Visitors to Newfoundland typically rent cars or bring their own vehicles to the island by ferry. Canada uses the metric system, so distances are shown in kilometers but just like in the United States, Canadians drive on the right-hand side of the road. Driving in Newfoundland is not difficult, but there are a few points to keep in mind as you explore this island province including laws, weather, and what to do if you see a moose.
Drivers must be age 17 and older and carry a driver's license valid in their country of residence, so a U.S. license will suffice. When determining what type of insurance to utilize, know that you must have a minimum coverage of about $200,000.
Checklist for Driving in Newfoundland
- Driver's license (required)
- Proof of liability insurance (required)
- Vehicle registration certificate (required)
Rules of the Road
Driving laws in Newfoundland are similar to those in the United States, but in some cases are more strictly enforced or have harsher penalties.
- Speed limits: In general, speed limits for four-lane highways and lane-lane sections of Route 1 are 100 kilometers per hour (62 miles per hour), while limits on route 3 are 90 kph (55 mph). Rural two-lane highways have 60 kph (40 mph) speed limits, as do gravel highways, while towns and highways are generally restricted to 50 kph (31 mph) or lower where posted. Of course, always follow the posted speed limits.
- Distracted driving: Fines for using a cell phone while driving on a Canadian highway are high ($300 and up), so put away your smartphone while you drive, and use a hands-free device as necessary.
- Seatbelts: The driver and all passengers must wear seat belts.
- Children and car seats: Children must be secured in a car seat or booster seat appropriate for their age and must ride in the back seat. Infants must be secured in a rear-facing seat until they weigh at least 9 kilograms (20 pounds) and a child must remain in a forward-facing seat until they weigh a minimum of 18 kilograms (40 pounds).
- Alcohol: It is illegal to drive with a blood alcohol limit exceeding .05 percent. Newfoundland and Labrador's impaired driving laws are severe. If your blood alcohol level is 0.08 or higher, your car will be impounded for a period of seven to 30 days, depending on your age. Drivers under age 22 may not drink any alcohol if they plan to drive and must maintain a zero blood alcohol level.
- Radar detectors: Radar detectors are illegal.
- Move Over Law: Newfoundland has a "move over" law that requires you to move into the lane to your left and slow down if you pass a car stopped on the side of the road or see a first responder or other emergency vehicle pulled over.
- Construction zones: Road construction zones are the designated areas of a street or highway marked between orange “construction signs.” Speeds in road construction zones are generally reduced and there may be flaggers present. Fines, ranging from $100 to $1,500, for not obeying posted speed limits in road construction zones are doubled.
- Right-of-way: When approaching an intersection that is not controlled by traffic lights, stop or yield signs, yield right of way to traffic on your right-hand side as you do in the U.S.
- School bus: If you see a yellow school bus that has stopped to pick up or drop off children and is displaying flashing lights and a stop sign, you must stop before reaching the bus and must remain stopped until the bus stops the flashing lights or removes the stop sign (or unless the driver signals you to proceed). This is true whether you are approaching the bus from the front or the rear. On multi-lane undivided highways, all traffic must stop in all directions and in all lanes for a stopped school bus with its lights activated or stop sign showing.
- In case of emergency: In case of an emergency, pull over to the right side of the roadway and use emergency flashers on your car or flares to warn other motorists. Many people raise the hood of their vehicles to indicate that they need help. 911 is the emergency number in Newfoundland.
- Emergency vehicles: Priority is given to all vehicles equipped with emergency equipment displaying red lights flashing or a combination of red and blue lights flashing. When you see an emergency vehicle with lights flashing or hear a siren, yield the right of way immediately, put on your signal and pull over to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway clear of an intersection. If you are driving on a two-lane highway, pull to whichever side is clear so the vehicle can pass.
Road signs may be posted overhead, mounted above the highway, on poles next to the roadway, or painted on the pavement itself.
- An octagonal sign, usually red as in the U.S., always means stop.
- The Inverted Triangle always means yield the right of way.
- A green circle on a regulatory sign means that whatever is shown on the sign is permitted or required by law.
- A red circle with a diagonal red line means that whatever is shown on the regulatory sign is not permitted.
- A blue pentagon with white figures of schoolchildren means a school zone is ahead. Slow down and drive with extra caution and watch out for children in school zones. Specific speed limits may be posted.
Weather Conditions in Newfoundland
Newfoundland's weather is extremely changeable. You can encounter sunshine, high winds, rain, and fog on the same drive. Slow down and turn on your headlights in fog or rain and drive with care in windy areas.
During winter months, you are likely to encounter snow. Although the roads are plowed regularly, you should avoid driving in blizzards. Watch for drifting snow and slow down as road conditions warrant.
The Trans-Canada Highway (TCH) connects St. John's, the provincial capital, with cities and towns around the island. You can drive all the way to St. Anthony on the tip of the Northern Peninsula using the TCH and regional highways. In general, the TCH is in excellent condition. You will find passing lanes on most uphill grades. Be aware of cross traffic in towns—you will need to slow down as indicated by speed limit signs. Regional highways are in similarly good condition, although they are narrower.
Provincial highways usually have two-way traffic and may have potholes and narrow shoulders. Blind driveways are usually indicated by signs. Pass with care.
Newfoundland's coastal towns usually sit next to a cove or bay at sea level, but much of the Trans-Canada Highway runs inland. This means that you will be driving up and down hills and may encounter sharp curves. On small coastal roads, you will find twists and turns as well as grades.
Newfoundland is an extremely large island with few big cities. Plan your refueling stops so that you do not run out of gas. You will find gas stations in cities, larger towns, and occasionally along the Trans-Canada Highway, but there are only a few places to fill your tank on the road from Rocky Harbour to St. Anthony, the nearest city to L'Anse aux Meadows.
Heed moose warnings. These warnings are not stories designed to scare tourists. Hundreds of drivers collide with moose each year in Newfoundland. Moose are quite large and you are likely to be killed or seriously injured if you hit one while driving.
Locals will tell you that there are about 120,000 moose in Newfoundland. Moose tend to wander onto roadways—you could easily round a curve and find one standing in the middle of the Trans-Canada Highway. Do not let down your guard as you drive. You must be constantly aware of your surroundings while driving in Newfoundland, even in remote coastal areas that have few trees.
Moose are usually dark brown in color, but some are grayish-brown and are all extremely unpredictable. If you see a moose, slow down (or, better yet, stop your car). Turn on your hazard lights to warn other drivers. Carefully watch the moose. Do not move your car until you are sure it has left the roadway; moose have been known to walk into the forest, turn around, and walk back onto the highway.