Driving in Canada is almost similar to driving in the United States, but there are some slight differences in the laws and provincial rules of the road that vary between the countries—especially in that speeds are measured in kilometers (not miles) per hour and that there are no right-hand turns on red lights allowed in Montreal (however, you can turn right on red in the rest of Quebec).
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If you plan on driving to Canada or renting a car when you’re here, you need to be aware of some of the basic rules of the road before you drive over the border from the United States.
Driving Requirements in Canada
You’ll require a valid driver’s license and proof of auto insurance to drive a car in Canada. A driver’s license and insurance from the United States are also valid in Canada for a short while (up to 90 days in some provinces). But however, visitors from other countries are advised to get an International Driving Permit (IDP) and will need to purchase insurance to rent a car.
Checklist for Driving in Canada
Driver’s license (required)
Proof of auto insurance (required)
Rules To Drive
Individual driving laws can vary by province or territory in Canada, but for the most part, the basics for driving in Canada remain the same regardless of region—and also the rules are often quite similar to driving in America, such as driving on the right side of the road. However, there are some major differences between the rules of the road in the United States and Canada.
Speed limits: In Canada, speed limits are posted in metric units. Common limits include 50 kilometers per hour (31 miles per hour) in cities, 80 kph (50 mph) on two-lane highways and 100 kph (62 mph) on most highways.
Road signs: Depending on what province you’re in, road signs will be in English, French, or both; for instance, in Quebec, some signs may only be in French.
Seatbelts: Everyone in the car is required to wear a seatbelt, regardless of age, and car seats are required for children until they are 9 years old or 145 cm tall.
Smoking: Many provinces, including British Columbia, Newfoundland and Labrador, Manitoba, Ontario, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Saskatchewan, and Yukon Territory, have banned smoking in cars where minors are present.
Cell phone use: Cellular devices must be used “hands-free” when driving
Carpool/HOV Lanes: Some provinces have introduced HOV (High Occupancy Vehicle) lanes in dense urban areas with heavy traffic. These lanes are restricted to use by cars with at least two people and may be marked with diamonds or otherwise.
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Toll roads: Toll roads do not play a significant role on Canadian roads; drivers pay tolls on some bridges crossing into the U.S.A and there is one in Nova Scotia. In Ontario, 407 Electronic Toll Road (ETR) alleviates the heavy congestion on major corridors between Toronto and outlying areas, especially Hamilton. Stopping to pay at a toll booth, however, has been replaced by an automatic system where a photo of your license plate is taken as you merge onto the 407.2 A bill reflecting the distance traveled on the 407 is sent to you later or applied to your car rental bill.
Alcohol: Driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI) is a serious offense in Canada and can result in a driving suspension, vehicle impounding, or arrest. Canada’s blood alcohol standards are very strict. It is a criminal offense to drive with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08 percent. Those registering a lower BAC are charged under provincial and territorial traffic acts.3 Refrain from drinking and driving when you’re in Canada and opt for a taxi or public transportation.
Right turn on red: Montreal is the only place in Canada that does not permit right-hand turns on a red light.4 The rest of Quebec allows right turns on red unless prohibited by a traffic sign.
In case of an emergency: The Canadian Automobile Association offers roadside assistance in case of a breakdown while driving in Canada.
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