Driving in Canada from an English Point of View

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On my way to Kitchener for Oktoberfest 2011

Living in a place so enormously, huge in its bigness (To parody Monty Python’s Michael Palin), it became apparent very early on that if I wanted to get anywhere in Canada then I would need to get some wheels.

It cost $70 (£100 at the time) to transfer my UK driving license over to an Ontario driving license. Oddly they had to confiscate my UK driver’s license. When asked why the exchange needed to take place the lady behind the counter simply replied “Sorry, it’s the law”. I also found it interesting that I wasn’t given a test to see if I understood or was aware of the fact that some of the road rules and driving etiquette would be different in Canada.

Some of these differences were easy to get used to and some were not so easy.

Turning Right on Red (Except in Montreal)

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Turning right on a red light

In Canada you are allowed to turn right on a red light providing you have given way (Or yielded) to cars that have the green light. Oddly enough this law doesn’t exist in Montreal…trust the French to be awkward.

Driving on the Opposite Side of the Road

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Map showing what side of the road countries drive on

I had already been in Canada a few months so had already gotten used to riding on the opposite side of the road. I had also driven an automatic before so that didn’t bother me either. However, my ex-partner would complain that when driving I would veer slightly to the right. This was because I was used to having the road lines to my immediate right. At first I kept having to remind myself to keep close to the left road lines, else I would side swipe some poor old lady.

Stop Signs

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A Canadian stop sign: “Stop eh!”

There are an abundance of stop signs when you come to a side road leading into a main road, so when driving in the suburbs it feels like you have to stop every ten metres even if there are no other cars about. With these stop signs often comes confusion as to whose turn it is to go. The rule of thumb is that the person to your right has the right of way if he/she arrived first and you continue counter-clockwise (anti-clockwise for us Brits). Do you think people abide by these rules? Of course not. So there is a lot of starting, stopping, flashing of headlights, looking at each other. “Is it your turn?”, “Shall I go?” etc. It’s pretty moronic. In England we use give way signs and it is simple. If you are coming from a smaller road into a bigger road then you give way to the drivers on the bigger road. Simple!

Highways and Overtaking

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How to use lanes on a Canadian Highway

While over-taking I had to remember to perform this maneuver on the left rather than the right on the highways as my natural instinct is to overtake on the right. I was recently told that there is no law in Canada about which side you are allowed to overtake on so one needs to be extra vigilante as people on the highways.

Kilometers vs Miles

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Think metric!!!

And while we’re on the subject of highways, I had to get used to converting kilometres into miles which is disheartening but heartening at the same time. Imagine you are driving along a highway and you see 200KM to Moose Jaw or Yellow Knife, or another of the wonderfully named Canadian town names, and you think “Hmmm that’s a long way”. However, the number seems to drop quickly as you speed along at 100KM per hour an it gives you the illusion that you are going faster than you actually are.

Canada is a Huge Place

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A map comparing the size of the UK to Canada…please ignore the Empire statement as this was produced in 1928. 

I also had to get used to the vast distances needed to travel when driving around the province. Ontario alone is approximately eight to ten times bigger than England and it is just one of several provinces. It gives you an idea of just how huge Canada is. In England we consider two hours to be a long drive. In Canada two hours is a quick drive up the road. They consider twelve hours to be a long drive. To fly from British Columbia on the west coast to Newfoundland on the east coast can take up to seven hours. Imagine flying from Heathrow or Gatwick airports in England for seven hours. Imagine how many countries you could pass over. Canada is a bloody big country.

Signalling

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Well? Are they?

Canadian drivers don’t seem to know where the indicator switch is. They’ll quite happily veer out into your path without indicating although when told this they will palm off the blame on foreign drivers. In Markham, they would reply “They were probably a Chinese driver”. (If you’re from Alberta you will blame it on a Saskatchewan or “Skatchy”).

Saying ‘Thank You’

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A quick wave or flash of the lights would suffice

Canadian drivers also do not wave thank you when you give way to them and I found this incredibly rude. In England when someone has given way to you or, as a pedestrian, stopped to let you cross the road, you give a quick wave, flash your lights, quickly click the hazard lights on or off, or give some signal that can constitute a ‘Thank You’. Canadian drivers do none of these which I find odd considering that they are a polite and kind people when talking face to face.

Emergency Vehicles

A speeding ambulance

Always pull over and stop for emergency vehicles

It is the law that you must pull over and stop when an emergency vehicle has its sirens on. Even if you are on the opposite side of the road you must still pull over allowing the emergency vehicle easy and safe passage through the traffic. Makes sense.

School Buses

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The typical North American school bus that us Brits first see in countless Hollywood movies.

Now let’s talk big yellow school buses. These things are a pain in the arse. They are huge monstrosities that clog up the suburban roads. They don’t just stop at designated bus stops along main roads but seem pick up and drop off kids at their houses. Yes right outside their houses! Also when they stop to pick up or drop off a child a little ‘stop’ sign extends from the driver’s side and traffic on both sides of the road by law have to stop when on suburban roads.

I have a question…why? Why do these huge monsters need to drive down small streets and block traffic? Children have legs can’t they walk to the end of the road and be picked up at a more suitable location?

I appreciate that in winter no-one wants to stand out in the -15°C cold waiting for a bus but then again that’s why we wear winter clothes and besides it’ll build character for the little mummy’s boys who grow up to have long hair covering their eyes that they constantly have to flick to keep out of their eyes making them look like they have a tic. Anyway the bottom line is when driving, if I see a yellow bus, I avoid it like the plague.

Have I forgotten anything?

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10 responses to “Driving in Canada from an English Point of View

  1. Great post! Have to admit that the courtesy wave is sorely missed. It used to be a standard on Canadian roads. It has seemingly disappeared over the last decade or so as we become more multicultural.

  2. One of my main reasons for not moving to England is that I would have difficulty learning to how to drive on the left side of the road (and all of the maneuvering that would be the reverse of what I am accustomed to.) I was nervous as a passenger in the car. I would agree with you that the English are very polite about giving way on narrow roads. I was impressed by that.

    I remember a time when children were met by a school bus at a designated bus stop. Children are no longer expected to walk to a bus stop or to school even if the school is at a short distance.

    • Thanks for commenting 🙂 Being a passenger in a country where they drive on the opposite side of the road helps alot. I had been in Canada three months before I drove. However now I’m back in England it feels just as strange to me I keep going to get in on the wrong side of the car.
      Like I said Canadians are very polite when speaking face to face and I can’t understand why this doesn’t translate to driving.
      Admittedly it was cool seeing the big yellows buses that I had seen in the movies but they really shouldn’t be allowed down small roads, Especially when a main road is less than 100metres away.

      • I had only a few days in England so I was nervous about being a passenger in the front seat, especially going through the roundabouts. I’m afraid I would become disoriented and move to the right side of the road.

        By your comment, should I take it that yellow school buses are not used in England? I have flashbacks when I see school buses as they are a haven for bullies. I can’t get past the trauma of the past. lol.

      • Yeah roundabouts can seem daunting if you are not used to them.
        We don’t have yellow school busses in England. They tend to be designated buses but they look just like any other bus.
        I’d still rather drive in Canada than Rome lol

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