Maybe it was just a bit of early “Fake news” but the article was well written and quite convincing.

  8. I was visiting Sweden in July of that year. It was clear to me that passing another car could be pretty dangerous as you can’t see what’s on coming. I asked my friend’s father how passing was done, thinking there must be some special procedure to keep it safe. He said, “Oh, like this.” He pulled right out into the other lane and sure enough we’re heading right at an on coming car! I thought oh great this is how it’s going to end, and I don’t even know how to say OH S… in Swedish! It was a wide road and the on coming car just kind of slid on over out of the way to let us pass not even swapping paint. I told him for sure you either need to drive on the other side of the road or change steering wheels! Talk about pucker factor!

  9. ِDid you know that In a referendum in 1955, 82.9 percent voted in favor of keeping left-hand side driving and only 15.3 percent voted for a change?
    and in 1963 the Swedish Parliament decided that the country should switch. Have you ever ask yourself, Swedish, WHY?

  10. I had been driving for almost ten years when the change-over happened, and was really into motoring and politics. I remember reading that the Swedish government considered that 2,000 lives lost as a consequence would be an acceptable political price to pay. Can anyone today imagine any government taking a similar short term political risk ? !

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *