Rules of the Road - Canada

Basics

The two official languages in Canada are English and French. The currency is the Canadian Dollar.
Canada spans six of the world’s time zones. These are Newfoundland Standard Time Zone, Atlantic Standard Time Zone, Eastern Standard Time Zone, Central Standard Time Zone, Mountain Standard Time Zone and Pacific Standard Time Zone. Some provinces and territories span two time zones within their borders. The westernmost time zone, Pacific Time, is UTC/ GMT-8.

You should drive on the right-hand side of the road. Distances are marked in kilometers.

Canada has almost 900,000km of road, with 38,000km of national highways. Roads are well-maintained, with the exception of some in remote areas. The majority of roads are numbered.

The highway system in Canada includes the Trans-Canada Highway, which runs from coast to coast.

Traffic and safety laws vary slightly between each province and territory.

You can contact all emergency services by dialing 9-1-1.

Speed Limits

Unless posted otherwise the speed limits in Canada are:

  • 100km/h on multi-lane highways and expressways
  • 100km/h on two-lane highways
  • 60km/h on major roads in urban areas
  • 50km/h in residential areas
  • 30km/h near schools and playgrounds

If caught speeding, you will receive an on-the-spot ticket and fine.

Fuel

Unleaded and diesel fuels are available throughout Canada. Many filling stations offer a variety of unleaded options including regular unleaded, mid-grade and a high octane fuel. Some also sell natural gas.

You will find fuel filling stations in all towns and cities as well as at regular intervals along roads and highways. Depending on the location of the filling station its facilities might include a car wash, WC, convenience store and 24-hr opening.

Most filling stations are self-serve although some will provide a service option for those who need it. Some use pay at the pump technology and most credit and debit cards are accepted.

Breakdown Assistance

If you are renting a vehicle you will often be provided with details of breakdown assistance. If you are traveling from the U.S. and are a member of the AAA check whether you have cover in Canada. If you are visiting from outside of the U.S. and Canada may wish to consider joining the International AAA Club which entitles visitors to up to 90 days of basic emergency cover.

Tolls

There is just one toll road in Canada, the 407 Express Toll Route. There are no toll booths; instead overhead cameras record vehicles using the route and a bill is sent to the registered owner of the vehicle.

If you use 407 ETR in a rental vehicle, the bill will be sent to the rental car company. You will then be responsible for reimbursing the rental car company, including any relevant administration charges.

License and Documentation

To drive in Canada, you need a valid driving license from your home country. However, if planning to drive using a foreign license you should also get an International Driving Permit (IDP). This will give a translation of your license into French and English.

You must carry your driving license (both paper and card sections) and IDP (if applicable) with you at all times while driving. You should also carry proof of insurance and your passport.

It is against the law to drive in Canada without car insurance. There are different insurance plans available; some cover only the cost of damages and injury to others if you are at fault in a collision. Other plans cover injuries to yourself and damage to your vehicle.

Wildlife

Wildlife may be encountered throughout the year but more so in summer and fall. Deer collisions in particular peak in October and November, during the mating season and when the animals migrate for winter. Moose collisions are particularly common in June, July and August. Crashes between vehicles and wildlife frequently occur between dusk and dawn when visibility is low.

Ungulates (hoofed mammals) that stand up high pose the greatest danger to vehicle occupants. In a collision they can hit the windshield or roof of a vehicle, potentially resulting in extensive damage, or even death. Moose pose a particular danger because of their height. In low light they are difficult to see as they are dark brown in color and their eyes are above most headlight beams.

The best way of avoiding collisions with wildlife is to keep alert and adapt your speed according to the conditions. Look out for warning signs indicating that wildlife should be expected. If you encounter an animal on the road slow right down until you have passed – and expect more animals to be in the vicinity. If an animal is in your path you should brake but avoid swerving. Repeatedly sound your horn in short bursts until it moves away. Steer around the animal if necessary but only if you know the other side of the road is clear.

Extreme Weather

As the second largest country in the world, covering almost 10 million square kilometers, the weather in Canada varies dramatically between locations. Severe weather is common during winter, when extreme cold, fierce blizzards and dangerous ice storms often strike. Heavy rain and lightning is not unusual.

Road Signs

While most signs are written in English and French, some are only in French. This is particularly true in Quebec.

Requirements

The minimum age to rent a vehicle varies from 21-24 years old, although most companies require a driver to be at least 24 (or may charge additional fees for drivers under 24). A valid license for the class of vehicle is essential and a credit card is also required. Additional requirements may vary from province to province.

Payment

When hiring a car, you will be required to provide a credit card for payment. Checks and cash are not generally accepted as any charges relating to your use of the vehicle such as parking or speeding fines can be charged to the credit card.

Often the price quoted for hiring a vehicle won’t include all applicable taxes or insurance waivers. You will usually have the option of paying extra to reduce the amount payable by you should you be involved in a collision. Always ask when hiring a vehicle what the total costs will be.

Types of Vehicle Available for Hire

Most of the main car rental companies can be found at airports and in major towns and cities. Rates vary depending on the season, the type of vehicle and length of rental. The majority of rental cars come equipped with automatic transmission, although manual cars are sometimes available on request.

State Requirements

Each province or territory has the authority to establish its own driving laws so it is recommended that you check the laws of the area to which you will be traveling, prior to driving there.

Seat Belts

Seats belts must be worn by all vehicle occupants and child car seats must be used by children under 40 pounds.

Distracted Driving

Distracted driving laws apply across Canada; these vary between individual provinces / territories. A ‘hands free’ cell phone rule applies.

Alcohol Impairment

In Canada, the maximum BAC for fully licensed drivers is 80 milligrams of alcohol in 100 milliliters of blood (0.08). Driving over this limit is a criminal offence. Drivers caught at lower BACs may still suffer serious consequences under provincial and territorial traffic acts.

