HOME GUIDES Is It Legal to Drive a Right Hand Drive Car in Canada?

Is It Legal to Drive a Right Hand Drive Car in Canada?

nissan GT-R JDM interior with right hand drive steering wheel layout.
Nathan O. Resident Auto Enthusiast - Carpages.ca
nissan GT-R JDM interior with right hand drive steering wheel layout.

It isn’t illegal to drive a right hand drive car in Canada. However, it is difficult, in more ways than one.

There is a federal ban on new models. On top of that, provinces have their opinions. Quebec will not register most right hand drive vehicles, and P.E.I. flat-out bans them from the roads. Even more regulations are being added all the time.

Nonetheless, right hand drive importers are still operating. Classic right hand drive cars are still on the roads. The government has no plans for an outright ban. If you get a right hand drive used car in Toronto, you will be able to drive it.

The History of Right Hand Drive Cars

James bond's Aston Martin DB5

Right hand drive cars are safest when people drive on the left hand side. Which, as it happens, is how almost everyone used to drive. Or walk. Or ride. In feudal times, people kept strangers to their right, within easy reach of their sword arms. Over time, riding on the left became standard across the world, from Europe to Japan (everywhere there was sword-swinging happening).

This changed as trade increased in the early industrial age, especially in continental Europe and North America. In the great wide open of Canada, drivers moved cargo using giant wagons with four-horse teams. The drivers of these wagons rode the horses in the back-left, to keep the other three horses in range of their whip hands. This made driving on the left side of the road more dangerous, so we switched to the right.

Now, driving on the right seems dominant, but driving on the left stuck around in a surprisingly large number of countries, including the car-producing countries Japan and Britain.

Japanese and British cars are popular here. However, what we see are the export models. Domestic models are all right hand drive. So, how did those right-hand drive cars end up here?

Some are collectors’ items. Many, though, are part of supply dumps. When a car in Japan or Britain is oversupplied, obsolete, or part of an aging rental car fleet, it sometimes gets turfed to the North American market. This has given right hand drive cars a bad reputation among regulators.

Popular Right Hand Drive Cars

red gtr r32

It is practically impossible to import a new right hand drive car. The only ones allowed in are old. If a car is older than 15 years, it is exempt from new safety regulations that ban right hand drive.

As a result, the only right hand drive cars you see are old used cars. Other than the obvious JDM legends, some of the most popular models are old taxicabs—the iconic London TX1 and the quirky Tokyo Crown Comfort. These were dumped on our market by taxi companies in the early 2000s, to the delight of collectors.

There’s a more upscale trend among James Bond fans. At classic car shows, you can see the Jaguar XKR from Die Another Day, the Ford Mustang Mach 1 from Diamonds Are Forever, and the classic Aston Martin DB5. All of these only look like they do in the movies with the proper right hand drive configuration.

Is Driving a Right Hand Drive Car Safe?

A right hand drive car is not as safe as driving a left hand drive car, unless on a cleared racing track. However, that doesn’t mean it’s entirely unsafe. Many people handle a right hand drive car just fine. It just requires extra safety precautions.

Safety Precautions When Driving Right Hand Drive Cars in Canada

  1. Use your mirrors. Your passenger-side mirror is much more important than in a normal car. Always check it when passing, or when shifting into a left lane. On the plus side, this is a habit every driver should have anyway, so right hand driving is a good time to develop it.
  2. Don’t panic when you tilt. Roads aren’t flat. They peak in the middle and drop off to the sides. Prepare yourself to notice this much more in a right hand drive car, so that you won’t freak out when you do.
  3. Pay attention to the curb. By keeping constant your distance to the curb, you are also keeping constant your distance from the next lane.
  4. Lean. Sometimes, it’s just a good idea to lean over, putting your head closer to where it normally would be.

Should You Buy a Right Hand Drive Car in Canada?

righthand drive nissan 350z\

There are pros and cons. In terms of pros, a right hand drive car is quirkier than a normal car and certain classics only exist in RHD configurations. In terms of cons, it is also older, more dangerous, and harder to insure. Whether having a JDM GTR R32 is worth all of that is completely up to you.

Find the Perfect Car within the next 10 Seconds