Why do we drive right-hand cars on the left of the road?
People were travelling on the left of the road in the UK long before the car was invented. Why? Because if you’re on the left, your right hand – your sword hand – is ready to do some defensive stabbing if needed. It could be lawless back then, after all. It’s the same reason that castle staircases spiral left as you go down; it’s easier to stab downwards with the right hand to defend your home.
In Roman times, carts were driven on the left of the road, and the empire’s soldiers marched on the left too. Rome’s influence meant that norm spread far and wide.
This history meant that driving horses and carriages on the left was enshrined into British law in the 19th century, and drivers sat on the right to make it easier to judge the distance to oncoming traffic.
In some countries, such as the USA, the use of large wagon trains in the 18th and 19th centuries meant using several pairs of horses, and the driver would often sit on the rear-left horse to keep his right whip hand free. This meant it was tricky to judge oncoming traffic, so many countries decided to adopt a keep right policy.
Several European countries switched from left to right after the invention of the car. Britain, which never really used large wagon trains due to narrow roads, has so far resisted such a change.
Why would I want a left-hand drive car?
There are plenty of reasons. Perhaps you’re planning on moving abroad in the future, and want a car that you can register in a country that drives on the right. Perhaps you’ve moved from abroad and brought your car with you. Or perhaps you’ve got your heart set on an imported car that isn’t made in right-hand drive.
There are dealers in the UK that specialise in left-hand drive cars, which can save you lots of bother if you want to buy one. You’ll avoid having to look abroad, in countries where you may not speak the language, and then you’ll have to get the car into the UK, which can prove costly.
Is it illegal to drive a left-hand drive car in the UK?
Not at all. As long as your car is legal in other ways, it’s fine to drive a left-hand drive car here. You can bring one in from a foreign country and register it here, although if you’re bringing it in permanently, you may have to pay import tax.
Do I need to tell my insurance company?
Yes, you do need to tell your insurance company that your car is left-hand drive. Some may charge more for a policy that covers left-hand drive cars, but some companies have more experience in this area than others, so it’s worth shopping around.
What else do I need to do?
You’ll need to make sure the headlights point the right way. Car headlights are offset to avoid dazzling oncoming traffic. Just as many UK cars need corrective stickers when being taken to Europe, so left-hand drive cars will need headlamp adapters to drive legally here. If you don’t fit them, you risk a fine and your insurance being invalidated.
When driving, keep in mind that you, as the driver, will be in a different position on the road, further away from the centre of the road. It’s very important therefore to ensure you don’t inadvertently drift too far right in the lane, especially if you’re more used to drive a right-hand drive car.
You also need to take extra care when overtaking, as being on the left makes it harder to see oncoming traffic.
If your car comes from a country that uses kilometres-per-hour rather than miles-per-hour on the speedometer, make sure you know your conversion rates to ensure you don’t exceed speed limits.