Using ingenious advertisements and 6,500 new traffic signals: the day that changed the driving direction in Argentina
It was on June 10, 1945, in the face of the need to unify the transit system with Brazil by the imminent opening of the bridge between Pasos de Los Libre and Uruguaiana. A radical change that ended with the custom of driving of “the English way”
“Drive on your right and take Geniol.” “The only hand that doesn’t change is the One with Alba paintings.” “Today I changed hands, but keep taking Cinzano.” The marketing of the 1940s did not miss a historic moment for the whole of Argentina, which logically had its biggest sounding board in Buenos Aires. On 10 June 1945, the country-wide sense of circulation changed from left to right, and thus left behind the traditional scheme of the English.
Until then, only Argentina and Uruguay maintained the British criterion of left-hand traffic. In Brazil, for its part, traffic was on the opposite side and that was the determining factor for the change to be implemented in Argentina as well. By October 12, 1945, the opening of the bridge that would link Paso de Los Libres with Uruguaiana, in Brazil, was planned, so to avoid complications in the road connections that they began to study the change throughout the territory. It was the Automobile Club Argentino that started a campaign with that goal after engineer Nicanor Alurralde went to study the U.S. circulation system.
Despite an ordinance from 1872 indicating that the carriages had to circulate on the right, in May 1889 the mayor of Buenos Aires, Francisco Seeber, ruled that the traffic should go by the left hand to respect the English custom and maintain the order of traffic according to the circulation of the trains.
The final decree that formalized the change of circulation was signed by Juan Pistarini, Minister of Public Works of the former de facto president, Edelmiro J. Farrell. Thus, on Sunday, June 10, 1945, municipal transit agents, popularly known as “grey foxes”, went out with the police to indicate and order the radical change to which the city was subjected for those hours.
Several historians say that before that day about 280 road signs were turned and more than 6,500 new indicators arrows were put in the key corners of the city. In Buenos Aires they had to change the direction of circulation of many streets, then different brigades of the Argentine Touring Club and the Argentine Automobile Club also joined the information campaign and accompanied with the placement of the posters. Trains and subways kept their usual side in the transit scheme so as not to add confusion. Many of the most important companies, it was said, then went on to the communication campaign with the most original advertising contributions
Days before the measure was implemented, in May, a hand change drill had been conducted in Corrientes and July 9. For an entire day you could go around the Obelisk in the opposite direction to the usual. People would stop in The Republic Square to see that spectacle. The hand change of course forced the auto companies they made in the country to reverse the position of the steering wheel and pedalboard. The vehicles that were imported are no greater problem because both the United States and Europe already had the scheme that Argentina began to adopt.
Until the French Revolution of 1789, the British system was prevalent in Europe. Traditionally, the right side was reserved for the lower classes, so aristocrats circulated on the left. The Napoleonic outpost ended that criterion in the countries that ended up dominated by the Gallic emperor, and that spread to other corners of the Old Continent.
The English, Napoleon’s enemies, managed to resist and maintain their circulation system. But thus, both formats, with a right or left steering wheel, were taking root in different parts of the world according to the dominant imperialist colony. Beginning with its independence in 1776, and to confront the English system, the United States also adopted right-wing circulation. His enormous influence on the continent was then expanding that criterion.
It has now been 75 years ago when Argentina changed one of its oldest customs. Today, the only place where you continue to drive on the left in the region is in the Malvinas or the Falklands as the English call it. But that’s a much more complex story.