Driving Right-hand Drive in a Left-hand Drive World

The majority of the world steers from the left side of the car. The issue with this is that not all cars were produced with left-hand drive models. In Canada, we are lucky enough to have import laws allowing us to register vehicles that were never officially imported as long as they are 15 years old. As someone partial to the value, performance and reliability provided by 90's Japanese sports cars, three of my vehicles have been of the right-hand drive variation. Now having years of experience driving right-hand drive, I like to think I understand the ins and outs. While sitting a couple feet further to the right may not seem like it would make a difference, there are a few subtleties.

Red: Left-hand Drive
Blue: Right-hand Drive

Though this may seem obvious to most, people have often asked me if the pedals or shift pattern are different. They aren't, the gas is still on the right and the brake is on the left. No need to worry about hitting the wrong pedal out of habit. The shifter is also in the same configuration as a left-hand drive car. The most common question I am asked is if it is hard to shift with my left hand. My first car was right-hand drive but I think that anyone could get used to shifting with their left hand. It makes no difference for me if I am shifting a right-hand drive or left-hand drive car.

The biggest difference driving on the right side of the car is your viewpoint. While it can make certain maneuvers slightly more challenging, it can also help sometimes. When taking a left turn, sitting on the right side can make it difficult to see oncoming traffic. The simple solution for this is to make sure no more traffic is coming or wait for the yellow. Changing lanes and merging onto the highway do take a good shoulder check to ensure the path is clear, but you should do be doing this regardless of which side you drive from. If you are new to right-hand drive, it may feel odd holding lane position as you will want to be closer to the centre-line. This passes after a few days of driving while your brain gets used to the spatial change. 

With the downsides out of the way, there are also some positives to driving right-hand drive. When turning left from a stop sign onto a busy street, you don't have to pull out as far to see traffic coming towards you in the closest lane. This can be extremely helpful when hedges, fences or buildings are in the way. I am currently driving a left-hand drive car and immediately noticed that my visibility worsened at an intersection I turn left at daily. It is also easier to shoulder-check for cyclists and pedestrians when taking right turns. Essentially, any maneuver where you are turning the car right you have better visibility. Our mail-service, Canada Post, drives right-hand drive cars because they are constantly exiting the car, and it is safer to get out curb-side. Some find parallel parking easier on the right side of the car as it is easier to judge your distance from the curb, but this doesn't make a difference to me as you can be very precise by checking your mirrors. 

At the end of the day, I don't believe that driving right-hand drive or left-hand drive is better or safer. It is up to the driver to be patient, observant and ensure that they have enough visibility to safely maneuver their vehicle. I can say that I am thankful our laws in Canada allow us to import these cars and drive them on public roads. I have already been fortunate enough to own three of my dream cars: a Nissan Skyline, a Subaru WRX STI and a Mitsubishi Evolution. I have been in one accident, in my Nissan Skyline, though the other driver was deemed to be 100% at fault. The accident was caused by a driver prematurely turning left through the intersection I was travelling straight through. The driver was in a left-hand drive vehicle and began his turn without scanning the intersection to make sure it was safe. I believe this accident is a testament to the fact that right-hand drive and left-hand drive can be equally safe, the driver is the deciding factor.