Guide to Driving In Canada - Drive Safe in Canada

Driving in Canada

Are there any special requirements for driving or hiring a car in Canada?

Driving is on the right with overtaking on the left. Some driving advice varies slightly from province to province. As Canada is a vast country you should always plan your routes and know where you are going to rest and refuel. Fatigue is one of the main causes of accidents in Canada. Canada has some spectacular wildlife but you don't want to run into a moose or an elk on the road when you are driving so stay vigilant.

If you are driving from Canada to America there are quite a few border requirements that you need to know about which are outlined here
Canadians really do live up to their reputation for being friendly and helpful so if you get into a jam the best thing to do is ask for help.

Driving Laws

Seat Belt Laws

The driver and all passengers must wear seat belts whilst the car is moving. A fine of up to $500 applies if caught not wearing one.

Drinking and Driving

Canadian drink driving laws are very strict. The limit is the same as in the UK; 80mg per 100ml of blood but some provinces lower it to 50mg.If you already have a drink driving conviction on your licence within the last five years you will be refused entry at the Canadian point of entry. Each province of Canada has slightly different punishments for the conviction but all are harsh. The minimum punishment for a first offence is a $1000 fine and a year's licence suspension.

Must Have Documents

You need to have your driving licence and as long as it's printed in English or French, you don't need an international driving licence. You will also need to carry proof of insurance – either a valid insurance certificate or a green card.

Speed Limits

Whereas US distances are marked in miles, Canadian ones are marked in kilometres. The speed limits are
50 km/h in town
80 km/h on highways
100 km/h on rural highways/freeways

Minimum Driving Age

In Alberta you only have to be 14 to be able to drive but elsewhere in Canada it's 16. Car hire companies will insist you are a minimum of 21 years old and in some circumstances, 24 or with a minimum of a year's experience. You may have to pay a young driver's excess with some companies.

Safety Camera Warning Devices

Safety camera warning devices are illegal in Canada and you can face up to a  $650 dollar fine for using them in some provinces, this desoite many sat-nav companies offering camera detection in Canada as part of their packages. 

On the Spot Fines

Generally, traffic violations are dealt with by ticket and then the chance to pay the fine or go to court. In some provinces for a small number of minor infringements, there are on the spot fines but they are not common.

Child Safety Rules

Children under forty pounds must travel in an approved child safety seat. Toddlers and babies must be in a rear facing seat fixed in the back of the car. After the age of two they can travel in a forward facing seat in the rear of the car then use a booster seat.


A minimum of third party insurance is compulsory in Canada

Rules of the Road

Standard driving laws apply with several exceptions in Canada.
You'll find many places where road signs will be in French
In some provinces you need to drive with dipped headlights during the day
Turning right on a red signal is illegal in Montral but elsewhere it's legal.
At crossroads only the direction of turn that is legal will be signposted, all other turns are illegal
Some highways don't have filter lanes you simply have to wait for a space to  pull out
Emergency services can have priority in your lane in the oncoming direction

You must not try and overtake a school bus which has flashing red lights.

If the police stop you for any offence, remain seated in your car and switch the engine off.

If you are fined never attempt to bribe the police officer or pay the fine to him as this is a very serious offence.

If a police car or ambulance is behind you, give way to them by pulling over to the side of the road.

Canada operates the four way intersections where cars have right of way according to who arrives at the intersection first. 

In winter snow removal vehicles will have flashing blue lights. It is legal to pass them, otherwise stay far back. At crossings and corners pedestrians have the right of way.

Towing Regulations

Other than common sense, there are no specific regulations for towing. You should use hazard warning lights when being towed or are towing. 

Speed Cameras

Speed cameras are a contentious issue in Canada and in two provinces; British Columbia and Ontario, they are banned. In others there have been moves to have them restricted or banned but for now they remain in place. Supporters of them point to several high profile court cases where cameras would have potentially reduced speeds and saved lives. The speed limits are there for a reason, stick to them.

Using Mobile Phones when driving

You cannot use a mobile phone without a hands free kit in Canada.


Parking is quite straightforward in Canada. Almost everywhere you can only     
park in the direction of the traffic. In narrow streets you can only park on one side of the road. In winter some streets ban parking altogether to allow for snow ploughs. 
Paid parking
Paid parking can be by meter at the side of the road, ticket machine or by parking attendant at a public parking lot. Clear signage saying where you can and cannot park is found on almost all streets. 
Enforcement of parking is usually done by the police and you can be towed away if you cause an obstruction. You'll receive a parking ticket indicating a fine.
Disabled parking
Canada is excellent for parking facilities for blue badge holders. Not only can you park in convenient wider parking spots but often parking is free. Attendants will do all they can to ease your day.

Motor Way Signs

Motorways are marked by a green background. Other signs use symbols similar to those used in the United Kingdom. Signs are in French in the French speaking area of Quebec.

Road Sign in Canada


I have broken down - Ma voiture a décomposé 
Where is the police station? - Où est le poste de police? 
I have a flat tyre - J'ai un pneu à plat 
I have been in an accident - J'ai été dans un accident 
Where is? - Où est? 
Where can I buy petrol? - Où puis-je acheter de l'essence?

Traffic Lights

Traffic lights operate to the international standard and you can turn right on a red signal everywhere apart from Montreal where it is illegal. Canadian drivers are notorious for running red lights so be careful when pulling away on green. In the province of British Columbia a flashing green light means you can go. 

Toll Roads

The following highways are toll roads: 
  • The Ontario Highway 407
  • The Cobequid Pass
  • The Quebec Autoroute 30
  • Ontario Highway 412
  • The British Columbia Highway 5 (Former toll road. Tolls dropped in 2008)
The toll roads in Canada can be expensive. It is important to remember that additional charges will apply when passing through automatic toll roads, such as the Ontario Highway 407. The rental agent will receive the bill and charge this, plus an admin fee to your credit card. 


The emergency number in Canada is the same as in the US, 911 for the police, fire and ambulance.

What to do in an emergency

If you are involved in an accident, minor damage can be dealt with between insurance companies. If there is major damage or if someone is hurt, you must call the emergency services. If possible, garner witnesses and take photographs of the scene. You will be dealt with fairly and should be given a copy of the police report which a car rental company will need. 

Fuel Costs

The price of fuel varies by state in Canada but as of April 2014, the price of 95 octane unleaded petrol is 77p whilst diesel is 68p.


Mike Macdonald
The photo is so nova scotia
3/6/2011 1:41:45 AM
radar detectors ar legal in alberta
5/13/2010 9:13:02 PM
Robert Cumming
Toll roads. Not mentioned is the Ontario 407 toll road bypassing Toronto. Should have transponder,can be very expensive. Photos of license plate virtually guarantees a toll will apply to owner of vehicle. 
2/14/2017 6:56:10 PM
Lise Boisvert
At crossings and corners pedestrians have the right of way. What if the car has a green traffic light and the pedestrian has the Red Hand and cars have the red traffic light.
26/10/2017 12:29:11 AM

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Hiring a Car

With our Drive Smart guide you're fully prepared to hire a car in Canada and stay safe on unfamiliar roads.