DAGEN H: The Day Sweden Was In Complete Chaos

by Yashvardhan Sharma

On the morning of September 3, 1967, complete mayhem broke out on the streets of Sweden. It looked something like this.

Kungsgatan, Stockholm, on Dagen H., 3 September 1967.

Why? Well in order to understand that we need to go back a few thousands of years ago to the Roman Empire, which ruled almost all of Europe. The rulers build an extensive network of roads across their giant empire. In fact, archaeologists have found roads built in Europe that are almost 6000 years old. So, everywhere in the Roman Empire, people moved on the left.


Why did people move on the left?

During the time of the Roman Empire, people were mostly right-handed, so it was easier for them to grip and climb up their horses from the left. Also, it would’ve been difficult to climb up from the right, considering that one would be in the middle of the road.


Apart from that, in case an enemy was to come forward marching towards you, it’d be preferable for you in this position since you could fight with your dominant hand.


A friendly duel (hopefully) in the old days.

Now, because of the Roman Empire, almost all European countries drove on the left, until Napoleon conquered France, Egypt, Belgium, Holland, much of Italy, Austria, much of Germany, Poland and Spain in the early nineteenth century. (Woah, that’s most of Western Europe).


Now, Napoleon wanted to do things in his manner and decided to change the way people drove. Why?


Well, some historians speculate that since Napoleon himself was left-handed, he wanted everyone in his empire to follow the “right” way of driving. Others speculate that because in his arch-nemesis empire, the British Empire, people drove on the left, so he wanted to change that.


Some historians also believe that the reason for doing so was because Napoleon seemed to have been keen on changing centuries-long traditions for the sake of creating a whole new society, the purpose behind the French Revolution after all.

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Anyway, post-Napoleon, all French colonies around the world drove on the right side of the road, such as Vietnam and Morocco and all English colonies such as India drove on the except for one, the United States of America.



Now, What happened in Sweden?


At exactly five in the morning on September 3rd, 1967, all traffic came to a standstill. Then slowly and cautiously, motorists and cyclists steered their cars, bikes, and cycles across the road to the other side. Sweden had decided that they are no longer going to drive on the left side of the road.


You see, in 1955 a referendum was held in Sweden questioning the people about the side of the road that they should drive on and 83% of the population voted against the change. But, regardless of the results of the referendum, the government decided to change the law.


All of Sweden’s neighbors, as well as Norway and Finland with that Scandinavian nation shares land borders, drove on the right. The foremost pressing issue, however, was road safety. Despite driving on the left, 90% of cars on the road had steering wheels on the left side of the vehicle, bulk of those were foreign from the United States. Curiously, several Swedish automotive makers themselves, like Volvo, created cars that were meant to drive on the right side of the road even for the domestic market. The result was too several road accidents.


In 1963, the Swedish government declared to the world that the country would switch to right side. Gregorian calendar month three, 1967, was set because the day the transformation would manifest itself. That day would be referred to as Dagen H or H-Day, short for “Högertrafikomläggningen”, which suggests “right-hand traffic diversion”.

Preparing the country and its nearly eight million residents for the huge transformation was a pricey and complex endeavor. Traffic lights had to reverse, road signs modified, intersections redesigned, lines on the road repainted, buses changed to produce doors on both sides, and bus stops relocated.


Several of those modifications were started months earlier and completed simply before H-Day. New traffic signals were wrapped in black plastic till the ultimate hours. Similarly, newlines painted on the roads were coated with black tape. Around 360,000 street signs across the country were switched mostly on one day.


A massive PR campaign was conducted to reconcile the general public to the amendment and educate them concerning however it'd be enforced. An emblem was designed that includes an outsized H with a smartly enforced arrow showing the switchover. This emblem began to look at everything from milk cartons to women’s underclothing. The govt. created special merchandise like-colored gloves and new headlamps to cue drivers that they ought to drive on the correct.


Dagen H logo.

A Swedish TV station even commands a contest to jot down the simplest song to assist individuals to bear in mind the approaching switch. The winning tune, “Håll dig until höger, Svensson” — “Keep to the right, Svensson”, selected during a national vote, visited become the number 5 on the Swedish hit parade. Celebrities appeared on tv shows to speak concerning Dagen H, radio and newspaper advertisements and enormous billboards hep the voters.


In the hours leading up to the transformation, there was nearly a joyous atmosphere. Crowds started gathering within the early morning light-weight. At 4:50 AM, a horn blared and a speaker proclaimed, “Now is the time to vary over!”. The new road signs were disclosed, and therefore the cars re-routed to the alternative aspect.


"The Swedish public would be angry if politicians went ahead with such a project and thus, they vehemently opposed during a vote. The media was conjointly less important at that point and solely according to what the specialists told them. “If the specialists say that this could not be terribly pricey and it'd profit everyone, well, the media would settle for that and that I suppose the general public would settle for it moreover"- Lars Magnusson

A move like Dagen H is nearly not possible to execute in current times, feels Peter Kronborg, author of Håll dig until höger Svensson—a book concerning Dagen H

At the time of Dagen H, there was only 1 TV station and one radio channel and “everybody watched and listened to them”. However, with today’s diversity of media channels as well as social media, reaching the whole population would be a far additional difficult matter.


The Swedish road network is additionally developed than it had been fifty years agone, and their area unit repeatedly additional cars on the road that will increase the money price by an element of 10, at least. Sweden’s current transportation strategists believe that the same to Dagen H couldn't be enforced anywhere close to as swimmingly these days because it was in 1967.






Sources:

1. https://www.amusingplanet.com/2019/04/dagen-h-day-sweden-switched-traffic.html

2. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5CQJW2S9lE4

3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dagen_H

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Created by Yashvardhan Sharma.

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