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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

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Gordon S. Jackson: The right to go left

By Gordon S. Jackson

By Gordon S. Jackson

Our new-found and vigorously asserted right not to wear a mask to combat COVID 19 is prompting me to advocacy on another front. I grew up in South Africa, where we drive on the left. And as I talk to others who learned to drive on the left, and would be comfortable doing what comes more naturally to us, I increasingly realize it’s time to claim our “right to go left.”

Drivers in this country have been so conditioned by dictatorial governments, at federal and state levels, that they assume that driving on the right is the only acceptable option. Not so. Millions of people in Britain, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand, for example, drive on the left. In fact, more than 60 countries opt for doing so. Are they all wrong? You may say that even in these countries you are still required to drive on only one side of the road. Well, you’d just need to visit India or deal with taxis in South Africa to see that isn’t necessarily so.

Five brief points need to be made. The first is that we’re talking about public roads, roads that I help to maintain through my taxes. Nobody should have the power to tell me how I use my roads. Having learned to drive on the left, I sense the oppression each time I get behind the wheel on a US road. Just as we long ago stopped forcing left-handed children to switch to writing with their right hands, and to do what came naturally to them, so should those of us who learned to drive on the left be permitted to continue doing so. What right do other drivers or a heavy-handed government have to tell me to “stay right”?

Second: Government leaders and so-called health experts tell us that the mask mandate is for our own good. They give the same justification for us all to drive on the right. But if that’s such a great idea, how come we still have nearly 40,000 road deaths on US roads each year?

Third: My right to go left doesn’t take away your freedoms. If you want to keep driving on the right, that’s fine with me. I respect that and will fight for your continued right to do so. I ask only that you will accord me the same freedom that you claim for yourself.

Incidentally, it is noteworthy that the overwhelming majority of countries that go with driving on the left are democracies, including India–the world’s largest democracy, with more than a billion people. If driving on the left correlates with democratic government, those of us seeking to “go left” in this country will surely be enhancing freedom, not opposing it.

Fourth: It’s my car. Nobody should be able to tell me where or how I use my vehicle on the roads I am paying for. I concede that if our “go left” movement gains traction, we’re likely to have some initial difficulties. Already we read of occasional head-on collisions caused by people driving on the right who don’t respect the rights of drivers who’ve “gone left.” Tragic though these outcomes often are, with better education and mutual respect we can learn to accommodate each other’s preferences.

Fifth: You may ask, “So where does this supposed right to ‘go left’ come from?” The same place as the right to privacy or others not explicitly stated in the Constitution: from popular opinion that eventually gets endorsed by the courts. Rights come and go. Nobody today asserts “slave-owners’ rights.” Slavery, thankfully, is no longer with us. But driving is–and now is the time to protect the rights of a minority sorely neglected to date.

In short, justice demands that we continue asserting our right not to wear masks, and to put right a wrong on our roads, by asserting equally vigorously our right to go left.

Gordon S. Jackson taught journalism at Whitworth University for 32 years. He a former ombudsman for The Spokesman-Review and is the author or compiler of 16 books.