Smoking

Many provinces have banned smoking in vehicles when minors are present.

Safety Helmets

Safety helmets for motorcycle riders and passengers are mandatory.

Headlights

Some provinces state that all vehicles must have their headlights on during the day.

Roundabouts / Road Circles

Drivers must give way to traffic from the left.

Pedestrians

Pedestrians have right of way at intersections and crosswalks, provided they are not crossing against a signal. Drivers must give way.

Emergency Vehicles

Drivers must yield to emergency vehicles with lights flashing. If they are approaching from behind drivers must pull over and stop.

School Buses

When a yellow school bus has its stop sign extended and/ or red lights flashing, drivers in both directions must stop at a safe distance to allow children to get off.

It is against the law to pass a stopped school bus with flashing lights and/ or extended stop signal. The only exception is on highways where traffic is divided by a median. In these cases, vehicles traveling in the opposite direction are not expected to stop.

Merging Lanes

Be aware that many highways do not have merging lanes for traffic entering the highway.

Right Turns on Red

Right turns on red lights are generally permitted, although at some junctions this is not allowed.

Speed Camera Warning Devices

It is illegal to use a speed camera warning device in Canada.

Winter Travel

Heavy snowfall can make traveling dangerous in winter. For safety reasons some roads and bridges are subject to periodic closures. Some provinces require snow tires to be used at certain times of the year.

General

Cars and roads play an integral part of life for most Canadians; and long trips are quite normal.  People from smaller countries might find the experience quite different to what they are used to.

In big cities the traffic can get extremely busy. Many cities are laid out on a grid system with one-way streets. These are designed to help with traffic flow but it’s quite common for drivers unfamiliar with the roads to end up going round and round.

Rush hour (7am to 9am) and (4pm to 6pm) is particularly hectic. Some cities are busy all day and night, with the exception of the early hours of the morning.

In contrast, Canada’s rural roads can be very quiet and peaceful. These require different driving skills altogether. Staying alert is the challenge on such monotonous roads. It’s also important not to try to attempt to drive too far on such roads, especially if driving at night. It’s essential to take regular breaks and stop in a safe place if you feel drowsy.

General

Cars and roads play an integral part of life for most Canadians; and long trips are quite normal.  People from smaller countries might find the experience quite different to what they are used to.

In big cities the traffic can get extremely busy. Many cities are laid out on a grid system with one-way streets. These are designed to help with traffic flow but it’s quite common for drivers unfamiliar with the roads to end up going round and round.

Rush hour (7am to 9am) and (4pm to 6pm) is particularly hectic. Some cities are busy all day and night, with the exception of the early hours of the morning.

In contrast, Canada’s rural roads can be very quiet and peaceful. These require different driving skills altogether. Staying alert is the challenge on such monotonous roads. It’s also important not to try to attempt to drive too far on such roads, especially if driving at night. It’s essential to take regular breaks and stop in a safe place if you feel drowsy.

Drivers

In busy towns and cities where the traffic is chaotic it’s not unusual for drivers to get into bad tempers, although there are very few cases of actual ‘road rage’.

Speeding is a big problem across the country, possibly because of drivers taking advantage of the long, straight, open roads.

Running red lights is known to be a concern in Canada. Therefore, drivers are advised to proceed with caution when lights turn to green.

Lock Your Vehicle

Always lock your car, even when leaving your vehicle unattended for a few seconds.

Always engage your steering lock before leaving your vehicle.

Remove the key from the ignition when paying for fuel at a garage.

Valuables

Never leave anything to do with work in an unattended vehicle, industrial espionage is a thriving business! Never place items of value in your car and then leave it unattended. You never know who is watching. If you have to leave something of value in your vehicle make sure it is in the trunk.

Windows and Doors

Always drive with your doors locked and windows shut in areas with a tendency for stop / start driving – most car-jackings are opportunist in nature. Keep your doors locked and windows closed when driving through major city centers.

Parking

Always try to park away from places that could hide potential attackers. If possible, avoid unattended parking lots and those situated away from main roads where the streets are likely to be quieter. When parking at night choose a well-lit area. You will be able to see your vehicle clearly and have a better chance of seeing anyone who is hanging around.

Keeping Others Informed

When traveling in a foreign country you should provide someone in your native office with an itinerary for your day so that they know where you plan to be at all times. You should also furnish them with your mobile telephone number and the number of each of your planned destinations.

Fatigue

You must take a break every two hours or sooner if you feel sleepy. Stop for at least 15 minutes and take a 10-minute snooze. Having a coffee or energy drink before your sleep can help you be more alert when you wake up (this is NOT a substitute for a good night’s sleep). Only continue your journey if you feel alert after your sleep.

Ensure that you get a good night’s sleep before making any long journey. If you are tired, do not drive.

Speeding

You must always abide by the speed limit.

In towns and built up areas, slow down to 20mph (32 km/h) or below where appropriate – e.g. in residential areas or during school leaving times.

On rural roads, slow down for curves and avoid passing / overtaking.

Ensure that you maintain at least a two-second gap between your vehicle and the vehicle in front. This is your braking distance in a crisis.

Distractions

You should not eat or drink on the move, reaching over for a sandwich or opening a drink will distract your attention from the road.

Avoid in depth conversations with passengers, it is vital that you maintain your concentration on the road ahead.

Alcohol and Drug Use

You must never drive if you have consumed alcohol or taken illegal drugs. Always check the label of prescription drugs for fatigue related side-effects.

The evening before you drive you MUST NOT consume more than the legal limit of alcohol.

Stress

Never drive if you are highly stressed. This can affect your ability to concentrate.