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Driving in Canada

Traffic Safety and Road Conditions

Driving in Canada is similar to driving in the U.S. - with a few differences:

  • Distances and speeds are posted in metric units. 100 kilometers equals 62 miles.
  • The maximum speed limit in Canada is 50km/hr in cities, 80km/hr on highways, and 100 km/hr on rural highways.
  • Some signs, particularly in Québec, may be in French.
  • U.S. driver's licenses are valid in Canada.
  • Proof of auto insurance is required. U.S. auto insurance is accepted as long as an individual is a tourist in Canada.
  • Seat belt use is mandatory for all passengers.
  • Child car seats must be used for children under 40 pounds.
  • Some provinces require drivers to keep their headlights on during the day.
  • Motorcycles cannot share a lane, and safety helmets for drivers and passengers are mandatory.
  • On the Island of Montréal, it is illegal to turn right on a red light. The rest of Québec had similar restrictions, but these were rescinded in 2003.
  • At intersections, directional signs will indicate only which turn is allowed; any other turn is prohibited.
  • Many highways do not have merge lanes for entering traffic.
  • Rapid lane-changes without signaling, and tailgating are common.
  • Emergency vehicles frequently enter the oncoming traffic lane to avoid congestion.
  • As in the United States, all emergency assistance in Canada can be reached by dialing 911.

Drivers should be aware that the frequency with which motorists run red lights is a serious concern throughout Canada, and motorists are advised to hesitate before proceeding on green.

Travelers should be cautious of deer, elk and moose while driving at night in rural areas.

Travel along Highway 401 between London and Windsor, Ontario has been the scene of several traffic accidents due to the road condition, sudden and unpredictable fog, and heavy truck traffic. This was the site of a 70-car collision in 1999 that claimed the lives of three American citizens.

Winter travel can be dangerous due to heavy snowfalls and ice that make road conditions hazardous. Some roads and bridges are subject to periodic closings during winter. The Canadian Automobile Association has tips for winter driving in Canada.

Drunk Driving

Driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI) is a serious offense. Penalties are heavy, and any prior conviction (no matter how long ago or how minor the infraction) is cause for exclusion from Canada. A waiver of exclusion may be issued by a Canadian consulate in the United States, but several weeks are required. There is a processing fee for the waiver.

Automobile Radar Detectors

Radar detection devices are illegal in Canada. In some provinces, including Ontario, Québec and Manitoba, simple possession of this device is prohibited even if it is not in use. Fines may run as high as CA$1000 and the device will be confiscated.

Crime

Visitors to large cities should be aware that parked cars are regularly targeted for opportunistic smash-and-grab thefts, and they are cautioned to avoid leaving any possessions unattended in a vehicle, even in the trunk. Due to the high incidence of such crimes, motorists in Montréal and some other jurisdictions can be fined for leaving their car doors unlocked or for leaving valuables in view. Auto theft in Montréal, including theft of motor homes and recreational vehicles, may occur in patrolled and overtly secure parking lots and decks.