Can You Drive a Left-Hand Car in Europe?

Europe has many countries with different car safety laws. So driving there can be a confusing experience for Americans. While there are plenty of great European cars to try, traffic rules may be a little different from what many Americans are used to. Here’s a look at which European countries allow driving in left-hand cars.

A history of traffic rules

According to WorldStandards, whether a country allows driving on the left or the right depends on its history. Nowadays, this debate over which side of the road people should drive on is done in jest, but it has a practical history. In the old days, people preferred to travel on the left side of the road because it would be dangerous to travel on their right, WorldStandards reports.

That’s because folks wanted to draw their swords to defend themselves if anything happened. This trend began to die down during the late 1700s when people preferred to travel on the right side of the road. This switch happened mainly because the peasants traveled on the right, and the rich didn’t want to attract negative attention to themselves by traveling on the opposite side.

By and large, this preference persisted into the automobile age. Most countries nowadays drive on the right with left-hand cars. But about 35 percent of the world still drives on the left with right-hand cars, WorldStandards shows. 

A stark divide between left and right

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Practically speaking, most European countries are the same as America: They drive on the right with left-hand cars. In fact, only a handful of European nations drive on the left with right-hand cars, and they’re mostly countries with a strong connection to the United Kingdom, WorldStandards reports.

Those handful of countries are the U.K., Ireland, Cyprus, and Malta. Every other European country drives on the right with left-hand cars, including Germany, France, Italy, Spain, and Russia. That said, it’s possible rules could change. According to WorldStandards, in the 1960s, the U.K. considered changing from left to right. However, that proposal eventually died. 

In any case, anyone visiting or living outside of those four countries can drive left-hand cars because the cars and roads aren’t much different from America’s. However, rules are slightly different in those four countries that drive on the left with right-hand cars.

Can you drive a left-hand car in European countries that drive on the left?

Before you rent or buy a left-hand car to drive in Europe, you’ll need an international driving permit. Once you have that, you can drive a left-hand car around just fine, since most of Europe drives on the right with left-hand cars as America does. But for the four European countries that drive on the left side with right-hand cars, the laws vary by country.

For example, it’s legal to own and drive a left-hand car in the U.K., Car Keys reports. This makes sense because most cars made in Europe are left-hand cars. So if any British people want to import a left-hand car, they can. That said, even though left-hand cars are allowed in the U.K., they still must travel on the left side of the road. This is a challenging experience, and it’s why folks should get a lot of practice first.

Other countries that drive on the left may have similar rules, but they vary. However, Americans in Europe can avoid all of those hassles by visiting a country that drives on the right with left-hand cars. Either that or they can take rideshares.