Driving on the right side in Canada: Is it legal?

An old British MG car. Stock photo by Getty Images

So you have a crush on for right-hand-drive British sports cars and couldn’t resist buying that old MG. Now what?

While driving on the left side of the road is illegal in Canada, being behind the wheel on the “passenger” side is not. The problem is finding affordable insurance so you can hit the road in your new foreign car.

Meet Michael Kent. He imports and sells right-hand-drive vehicles, mostly from Japan and the U.K., where motorists drive on the left side of the road.

In order to protect Canadian car manufacturers and dealers, the federal Registrar of Imported Vehicles has strict screening procedures, but those are mostly directed at new cars brought into the country through the United States.

Kent has largely bypassed those screening procedures by importing cars from overseas that are more than 15 years old, which are classified as “non-regulated vehicles” by Transportation Canada. 

They still have to meet provincial safety standards, as defined by the Ontario Highway Traffic Act, mainly:

  • daytime running lights;
  • DOT-approved headlights;
  • child-safety seat latches.

There are no rules about the steering wheel being on the right side of the car. As long as they pass safety inspection, they are legal. But once you’ve got your car through customs, can you take it straight to the highway? Not without insurance, which all vehicles are required to have.

This is where the approximately 60,000 Canadian RHD car owners run into problems. The Insurance Bureau of Canada, which supplies insurance companies with rates for every type of vehicle, only recognizes VINs from new vehicles.

“The IBC does not review a vehicle that was not sold new into Canada,” says Kent, adding this means companies where you normally buy your insurance have no data to offer you a quote.

The broker can do their own appraisal to come up with a rate, or purchase insurance by becoming a member of an insurance club such as the Facility Association.

But still there are hurdles for RHD vehicles, says Kent, because most appraisers are not familiar with them, resulting in rates that are way too overvalued or undervalued. This causes issues when there are claims.

It also means the insurance is steep, costing as much as $6,000 per year for a single driver.

So Kent has come up with a solution: he’s offering members of his online club exclusive insurance for their right-hand-drive cars. For a $39 annual fee, RightDrive.ca will provide its own appraisers to look at your car and provide you a quote.

“Going through the club you’re going to cut your insurance roughly in half,” boasts Kent, who won’t be able to offer the insurance until October when his business clears the final regulatory hurdles with the Financial Services Commission of Ontario.

“The industry has been wanting this for a really long time and it finally doesn’t penalize drivers for having a right-hand-drive or specialty vehicle.” 

Kent’s product is positioned between the collector-car market that covers vintage cars that are driven once a week and specialty cars used every day.

One of Kent’s largest customers is Canada Post, which uses RHD vehicles for all its rural deliveries.

“You need to have either a second person sitting shotgun to put that mail into the mailbox, or the driver is putting their vehicles into park 450 times a day, getting out and walking round and putting mail into the box,” he says. “But you don’t need that if you’re comfortably sitting on the right-hand side.”
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