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Sunday, April 27, 2014

Is It Legal to Drive A Right Hand Drive Car in the USA?

Right hand drive NISMO R32 GT-R

Is it legal to drive a right hand drive car(RHD) in America?

 Yes

11. Importing a right-hand drive vehicle.

In order to be lawfully manufactured or imported for sale in the U.S., a motor vehicle must comply with all applicable FMVSS issued by NHTSA. It is possible for a right-hand drive (RHD) vehicle to be manufactured in compliance with the FMVSS.

There is nothing specifically in the FMVSS(Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards) that talks about the position of the driver, they just say that there must be standardized controls and displays.  This is another one of those things I see repeated by people with no real knowledge of the US rules and regulations.

People get the import laws, title, registration, individual state regulations mixed up. It all is confusing.

 Some examples of vehicles manufactured in compliance with FMVSS are right hand drive garbage trucks, and mail cars.Vehicles over 25 years old are NHTSA exempt from Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards.



Cars sold in the US are left hand drive because that is the way it has been done since Ford in 1908.

"Early American motor vehicles, however, were right-hand drive, following the practice established by horse-drawn buggies. This changed in the early years of the 20th century: Ford changed to LHD production in 1908 with the Model T"

About 2/3's of the World uses left hand drive cars, and drives on the right.  "Today about 66.1% of the world's people live in right-hand traffic countries and 33.9% in left-hand traffic countries. About 72% of the world's total road distance carries traffic on the right, and 28% on the left." -Wikipedia

The NHTSA Import Eligibilty List, showing the stance on right hand drive cars.

11. Importing a right-hand drive vehicle.

In order to be lawfully manufactured or imported for sale in the U.S., a motor vehicle must comply with all applicable FMVSS issued by NHTSA. It is possible for a right-hand drive (RHD) vehicle to be manufactured in compliance with the FMVSS.

A motor vehicle that was not originally manufactured to comply with all applicable FMVSS, and/or was not so certified by its original manufacturer, in the form of a label permanently affixed to the vehicle, cannot be lawfully imported into the U.S. unless it is determined eligible for importation by NHTSA. The agency makes these decisions on the basis of a petition from an RI. These are business entities that are specifically approved by NHTSA to import nonconforming vehicles and to perform the necessary modifications on those vehicles so that they conform to all applicable FMVSS. The petitions must specify that the vehicle is substantially similar to a vehicle that was certified by its original manufacturer as conforming to all applicable FMVSS and is capable of being readily altered to conform to those standards, or, if there is no substantially similar U.S.-certified vehicle, that the vehicle has safety features that comply with, or are capable of being altered to comply with, the FMVSS based on destructive test information or other evidence the agency deems adequate.

As previously indicated, an import eligibility decision can be based on the substantial similarity of a non-U.S. certified vehicle to a vehicle manufactured for importation and sale in the United States, and so certified by its original manufacturer. If the vehicle you are seeking to import is a RHD, even if there were a U.S.-certified left-hand version of that vehicle, it might not be considered "substantially similar" for import eligibility purposes. Our experience has shown that the safety performance of RHD vehicles is not necessarily the same as that of apparently similar left-hand drive vehicles offered for sale in this country. However, NHTSA will consider the vehicles "substantially similar" if the manufacturer advises the agency in writing, on the manufacturer’s letterhead (and not that of an authorized dealership or other such entity affiliated with the manufacturer) that the RHD vehicle would perform the same as the U.S.-certified left-hand drive vehicle in crash tests. Absent such evidence, the petitioning RI would have to demonstrate that the vehicle, when modified, would comply. In this case, you might want to contact one or more of the RIs listed on our website to obtain their opinion on the feasibility of conforming the RHD vehicle to the FMVSS, and the costs involved in conforming the vehicle and petitioning NHTSA for a determination as to whether the vehicle is eligible for importation.




We have never seen anything in writing specifically regarding right hand drive in an individual states rules. If anyone knows of any, please put a link in the comments.


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