4

A few years ago I was in Belgium for a music show. Given that the singer was famous, people came from other countries, including buses from the UK. Naturally the driver seat on an UK registered bus is on the right side, but when it entered France and then Belgium the driving lane was on the right side (and not in the left, as in UK). It seemed to me very accident-prone to drive on the wrong side of the road, but there were a lot of buses and also smaller vehicles.

My question is: was any traffic law infringed? Is it legal to drive a vehicle with the driver seat on the opposite side? I specifficaly mentioned France and Belgium, but I would be interested as well in other countries where this type of situation might happen due to proximity with neighbouring countries where the drive lane is on the opposite side.

  • 1
    There is no prohibition on right hand drive cars in the United States, it's simply unusual. United States Postal Service vehicles, private vehicles used by postal contractors, and collectors who buy British sports cars are the most typical consumers. – user662852 Sep 4 '15 at 13:50
  • 2
    Note that you may need a headlamp beam converter to avoid dazzling oncoming drivers at night. – Steve Melnikoff Nov 26 '15 at 17:01
9

People can take their personal cars through the Channel Tunnel from Great Britain to France. They don't actually drive their cars through the tunnel, but going by car is a perfectly normal way to travel between those two countries. That's probably the most well-known place where drivers will switch from driving on one side of the road to the other, but there are many more .

If driving with a car with the wheel on the "wrong" side were forbidden, these options would not exist, because at least one direction of travel would not work. Now, of course, that doesn't mean a country like Belgium, which does not have to direct way to Britain, couldn't forbid cars with the steering wheel on the right. But at least for EU states, that seems to be forbidden, as Poland and Lithuania learned when they tried to require cars that were to be registered there to have the steering wheel repositioned to the left

Consequently, the Court holds that the position of the driver’s seat, an integral part of the steering equipment of a vehicle, comes within the harmonisation established by Directives 2007/46 and 70/311, so that, in the context of the registration of a new vehicle in their territory, the Member States may not require, for reasons of safety, that the driver’s seat of that vehicle be moved to the side opposite the direction of the traffic.

It notes in that regard that the legislation at issue provides for exceptions with regard to the use of vehicles equipped with a steering-wheel on the right by people who reside in other Member States, and travel to Poland and Lithuania for a limited period (for example, tourists). That fact shows, according to the Court, that the contested legislation tolerates the risk involved in such use.

So even those countries that tried to ensure that registered cars had the steering wheel on the "right" side made provisions for cars that were just traveling through. And the EU does not consider it a valid law to require wheels to be repositioned.

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    If it wasn't trains - I just had a vision of driving past a "Welcome to the UK" sign in the tunnel and then the two tunnels crossing over from one side to the other! – nsandersen Apr 3 '16 at 20:56
  • There are ferries between Belgium and England. – phoog Apr 3 '16 at 21:50
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From personal experience, you can without any problems drive a German car in the UK and a British car in Germany. You can also without any problems import a German car with left hand drive into the UK, register it, pay your taxes, have your annual test for roadworthiness etc. and drive it until it falls apart.

Things to watch out for: Don't break your wing mirrors. German and UK wing mirrors are different. And if you are German and asked by UK police whether you have been drinking, tell them that although you are sitting on the right seat, you are not sitting in the driver seat.

1

A vehicle registered in a contracting party to the Vienna Convention on Road Traffic may be driven in another such contracting party.

Article 3 paragraph 3 of said convention reads:

Subject to the exceptions provided for in Annex 1 to this Convention, Contracting Parties shall be bound to admit to their territories in international traffic motor vehicles and trailers which fulfil the conditions laid down in Chapter III of this Convention and whose drivers fulfil the conditions laid down in Chapter IV; they shall also be bound to recognize registration certificates issued in accordance with the provisions of Chapter III as prima facie evidence that the vehicles to which they refer fulfil the conditions laid down in the said Chapter III.

Annex 2 paragraph 8 addresses the only requirement on vehicles designed for the "wrong" direction of traffic:

Contracting Parties may refuse to admit to their territories in international traffic any motor vehicle equipped with passing lamps with asymmetric beams if such beams have not been adapted to suit the direction of traffic in their territories.

Note that the U.S. are not a party to the Vienna Convention.

0

In the U.S. mail delivery vans have the wheel on the right side so the driver can reach mailboxes.

In the U.S. Virgin Islands, cars drive on the wrong side of the road (the left) while the cars have the wheel in the near universal standard left position.

It is also considered fashionable in some quarters to drive a Rolls Royce in the U.S. with the wheel on the right.

  • How is left "wrong"? – phoog Apr 3 '16 at 21:54
  • Because right is right. – user3344003 Apr 3 '16 at 21:55
0

You can drive legally and for that matter register a normal car (with steering wheel on the left side) in the UK too - I knew an Italian who brought his Fiat Punto all the way. In that long term case they asked him to fit a speedometer where miles per hour was prominent, even if you quickly learn to convert between mph and km/h.

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    Most British cars are perfectly normal. In the UK, a left-hand-drive car is abnormal. – phoog Apr 3 '16 at 21:53

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