Right-hand-left-hand spat sets back draft Automobile Policy

A right royal hoo-ha has been raised by proposals that only left-hand drive cars should be imported in future.

The draft Myanmar Automobile Policy, which transportation experts have been working on for the past two years, is expected to recommend the left-hand drive importation policy. The Myanmar Engineering Society (MES), which is drawing up the policy, has said the draft will be complete within six months.

Myanmar drives on the right. But its major source of imported vehicles, Japan, drives on the left. So most cars imported from Japan are right-hand drive. The word on the street seems to be that drivers prefer it that way, even though driving a right-hand drive vehicle on the right side of the road can cause inconvenience, and may even undermine road safety.

MES vice president U Aung Myint said yesterday, “Most cars on the road are right-hand drive, which can affect road safety. For years we’ve been advising the government to import cars better configured for our system, but the advice doesn’t seem to reach the highest levels.”

“The question of right- or left-hand drive cars is controversial,” he said.

Many drivers seem to be so used to driving on the “wrong” side that they are reluctant to change.

Some say they are not convinced that changing to right or left-hand drive will necessarily improve traffic.

Taxi driver U Kyaw Soe, of Tarmwe township, Yangon, said yesterday, “We want to know if this new policy is supposed to improve safety or to reduce traffic jams. But as long as drivers don’t obey the rules, it doesn’t matter what side of the car the steering wheel is on.”

For many drivers, it’s a question of quality. Even though Japan, the most popular car-maker, does produce left-hand drive vehicles, some fear they are just not as good.

Ko Min Min Maung, managing director of Wun Yangon Aha car sales centre, said, “Japanese cars are the best, and the best Japanese cars are right-hand drive. The cars they produce for countries that drive on the right may not be as good.”

He added that even used Japanese right-hand drive cars were better than new left-hand drive vehicles, and suggested that any change in the rules could cause more accidents.

Ko Min Zaw, who owns the No 43 bus line, said, “We prefer Japanese models. Korean cars are left-hand drive. Some say they are safer, but others believe they are not as good as Japanese cars. My drivers have more accidents in Korean left-hand drive vehicles.”

Importers worry that any change in the law could affect shipping charges and waiting times if vehicles are imported from other countries, and the market potential for them could be reduced.

Others have suggested more radical approaches to the issue.

At a round-table expert discussion last November, one participant, the chair of the Myanmar Automobile Manufacturers’ and Distributors’ Association (MAMDA), even suggested that the government yield to the inevitable and declare that drivers should keep left instead of right, as they used to do before the country switched to right-hand driving in 1970.

Source: Myanmar Times

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