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Driving You Crazy: Is it legal to drive a vehicle with the steering wheel on the right side of the car?

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Posted at 4:53 AM, Aug 29, 2023
and last updated 2023-08-29 09:57:19-04

Craig from Parker writes, “What’s driving you crazy? I saw someone in a Land Rover and the steering wheel was on the right side of the truck, where a passenger would sit in a normal American car. Is it legal to drive a car like that in the U.S.?”

The short answer, Craig, is yes. It’s perfectly legal to drive a right-hand drive vehicle, also referred to as an "RHD," in the United States. As long as the car meets U.S. safety standards and is properly registered, there are no penalties for driving a right-hand drive vehicle.

Most of us have only seen right-hand drive vehicles driven by mail carriers delivering our mail. They need it that way to reach mailboxes on that side of the road. Most other vehicles configured with right-hand drive are imported from countries like the U.K. or Japan where driving on the left side of the road is normal. You can buy them here in the U.S. mostly from private resellers. I found several people selling right-hand drive vehicles in Colorado on Facebook Marketplace and on Craigslist.

Any car, right or left-hand drive imported into the United States that is newer than 25 years old, needs to first comply with our Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards including EPA regulations. I talk more about that in a previous story about registering a car from Mexico in the United States. The importation costs can be quite expensive. One owner told me it cost nearly $5,000 to import a vehicle from the U.K. to the United States, not knowing exactly if all the paperwork was filled out correctly. That was on top of the cost of buying the vehicle.

Most right-hand vehicles imported into the U.S. are older than 25 years and are generally considered classic, unique or antique. Vehicles older than 25 years old imported to the United States are exempt from EPA, and DOT pollution and safety requirements, making them easier to import. If the vehicle is at least 21 years old, there are no EPA compliance requirements upon importation. A motor vehicle that is at least 25 years old can be lawfully imported into the U.S. without regard to whether it complies with all applicable DOT Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards. This is called the 25-year rule.

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One of the simplest ways to buy a right-hand drive car in the US is to buy one that’s factory made and already here. I found several importers like Duncan Imports and Right Drive USA that sell factory made right-hand cars in the United States. Some of the cars are unique like a 1991 Nissan Figaro Convertible or more plain like the 1997 Toyota Aristo V300 Sedan. If you are looking for something newer, you can order and buy a RHD Wrangler directly from Jeep.

You can also buy a former postal vehicle in the right-hand drive configuration from the US Government. The U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) is the federal agency that buys new vehicles from the manufactures and leases them to other federal agencies. When a vehicle's leasing period ends, it is sold to the public through auction. All GSA auctions are open to the public.

Besides buying or importing a right-hand car, you could convert an existing left-hand drive vehicle to a right-and drive. Car conversion kits are available for a few thousand dollars, but they don’t look so great when installed. There are professional installations as well, but for many more thousands of dollars than a conversion kit.

Even though it seems fun to drive a RHD vehicle, a couple right-hand vehicle owners told me it can be a bit tricky. They say there are unique blind spots, and you need to be mindful of other drivers who aren’t used to seeing a driver on that side of the vehicle. On the other hand, the drivers told me other drivers are generally curious and usually ask many questions about driving one.

The CaseyGerry law firm says it can be dangerous to drive a right-sided steering vehicle on U.S. roads.

“Postal service workers aren’t allowed to make U-turns or left turns in their mail trucks because their right-hand drive (or right-sided steering) vehicles have such limited visibility. Just think about the sight-line in oncoming traffic if you were sitting on the right side of your car. The limitations of these right-hand drive trucks holds serious potential for auto accidents– oftentimes a left-hand turn or a U-turn created by a driver with a right-sided vehicle can cause a collision and injure innocent people.”

Bottom line, as long as the right-hand drive vehicle meets U.S. safety standards and is properly registered, there are no penalties or fees for driving one in the United States.

Driving You Crazy: Is it legal to drive a vehicle with the steering wheel on the right side of the car?

Denver7 Traffic Expert Jayson Luber says he has been covering Denver-metro traffic since Ben-Hur was driving a chariot. (We believe the actual number is over 25 years.) He's obsessed with letting viewers know what's happening on their drive and the best way to avoid the problems that spring up. Follow him on Facebook,Twitter or Instagram or listen to his Driving You Crazy podcast on any podcast app including iTunes, iHeartRadio, Spotify and Podbean.