Growing up in the United States, I had never driven a right hand drive (RHD) vehicle before moving to Japan. Needless to say, the transition to driving from left hand drive (LHD) to the right in a country that drives on the other side of the road was, surprisingly, easier than I expected—especially when driving a manual. You see, like most of you, I’m right handed and presumed that rowing gears with my far less coordinated left mitten would be a total meltdown. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
In fact, likely due to anticipation of missing or grinding gears, I picked up the seemingly huge (but in reality, minor) challenge rather quickly. I’ll even go as far as to say I actually prefer shifting with my left hand because I feel more comfortable having my dominant hand on the wheel while the left dances with cogs. Once I got past smacking the wrong stalks—most RHD vehicles’ wiper and signal stalks are opposite of LHD—driving on the right became second nature within a couple days of living on Honshu.
What really threw me off was driving a left hand drive vehicle in Japan. I had to use a “G.O.V.” (Government Owned Vehicle) to move some equipment the Toyota Hilux rentals couldn’t muster, so I was issued a 2012 Ford F-250. Maneuvering that massive land barge through the narrow roads of Misawa was a bit of a chore, but I managed to keep all four tires on the pavement, most of the trip. Still, other than awkwardly judging distance from the median from the far right side of the road, LHD in a RHD country isn’t too bad.
But what about driving a RHD vehicle in a LHD world? Well, I’ve done that, too. While still in Japan, I picked up a 1984 Toyota Century—a car that was plenty old enough for NHTSA FMVSS and federal EPA exemptions under the “classic car rule”. For nearly two years, I’ve been driving the Century here in California without issue. In fact, driving the RHD cruiser around San Diego has had some surprising benefits.
One pro to RHD in the States is making a right turn at stoplights. It’s a breeze because the curb is so visible when you’re peering from the right side of the car. The con is making yielded left turns at an intersection: if there’s a car in the opposing turn lane, it can be difficult seeing oncoming cars through the intersection.
This rarely poses an issue as most intersections in California are by left turn traffic light signal only. It goes without saying, a trip through the drive thru or toll road can be entertaining if you’re flying solo, but the Century’s front bench makes sliding port effortless—I suppose that’s a benefit of column shift automatics. (It’s not as easy if there are sport seats!)
I enjoy driving manual RHD cars so much, when searching for an Alfa Romeo I was tempted to source a UK-spec stepnose. Unfortunately, they’re quite difficult to come by this side of the pond and I couldn’t justify the import premium. It seems, at least here stateside, that RHD vehicles aren’t very popular. It’s been my experience that most Americans feel RHD cars are less desirable and their view of the uncommon driver’s position is merely a novelty rather than a benefit.
Granted, there are some drawbacks as I mentioned, but they really shouldn’t be a make-or-break deal when searching for some vintage wheels—plus, the parallel parking advantage of RHD is extremely helpful. If you haven’t experienced driving on the “wrong side of the road,” as I’m often told, give it a shot when you get a chance—it’s not nearly as big of a deal as puzzled onlookers make it out to be. If you have experience driving a RHD vehicle in a LHD country, or vice versa, we’d love to hear about it in the comments! Which do you prefer and why?
Article by Andrew Golseth / Petrolicious (origin)
Photography by Jayson Fong, Nikki Martinez, Chris Luthi, Amanda Wubbe, Thomas Billam, Jeremy Heslup, Jonny Shears