Dispute Over Right-Hand Drive Cars

November 9, 2011

Poland will face legal action at the European Court of Justice for refusing to register right-hand drive vehicles, a stance that has brought it into conflict with the European Commission.

Polish law requires that the steering wheel is placed on the left-hand side of the vehicle. This means that in practice right-hand drive cars, both new and used, cannot be registered in Poland. According to the European Commission, these restrictions constitute a disproportionate barrier to the importation of such vehicles from other EU member states, for example by citizens returning to Poland after having worked in Britain. In September last year the Commission requested the Polish authorities to put an end to these restrictions, but they are still in place.


In the Commission’s view, if a motor vehicle meets EU requirements, it can be driven safely in all member states irrespective of whether it is left- or right-hand drive. Therefore, the Commission believes that a total ban on the registration of right-hand drive vehicles is disproportionate to the legitimate public policy objective of ensuring road safety.

As far as new cars are concerned, the Commission believes that the obstacles to the registration of right-hand vehicles are contrary to Directive 70/311/EEC on type-approval of steering equipment and framework Directive 2007/46/EC on EC type-approval of motor vehicles. Regarding used cars, the Commission insists that Poland is breaching EU rules on the free movement of goods (Article 34 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union).

Before taking Poland to the European Court of Justice, the European Commission exchanged correspondence with the Polish government concerning the issue. The Commission refused to accept the Polish government’s argument that the ban was for safety reasons. The Commission called on Poland to change the regulations, but to no avail. If the European Court of Justice upholds the Commission’s position, Poland will have to either lift the ban or face a multimillion-euro fine.

Poland is one of 26 EU countries with street traffic on the right, but the only one that prohibits the registration of right-hand drive vehicles.

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