Until recently, the only right-hand-drive (RHD) cars seen in Canada were vintage versions of British imports like MGs, Morrises, Austins and Hillmans. But RHD cars are growing in popularity here, with ICBC reporting that some 200 of these vehicles are imported into British Columbia every month, mostly from Japan.
So, why the popularity and why Japan? The primary driver for their popularity is price; with vehicles often costing thousands of dollars less than a comparable local car. But there are other reasons, including the uniqueness or cool factor as they garner high looky-loo appeal. As for importing RHDs from Japan, it’s all about safety. In Japan, all cars must undergo an expensive and extensive inspection every two years and while most of the RHD imports are 15 years and older — that’s because Canadian laws place restrictions on newer imported cars — the average odometer reading is very low at between 75,000 and 125,000 kilometres.
As long as the vehicles meet provincial standards and pass a BC safety inspection, RHD cars can be licensed and insured. But a recent study by ICBC casts some doubt on the safety of operating a right-hand-drive vehicle on right-hand-traffic roads. According to the study, RHD vehicles are 40 per cent more likely to get into a crash than a similar left-hand-drive vehicle. Furthermore, researchers found that the average time for a crash to occur after an owner first purchased an RHD vehicle was 223 days, 68 per cent sooner than the 705 days for a LHD vehicle.
Although there was no evidence in the study that suggested RHD vehicles offer less protection in a crash than built-for-Canada vehicles of similar age, BC officials have asked Transport Canada to increase the restriction period on import vehicles from 15 to 25 years, in an attempt to reduce the number of RHD vehicles entering the province.
There is no extra insurance premium for driving an RHD vehicle. However, ICBC is warning potential purchasers that they present greater risk, citing increased difficulty in seeing oncoming traffic when making a left turn and similar challenges when pulling away from the curb.