Driving in Canada

Highway view of Downtown Toronto, with the CN Tower in the center

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For the most part, driving in Canada is very 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 speed is measured in kilometers (not mile) per hour and that there are no right-hand turns on red lights allowed in Quebec.

If you plan on driving to Canada or renting a car when you're here, educate yourself on some of the basic rules of the road before you drive over the border from the United States.

Driving in Canada

Driving Requirements in Canada

You need a valid driver's license and proof of auto insurance to drive a car in Canada, but United States drivers licenses and insurances are also valid in Canada. However, visitors from other countries are advised to get an international driver's license and will need to purchase insurance to rent a car.

Rules of the Road

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 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 major 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 under 40 pounds.
  • 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: Celluar 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.
  • 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. A bill reflecting the distance traveled on the 407 is sent to you later, or applied to your car rental bill.
  • Drinking and driving laws: Driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI) is a serious offense in Canada and can result in a driving suspension, vehicle impounding, or arrest. In fact, a DUI charge in Canada, even from many years ago, may result in your being denied entry into the country. Refrain from drinking and driving when you're in Canada and opt for a taxi or public transportation. See more about Drinking and Driving Laws in Canada.
  • Right turn on red: Montreal is the only place in Canada that does not permit right-hand turns on a red light.
  • In case of an emergency: The Canadian Automobile Association offers roadside assistance in case of a breakdown while driving in Canada.

Driving in Canada in Winter

Don't underestimate how challenging driving a car during the Canadian winter can be. Heavy snow, black ice, and white-out conditions wreak havoc on the most experienced drivers.

Check weather conditions for your destination in Canada before traveling and decide if winter driving is something you're ready to undertake. If it is, be sure to have a charged cell phone with emergency numbers programmed in and pack a car travel kit including things like a blanket, ice scraper, flashlight, and/kitty litter for traction. In some cases, like driving through mountains, snow or tire chains may be necessary for maximum traction.

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