When in Canada, Drive Like a Canadian

In today’s shaky economy, many travelers are opting to visit Canada instead of European or Asian destinations. Because of Canada’s varied geography and diverse local cultures, driving is a popular way to experience the country. But before you start the engine, let’s take a look at what it means to drive in Canada.

Canada boasts one of the best road safety records worldwide, and it continues to improve each year. A perfect system? Not quite. Almost 3000 fatalities and over 200,000 serious injuries still occur every year on Canadian roads. Nearly a third of these accidents involve drugs or alcohol. Canada’s glowing safety record depends on drivers following laws and driving defensively. Visitors who take the time to learn and adhere to Canadian driving regulations help keep the roads safe for everyone.

For first-time visitors, driving in Canada can feel deceptively similar to driving in your home country. However, there are some crucial differences. Whether you’re enjoying a family vacation, taking a business trip, or emigrating permanently, knowing the differences will help you avoid unnecessary accidents or fines.

Canada is a vast nation with many provincial traffic law idiosyncrasies, severe winters, and plentiful wildlife. When driving across such a huge country, it’s tempting to speed. How fast is too fast? In Canada, speed regulations vary depending on the province. For example, in Ontario, drivers who surpass the speed limit by 50 kilometers an hour or more can have their licenses suspended and be fined up to $10,000. Vehicles can also be impounded for a week, so be especially cautious if you’re driving a rental car—do you really want to pay for an extra rental week, on top of your fine? Not all provinces are this strict, but it’s worth researching local speed regulations ahead of time.

In addition to speed regulations, laws regarding cell phone usage vary from province to province. Newfoundland, Labrador, Nova Scotia and Quebec all forbid the use of cell phones while driving. As for radar detectors, they’re illegal in Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, the Yukon and the Northwest Territories.

With all of these provincial variations, is there anything that’s consistent nationwide? Yes. Seat belts and child safety seats are compulsory everywhere in Canada. Nearly half of Canadian vehicle fatalities can be directly linked to the lack of a seat belt. Daytime running lights are also a must-have throughout the entire country. Don’t have daytime running lights installed on your car? Just turn on your low beams.

If you’re visiting during the cold season, be aware that Canada is known for dangerously harsh winters. Watch out for icy roads, falling rocks, or deep snowdrifts. Some roads and bridges are closed completely during the winter, so do your research on alternate routes. Be especially alert when driving on Highway 401, which has an unusually high prevalence of traffic accidents and fatalities.

One of Canada’s main draws for visitors is the abundant wildlife. Elk, deer and moose are fun to spot on the roadside, but not so fun to crash into as they bound across the highway. Even if you don’t see wildlife crossing signs posted, stay alert—moose don’t politely wait to cross at signs.

If you keep nationwide laws in mind and research provincial regulations, driving in Canada should pose no problem for you. Stay safe, be alert, and enjoy your time exploring the beautiful, diverse provinces of Canada.

By Antonia Anderson