Journal: Which Side Of The Dash Do Your Prefer Driving On?

Which Side Of The Dash Do Your Prefer Driving On?

Andrew Golseth By Andrew Golseth
May 4, 2016
12 comments

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?

Photography by Jayson Fong, Nikki Martinez, Chris Luthi, Amanda Wubbe, Thomas Billam, Jeremy Heslup, Jonny Shears

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Kr AshwinCJ_MadsonThistlebeeaceMike KeaneJAlfa Recent comment authors
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Kr Ashwin

Awesome ! Waw what a pictures you shared,vintage cars and so beautiful.Guys am also like to share this http://myspades.org card game website to you so that you can play and enjoy your moments free.Thank you.

CJ_Madson
CJ_Madson

I agree, my concern about shifting with the left went away quickly. (I admit to verifying that they didn’t mirror-image the individual pedals about the car centerline.) The big issues were in checking to the right first and then turning a tight left, dealing with non-residents leaving the airport car rental site, and hoping that oncoming cars on narrow roads would dodge toward opposite sides. It worked out, somehow. But the zebra crossing lights were always a mystery.

Thistlebeeace
Thistlebeeace

I enjoy LHD here in the UK for much the same reasons that I also enjoy the dogleg ‘box in that car. Neither are objectively better than the alternative, but they are novel, and enjoyable merely for that.

Mike Keane
Mike Keane
JAlfa
JAlfa

I have both… No problem driving either with one exception with RHD. Attempting to pass another car on a 2 Lane highway. Alot of leaning and seat swerving going on…. But it’s my only manual car so it’s worth the effort.

Mark St Clair
Mark St Clair

Mr. Guitar Slinger. The bold statement dictating that the whole world should drive on the same side of the road is about as impolite as pointing out that good grammar denotes that if one needs to use an ellipsis in a sentence, we must only use three periods, not two or four or five period points, three dots and only three dots.

Nicolas Moss
Nicolas Moss

I’m actually more interested in what it takes to own a 1984 JDM car in California, specifically how hard its been to deal with the smog laws.

Frank Anigbo
Frank Anigbo

Took the kid to school this morning in a RHD mini. On the way back I thought, in addition to the easy of parallel parking — not that the tiny mini is ever hard to park, it’s nice to sit farther away from oncoming traffic as they would probably crush the passenger side in a semi-head-on-collision. In actuality I found RHD in a LHD world quite an easy transition. Only issue is I often find myself going to the wrong side of the car for the getaway. One of the best things about it is that I can play a… Read more »

Matthew Lange
Matthew Lange

I’ve owned a LHD car in the UK (Fiat Barchetta) and driven loads of RHD cars in Europe. Either way it is no big deal. Only time I’ve ever felt it a little odd was driving a LHD Ferrari 365GTC/4 in the UK. The C4 is relatively wide and you sit quite far over to the side of the car on account of the big transmission tunnel. If felt a little disconcerting on narrow British roads at first but I got used to it fairly quickly.

Derelict
Derelict

The side appropriate to the country I am in.

Lms
Lms

Preferably (and/or ideally), the side with the steering wheel

Didn’t take me long to adjust to RHD, but when in a LHD world, it can be a little cumbersome

Guitar Slinger
Guitar Slinger

Plus one ! The only answer worth considering ! Now if the question were to be asked … which side of the dash should the World be driving on ? Thats even easier . The left .. hands down ! First because despite Mr Golseth’s assumptions based on his own very singular personal experience alone * [ which carries about as much scientific and factual weight as a hummingbird in flight ] .. the majority of the World is right handed with driving on the left side of the dash being the more natural place to be ….. and if… Read more »