Is right-hand drive right for Canada?

Right-hand drive is increasingly invading our left-hand drive world. The Canadian government has relaxed import regulations and restrictions for the use of right-hand-drive vehicles on our roads.

After the war years, these types of vehicles were largely collector cars imported as specialty vehicles, or chauffeur-driven exotic and premium rides. Rolls-Royce often comes to mind when the right-hand drive image is foremost in people’s minds. There were very few of these types of vehicles licensed for our roads for the better part of several decades. All that has changed in recent years.

Today, more and more right-hand-drive vehicles are appearing in everyday driving situations. They can be inexpensive, of high quality and have a lot of options. But are they perceived as being safe by other drivers?

Several vehicle insurance companies, both public and private, have asked that very question. Governments across Canada are looking into the crash rates of right-hand-drive vehicles, which are reputed to be twice the average of left-hand-drive vehicles. Concerns have also been raised by traffic-safety experts.

For example, how does a driver do a safe pass on a two-lane, alternate-direction road, at high speed? How does the driver of the right-hand-drive car see well ahead without leaning well into the oncoming lane to get a peek at approaching traffic?

This has been the main concern for traffic safety and licensing authorities, particularly if the vehicle being passed is a large truck or van.

Visibility is lacking when such a pass is attempted. The drivers of these vehicles often rely on a passenger’s direction to initiate a safe pass. This is obviously a better situation than having no one sitting beside you, but many of these so called co-pilots are not licensed themselves, and are lacking in the most basic time and space factors, as they relate to driving.

Some of the owners of the right-hand-drive vans sit higher than in a normal passenger car and have fewer visibility problems. Some have equipped their vehicles with mirror systems which see oncoming traffic.

There are examples of people operating a right-hand-drive vehicle for many years without incident. They generally have a history and experience of operation in a right-hand-drive country. New drivers have no such track record.

Drivers of right-hand-drive vehicles are very likely to have trouble leaving a parallel parking spot on the right side of the street.

The best advice is to attach convex mirrors to the side view mirrors of the car. This will allow for a much wider angular view of vehicle traffic, pedestrians and cyclists. Wherever possible, the right-hand-drive operators actually seek out the parallel parking spaces on the left side of a one-way street. This allows for much better visibility when leaving the parking space.

The manner in which the right-side drivers are perceived by others is also a safety consideration. I will never forget the time I was following an SUV on the highway, when suddenly the driver jumped into the back seat.

It appeared to me that the car was driverless, barrelling down the highway. It was a right-hand driver, with a partner attending to children in the back seat. There are inherent misunderstandings when most pedestrians, cyclists, scooters and motorcyclists assume that the driver will always be positioned on the left side of every vehicle.

We should all be more attentive to the right-hand drivers around us. A legal requirement for a sign placement on the back of such vehicles, warning others of a right-hand drive vehicle would be very much appreciated.

Steve Wallace is a longtime driving teacher and the owner of Wallace Driving School in Victoria.

Photograph by: Walter Tychnowicz, Edmonton Journal