Just in case you want to proceed even further with this intellectual
debate, remember that all of this originated with the whip, the fact
that most people are right handed and the need to avoid whipping
passengers instead of horses. For much more on the subject visit
Jaguar XK 140 Drop Head Coupe (1956)
S 819024 DN
At the risk of posting something with no Jaguar content except that they
have near and off sides, I will pass on something I heard from an equestrian
friend who raises Morgan horses.
Horses, like people who are mostly right-handed, are mostly right-hooved (or
right-legged). When they are anticipating taking on the load of a human,
they would rather be supporting their own weight on their stronger or
dominant right legs and have the rider mount from the left side. They
therefore get nervous if you try to mount from the right. This led to
calling the left side of the horse the “near” side because it was the side
near the mounting rider. (Horses are a bit nervous even if you stand on
their right side because they think you might mount.)
Experienced equestrians will tell you that horses are very good at reading
rider body language. This makes them very sensitive to any shift in position
and they react automatically to maintain balance without becoming concerned.
Thus when a rider is dismounting, the anticipation and nervousness doesn’t
kick in and they don’t mind if you want to get off on the right side. That
let to calling the right side the “off” side.
Trail horses are specifically trained to accept riders on either side
because mounting is often done on the slope of a hill and it would be
inconvenient to turn the horse around to avoid mounting from the low side.
The left and right sides of carriages were called “near” and “off” because
of the horse being integral to the system and when the transition to
horseless carriages happened in the UK, this terminology persisted. For some
reason, on this side of the pond, the development of the American (as
opposed to English) language dropped the “near” and “off” with horses and
never applied it to horseless carriages.
What to do about reversible trams, I don’t know. But with cars, “near”
should always be left going forward - just like with a horse.