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Are American Cars Left Hand Drive?

Are American Cars Left Hand Drive?

If you have seen, whether in a movie or real life, a British car that has a steering wheel on the right side, this might seem strange to someone living in the US. Why don’t American cars have the same build, and why are American cars left-hand drive instead of right?

The left-hand drive vehicle is the standard in America because it allows the driver to better avoid an accident by seeing the oncoming vehicles and allowed the passenger to leave the vehicle on the side of the street where they are safer.

Want to know the full story behind why this changed things for American cars? Well, keep reading to find out why we still have left-hand drive vehicles today.

What is a Left-Hand Drive Vehicle? 

The term “left-hand drive” is referring to the side of the vehicle where the steering unit is placed. In America, we have left-hand drive vehicles, which means that the wheel is placed on the left side of the car instead of the right. 

Other countries, mostly the United Kingdom and Japan, still have right-hand drive vehicles where the steering wheel is on the left side of the car. This is still the standard in many countries today because this has been the way they have driven for years. 

It was not until Henry Ford created the Model T in 1908 when America decided to try a different way of driving, which happened to make the road safer for passengers and drivers as well.

These vehicles are named after the fact that the driver uses their left hand on the steering wheel while the right hand is used to change gears. 

Why Are American Cars Left Hand Drive?

It wasn’t until Henry Ford looked at the reasons why right-hand drive vehicles are not as safe as left-hand drive cars that Americans decided to choose to manufacture their cars because of this. 

Ford had taken a look at the vehicle and found some ways that it could be safer, and saw that the passenger of a right-hand vehicle had to get out and walk around the car. He wanted to fix this to make it safer for the passenger, so the left-hand drive was created. 

After Ford created and unveiled the Model T, this became a common build for cars from then on. This is still how American cars are built today. 

Another reason why this could be is the fact that being left-handed is less common, and having a car that allows you to use your right hand to switch gears caters to those who are right-handed. 

When Did American Cars Switch to Left Hand Drive?

This initial switch began in 1908, which was the year the Model T Ford was introduced.

This car was widely accepted and many people liked the change that was made, so many manufacturers followed suit and began making their cars with a left-hand drive as well.

Before 1908, American cars did follow the manufacturing patterns of the British and had right-hand drive.

However, this is still popular in many countries around the world, but there were other countries that followed the American design and began making left-hand drive vehicles as well. 

Is it Legal to Drive a Right Hand Car in the US? 

Technically, it is illegal to drive a right-hand drive car that is newer in the US because it could cause some safety issues. Older cars, like ones from the early 1900s, are technically legal to drive, but they are tough to find and are not a big issue because of the rarity of these cars.

It is also illegal to import newer vehicles that are right-hand drive vehicles. This is to prevent people from importing them under the impression that they will not drive them on the road, even though that is what they intend to do. 

However, it is legal to drive British cars that are right-hand drive in the US. But, because American streets are made for left-hand drive vehicles, it is highly discouraged because of the higher risk of an accident occurring from making a mistake. 

There is an exception made for postal carrier vehicles, which are still right-hand drive so they are easier to drive and exit while delivering mail throughout the day. This saves time for the mail carriers and is still a practice that is common today. 

This is one of the only notable exceptions, as this type of car is a work vehicle that is not driven for recreational use on the road. 

What Are Some Other Left-Hand Drive Countries?

Besides America, there are many others that use left-hand drive vehicles.

Many of these were parts of the world were colonized by the British, and it is assumed that this was a way to distance themselves from the British by taking on this new way of manufacturing and driving cars.

These countries include South Africa, Australia, India, and the Caribbean. However, Japan has also adapted its vehicle to be left-hand drive as well.

Fiji, Samoa, and New Zealand also have a left-hand drive for their vehicles, as well as many other territories and islands around the world.

Is it Different To Drive a Right Hand Drive Car? 

Although the steering wheel is on the opposite side of the car, the basic functions are the same. However, you will be using your left hand to switch gears. 

This might be a bit disorienting at first, especially for those who are right-handed and don’t often use their left hand for anything. However, with a little practice, it is fairly easy to get used to. 

This is not legal in the US because of the safety issue that comes with someone not being able to handle the response times necessary to avoid an accident.

If someone who is not used to driving a right-hand drive car is not used to using their left hand, then the chances of switching to the wrong gear are higher.

Why Can’t Left-Handed People Drive Right-Hand Drive Vehicles? 

This is a good question that might seem like one that legislatures should look at since it could make driving easier for those people. However, this is not allowed because the streets are not made for right-hand drive cars and it would put the drivers at a higher risk of being in a bad accident. 

Because the streets are meant to allow those in left-hand drive vehicles to see the location of the oncoming cars, it would be more difficult for a driver in a right-hand drive car to be able to do the same since they would be on the opposite side. 

This could make it harder to anticipate what another driver will do, and increase the risk of a collision. It would also force the passenger to have to get out on the side of traffic, which would be a lot more dangerous than if they were able to exit on the side of the street. 

Also, because people who are left-handed are taught how to drive in a left-drive car, they are often already accustomed to driving this way. If they were given a right-drive vehicle, they may have just as hard of a time getting used to it as a right-handed person would. 

So, it is in the best interest of everyone on the road to continue to drive the same type of vehicle so everyone is safe. 

Why Do Other Countries Still Drive Right Drive Cars? 

Although it might seem like it would be a good idea to have all countries drive the same type of vehicles, which would make driving in other countries much easier, not all places have roads that would make it possible. 

Unlike American roads, which have turn lanes made for left-drive cars, other countries don’t. This means that they would have to redo their roads to accommodate these cars. It would also mean that they would no longer be able to manufacture or drive their right-drive cars. 

This would be a large investment for them to change these things, and it would not be worth it for the small impact it would make. Also, because the citizens are accustomed to driving right-drive cars, they would have to get used to left-drive vehicles. 

It is too much to change, and it is simply easier to keep things the way they are. 


If you were wondering what a left-drive car was, you now know that American vehicles are all left-drive cars. This makes our roads safer and keeps us able to judge the space between other vehicles better. 

Although this means that you couldn’t import and drive a right-drive vehicle, this is how you have been taught to drive, and you have gotten used to this way of driving. This would make it difficult to relearn how to drive this type of vehicle. 

So, with this information, you know a lot more about left-drive vehicles and why they were created, and also how big of a part they played in the history of America. 

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Zach Reed

Hi, I'm the founder of! Having owned a wide variety of vehicles in my life, I was astounded at how hard it can be to find answers to common automotive questions. Rather than sit idly, I decided to create this website to help others!