Bilingual signs, driving habits, inconsistent laws and road etiquette—if it’s your first time behind the wheel on Canada’s roads and highways, you’ll notice some unique and surprising quirks.
For newcomers, getting behind the wheel can be demanding. Traffic laws are peculiar, specific guidelines govern courtesy and respect, and many of the road signs are just plain bizarre.
In our Roadside stories video project, we met with 4 people that learned to driver in other countries, and adapted to Canadian driving. Watch what they have to say, and then discover 7 surprising aspects related to driving in our country!
Unusual Road Signs
Even for veteran drivers, the collection of 2,000 individual road and highway signs are impossible to memorize. From pictograms alerting you to caribou crossings or upcoming national parks, from loose rocks warnings to agri-tourism signs, the variety can be bewildering. Of course, the Canadian government does its best to ensure the information is clear, but we bet that even the most seasoned road warrior will be left scratching their heads at a few of these signs.
A Shovel and Sunglasses
New Canadians may find that a pair of sunglasses and a shovel are funny accessories to keep in their car. But leaving home without these two essentials means running the risk of being blinded by the sun, which is particularly bad when it glints off ice and snow, or getting stuck in a shopping centre parking lot after a few hours of shopping. A snowstorm can bury a car faster than you might think. Canada’s weather can be extreme and unpredictable. Picture yourself digging a car out of a snowbank with just a pair of ungloved hands. At the sign of the season’s first few flakes, you’ll want to pop a pair of sunglasses in your glove compartment and a shovel in your trunk.
Yet Another Reason Montreal is Unique
Turning right on a red light throughout Canada is a privilege most drivers enjoy—everywhere but on the Island of Montreal. The French-speaking metropolis is the only place in the country that prohibits turning right on red. Like New York City, Montreal belongs to a select group of cities that enforces this exception to the law. Of course, if you’re coming from Europe, this won’t pose much of a problem, as right turns on red lights over there are also outlawed. Quick courtesy tip: as the variations in the law show, turning right on red is a privilege, not a universal obligation, so it’s better not to get upset if you find yourself behind a driver who is unaware they can turn right on red.
Honking: In Case of Emergency Only
Honking is part and parcel of driving in many areas of the world, as its purpose is to alert others to a driver’s presence. In India, for example, a horn is as important as a turn signal or rear-view mirror. It’s said that an Indian driver will honk as many times in one day as a German will in an entire year. With Canadians’ well-known reputation for unfailing politeness, it should be no surprise the same goes here. If the driver ahead of you isn’t moving as quickly as you’d like, please abstain from showing your impatience with a long, loud honk of your horn. You may not just be considered rude—you could receive a fine of over $200 for honking without just cause!
De-icing with Beet Juice
No, that wasn’t an auto-correct mistake. Beet juice has the perfect properties to de-ice roads, most importantly, by reducing the need for salt by 50 per cent. So this is a no-brainer, as beet juice is completely biodegradable, has a minimal impact on the environment and is economical. Plus, it’s a lot less aggressive than salt—using beet juice on roads means they stay in better shape for longer. This shocking use for the juice was discovered in Ontario, a sure source of pride!
Highways: Not for Horses
As funny as it may seem, the warning is clearly written in black-on-white: horses (or any other animal) are prohibited from galloping on the highway, which begs the question: is it legal to trot an animal without incurring yourself a fine?
Know that if you wish to ride your horse on the highway, you’ll have to hang at least two bells from its saddle (or cart!) to alert motorists—or other horseback riders—to your presence.
What a difference!
Driving in Canada is fraught with surprises, especially for those who have learned to drive elsewhere.
Be safe, and enjoy the scenic wonder that is Canadian driving!