Perception or Misconception?

Japan, along with Australia, the U.K., South Africa, and many other parts of the world, are right-hand-drive (RHD) countries. So of course, if you are buying a JDM vehicle, there’s a high probability that the steering wheel is on the right hand side of the car.

Yes, just like the postal service.

I get asked about this almost as much as I get asked “is it hard to get used to?” Are you actually risking life and limb when you climb into the right hand driver’s side? Let’s take a considered look…

Lane Placement

There is usually a shoulder line as well as a center line. And you actually have a better view of the yellow stripe in your left rearview mirror than you do in a LHD vehicle. If the road is unmarked then you can actually see the edge of it even better. If you ever happen to notice a vehicle not driving dead center, it’s usually someone who is not paying attention to the road, as opposed to someone in a RHD. At the risk of overgeneralizing, we tend to be more concerned about being centered than the average LH-driver. No disadvantage here.

Blind Spots

Our blind spot is opposite, so it occurs when we pull back in, as opposed to a lane change to the left. I’d argue that pulling back in is the safer of the two actions, but let’s call it a draw.

Left Turns

No, we can’t see quite as much around the car coming straight at us, as we prepare to turn against the traffic. In most cases we are talking about 20 inches or so in the line of sight difference, which can be partially mitigated by leaning to the left. But reality says that we just drive a little more cautiously, and maybe don’t push that chance that there is a hidden vehicle sitting there as much as “normal” drivers.  On the flip side, RHD allows you to see the oncoming vehicle sooner that is about to push it and turn left against you, before a LHD vehicle can see it. I’ve actually avoided several accidents by spotting a left turning vehicle before they spotted me. So again, I’d say this is a tie.

Passing with single lane traffic

This might be one place where I will concede that RHD is a little less convenient. I sometimes pass from further back, to improve my viewing angle. I might wait for a turn in the road that improves my look ahead. Or I may just do the speed limit and have a little more patience. LHD gets the nod here, but I should add that my RHD’s and I have been sharing secondary roads with farm vehicles and big trucks for 12 years, and have never had an instance where we were unable to pass safely. I’ve also “right-hand-driven” in Salt Lake City, Phoenix, LA, Vancouver, and other large cities. I survived the experience, unscathed.

Haven’t some countries banned mixed driving?

Sure, but some countries have also banned tourists from renting vehicles at all, or banned certain number plates on odd days. Europe, in particular, has been witness to LHD and RHD coexistence for years, and I’m unaware of any safety stats that show this to be dangerous. Ironically, several years ago the Insurance Company of British Columbia (a government-run insurance company) announced a study which seemed to prove just such a thing. (B.C. has a higher than average presence of RHD vehicles because of the proximity to the port.)

A Self-Serving Study?

Despite causing quite a stir in the media, the study was ultimately revealed to be supported (and possibly even commissioned by) an association representing new vehicle dealerships. In fact, the University of British Columbia (UBC) looked closely at the study and questioned ICBC’s methodology and data. The University ultimately stated that it didn’t agree with the conclusions drawn from the study. More info about this study  and UBC’s reaction can be found here on JDMVIP (this link takes you outside of TGP) which reproduces the study in its entirety. I’d call this particular myth debunked by the very group that was trying to call JDM vehicles’ safety into question in the first place.

SO… Are they DANGEROUS?

Whether you agree with my conclusions or not, hopefully I’ve at least given you some food for thought. I’d argue that the greater danger out there is folks who aren’t paying attention to the road, or haven’t been trained properly in how to drive. More recently, those who leave the responsibility of their safety to modern passive safety systems like active braking are also a menace. This particular peril will probably continue to hurt us, even as it protects us. As for RHD vehicle operators? We are usually enthusiastic, over-prepared ambassadors for these special vehicles from the “other side”.

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