South Korean pedestrians shifting to the right

In the States, it’s simple — drive on the right, walk on the right.

In Japan, it’s equally simple — drive on the left, walk on the left.

But for decades, South Korea has split the difference. Motorists drive on the right, but pedestrians are required to walk on the left.

That will soon change — good news for right-walking Americans who find themselves nearly colliding with left-walking Koreans whenever they go off post.

The Korean government said last month that it will revise its laws for pedestrians, shifting walkers to the right.

Most people tend to naturally stick to their right, the government said.

"Our studies found that people are psychologically prone to veer right when they walk around; it’s also a globally acknowledged mannerism," Cho Sung-tae, deputy director of the ministry’s public administration division, said in a news release on the Ministry of Land, Transport and Maritime Affairs Web site.

The release said the ministry unveiled the reform after an extensive study of pedestrian habits and two polls. The first, conducted on 629 people walking along Seoul’s Namsan, found that 46 percent had the tendency to walk to their left side, while 47 percent cited the right. A second poll conducted on 411 pedestrians at Seoul’s Apgujeong-dong found that 30 percent of them cited their left and 33 percent their right.

"We believe changing the law to encourage people to walk to the right and think to the right will help promote social order and improve public traffic safety," Cho said.

According to the Web site, "During the Joseon Kingdom (1392-1910) era, regulations stated that people and carriages keep to the right, but it was changed in 1921 to put Korea in line with Japan where cars keep to the left.

"After Korea was liberated from Japanese colonial rule, the U.S. authorities changed the regulation again by putting cars to the right, while maintaining that pedestrians keep to the left. The Korean government followed suit when establishing the law on road traffic in 1961. It was applied only to roads without sidewalks so that pedestrians could face oncoming cars, but the rule has been adopted as a custom in other public facilities such as the subway system."

Cho could not give a date when the new law would take effect, but said aggressive promotion campaigns will be organized to raise public awareness.

"Establishing the social discipline of walking on the right would also ease confusion and frustration in foreign visitors, who are most likely to follow the global standard practice of sticking towards the right," Cho said in the release.