Driving in Canada

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1. Canadians drive on the right hand side of the road. 2. The gas, brake and clutch pedals are laid out exactly the same as in cars made for drive-on-the-left countries. 3. Transmission shift levers are mounted toward the centre of the vehicle; ie, shifting with the right hand. 4. Control levers for wipers, blinkers and so on will mostly be reversed from Australian or British setup. Yes, you'll find yourself turning the wipers on when you actually intended to signal a left turn. Tip: most GM models have a single control stalk with blinkers and wipers on it, making it less likely to make that mistake. This might be a (minor) factor when deciding what car to rent.


Americans and Canadians use some different words related to vehicles. Here are a few, along with their translation for British and Australian drivers.

Gas pedal
manual gearbox
manual gearbox
hazard lights
Glove compartment
Windshield antifreeze
wiper fluid, with alcohol and detergents added. Essential for winter driving because slop and slime accumulates on windshields all the time.
"Yield" sign
"Give Way" sign
Turning circle


Canada is a metric country, or at least the government thinks so. In everyday usage, their weights and measures are a confusing mish-mash of both systems, but on the roads it's fairly straightforward. Speed limits and distances are shown in kilometres, vehicle weights are shown in kilograms.

Speed limits

Speed limits can be confusing. Generally it's 50 km/h in built-up areas, with lower 30 km/h limits for school zones (8 am to 5 pm). Outside that, you'll find almost anything is posted. Speeds could be as high as 110 km/h on some freeways, and 80, 90 or 100 km/h on two-lane highways, depending on the whim of the Ministry of Highways. Keep your eyes open, because those speed limits can change quite often, and the signs don't have the eye-catching bright red circle around them that Australian drivers are used to.

In the mountainous areas of BC and Alberta, many major highways have digital signboards giving info about conditions ahead. They are of course very brief, but take heed anyway.

Stop signs

Canadian roads use Stop signs much more than Give Way signs. There is such a thing as a Yield which looks the same as an Aussie Give Way and you'll occasionally see them where the traffic powers that be have decided it's OK for people to slow rather than come to a complete stop. In practice, most drivers here slow down, check for traffic and go through slowly if there's nothing coming. Of course, a complete stop is needed if there's a cop watching! It should be noted that stop signs don't always have a painted line indicating where you should stop.

Four-way stop

This is a 4-way intersection with stop signs at all four sides. The procedure is that you must give way to all vehicles that were present before you came to a complete stop. In other words, watch to see when it's your turn to go. There's also a thing called a 3-way stop, with the same rules as a 4-way. If there are pedestrians present, they have supreme right of way.

Uncontrolled intersections

Occasionally in low-traffic areas there may be no traffic lights or stop signs. In this case, the vehicle on the left yields right of way to the vehicle on the right.


Pretty rare in BC and it shows. The locals have grudgingly got used to them, but out-of-towners are confused as hell. Essentially they operate the same here as they do in Australia, but of course they rotate in the opposite direction. You give way to the traffic already on the roundabout and indicate (right) when you are going to leave.


Mostly the same as in Australia with a couple of key differences. You may make a right turn at any red light after coming to a complete halt and checking that it is safe to proceed. In the same way, you may also make a left onto a one-way street against a red.

Flashing green light

This indicates a pedestrian-controlled traffic light on a through road. Sometimes there are side streets nearby and it is important to understand that these streets do not automatically have right of way when the through road lights turn red - the pedestrians have absolute right of way.

"Prepare to Stop" flashing lights

Normally used approaching traffic lights in speeds zones higher than 50 km/h. They will flash orange a bit before the green light is about to change orange.

Flashing red light

Hanging suspended over the centre of an intersection, this indicates a 4-way stop or a stop sign coming up.

Flashing orange light

Hanging suspended over the centre of an intersection, this indicates the side street/s have a stop sign facing them; proceed with caution. Usually employed where the side road is almost as busy as the through road - ditto for the flashing red mentioned above.


BC no longer has speed control cameras. Traffic light cameras are widespread but only 25% of the mounts actually have cameras in them - they are rotated around a fair bit. Radar is employed in both mobile and stationary modes. The RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police, or 'Mounties') and local police forces both carry out traffic control duties. Marked and unmarked cars are used. In general, no cop will ticket you at up to 10 km/h over the limit - not that I've seen anyway. I wouldn't try it on for size in a school zone though. Police generally stick to fast, open roads where speeding is more likely - slimmer pickings for them on the twisty roads where people actually need to slow down.