Driving in Canada: Your Complete Guide

18th May, 2023, in Travel Advice & Guides

If you are visiting Canada, whether it be for work or pleasure, there is every chance you will need a hire car to help you get across the vast and varied landscape that Canada offers.

With so many fantastic places to visit and some incredibly remote destinations that top many bucket lists, you want to make sure you plan well and follow the laws to ensure you enjoy the trip as much as possible.

One common aspect of your trip worth learning about is the rules around driving.  With well over one million kilometres of road linking you to the various provinces, cities and towns of the huge country, swotting up on the road rules puts you in good stead as you navigate Nova Scotia or travel Toronto.

What Side of The Road do They Drive on in Canada?

Perhaps a good place to start would be the side of the road you need to be on when driving in Canada.

In Canada, the right side of the road is the one people drive on, if you are reading this in the UK, this may require a little getting used to!

Driving on a different side of the road can lead to confusion about who has the right of way but in Canada as long as you follow so simple rules it is relatively easy.

There are a few variations with right of way in Canada, so it pays to give them a little attention to ensure you do not get caught out.

  • If you are at a red light at an intersection, you are allowed to turn right but must do so carefully, watching out for pedestrians.
  • At a four-way crossroad or intersection without traffic lights the driver to the right has the right of way.
  • Flashing green lights mean you have the right of way to turn left – however, this can vary from place to place so check the rules for your specific destination first!

What Are The Speed Limits in Canada?

Now that you have a good idea of what side of the road you need to be on, it would perhaps be worth knowing just how fast or slow you should be going when on them.

Where in the UK, we will drive to limits set in miles per hour, Canadians follow speed limits set out in kilometers per hour.

All roads will have the relevant signs posted on them. The maximum and minimum speed limit signs in Canada are white with black writing but signs exhibiting the recommended speed limit will be yellow with black writing. Please note though that should you visit Quebec, signs are not allowed to use the English language and instead rely on pictograms and French.

Speed limits can vary across territories although in most cases there is not much difference between them. One thing to note is the difference between statutory speed limits and posted speed limits.  Statutory speed limits are set by statute in each province or territory whereas posted speed limits are those imposed on a set part of the road. For example, the 1A Highway in Alberta has a maximum statutory limit of 100km/h but a posted limit of 30km/h once you reach a certain point.

You can expect speed limits to be posted on all roads as follows:

  • Highways set at a maximum of 80-100km/h with a minimum of 60km/h
  • Urban roads will normally be set at a maximum of 50km/h unless stated otherwise
  • Rural roads outside of towns will be set between 60-80km/h

Driving in Canada From UK And Understanding The Roads

So now that you know what side you can drive on and how fast or slow you should be going, we should explain the differing road types that you may find yourself on when driving across Canada.

Minor Arterial Roads

These roads exist mainly to aid the movement of traffic and will normally provide access to property. There will be no stop signs but instead, intersections controlled by traffic lights will be present.

Major Arterial Roads

Similar to the minor arterial roads, these exist for traffic movement but are subject to access controls such as lights or lines which will allow you to enter the traffic flow. Sidewalks will normally adorn both sides of such roads.


Expressways or highways are the equivalents of British motorways and German autobahns. They can run for long distances and cannot be used by cyclists or pedestrians at all.

Collector Roads

A collector road links traffic to the major arterial roads, they will be signposted at intersections with the arterial roads and will have sidewalks on both sides.

Local Roads

The local roads are the smaller, slower roads and will mainly provide access to properties in rural and suburban areas. The speed limits will be low and at least one sidewalk must be available.

Road Rules in Canada

As with any country, there will be specific rules you must adhere to when driving. Now that you have a better understanding of what side you drive on, how fast you can drive, and the different road types in Canada, let’s clear up some of the common road rules for driving in Canada.

  • Drive on the right side of the road and pass on the left.
  • Pedestrians will always have the right of way.
  • Seat belts must be worn at all times.
  • You must stop at red lights or stop signs. Failing to do so can result in penalties.
  • Use of mobile phones is not permitted unless via being used hands-free.
  • Speed limits must always be adhered to. Photo radar detectors are frequently in use.
  • Drivers must stop, or drive cautiously when approaching stopped school buses.
  • Drink driving is a serious offence but the level of blood alcohol content deemed acceptable varies across the provinces.
  • Right-hand turns will be permitted at red lights unless stated otherwise.
  • If in Nova Scotia your headlights must be on at all times.
  • Child seats must be used for any passenger weighing less than 20 kg.

What Age Can I Rent a Car in Canada?

The minimum driving age in Canada is 16, but you must be at least 20 to rent a car. Should you be under 25, you will be required to pay a young driver’s fee. This cost varies but can be around $25 per day. Check with your rental car agent before booking should this fee end up applying to you.

Common Hazards Driving in Canada

Canada is a land of contrasts so you could very easily find yourself driving in relatively dry conditions only to find that you are encountering a blizzard in the latter stages of your journey! Other times you can be leaving an area of nice cool temperatures and find yourself basking in 40C heat just a little later. We have broken down the 2 extremes and listed what you should do to ensure your journey is safe for you and your passengers.

Driving in Canada in The Winter

Canadian winters can be very cold! When the thermometer hits -40 there can be certain challenges. Snow, black ice, and even wild animals all make for a rather different driving experience from what you may normally be used to. If you head out on the Canadian roads in the winter in your hire car, make sure you do the following when driving in snowy conditions or exceptionally cold weather:

  • Check road conditions before leaving. Some provinces will have websites specifically for this.
  • Look at the forecast for now as well as the rest of the day
  • Ensure your hire car has winter tires and/or chains. This is a legal requirement in some areas.
  • Bring road maps just in case your phone or other navigation tools fail.
  • Dress appropriately
  • Drive cautiously keeping an eye out for black ice and other hazards.
  • Pack heaters and sleeping bags.
  • Check you have contact numbers for emergency services and tow trucks.
  • Inform people of where you are heading
  • Plan alternate routes should the weather send you off course.

Driving in Canada in Warm Weather

The summer months in Canada can be quite hard on drivers. Although much more driver-friendly than then winter, summer does pose problems too. Temperatures of 30-40c are common and this can lead to accidents. Especially on long journeys taking you across vast areas of the country.

  • Prepare for the heat by packing plenty of water
  • Watch out for weather changes. Lots of heat and humidity can bring thunderstorms.
  • Hot weather and long journeys can make driving a lethargic task. Take regular stops to stave off sleeping at the wheel.
  • Look out for wild animals. Some choose the warmer weather to come out from their hides and hunt!
  • Ensure you have filled the car with fuel. Long stretches of road can eat a lot of fuel and sometimes the distances between fuel stops can be large.

Can I Drive in Canada With a UK License?

You can use your UK license to drive a hire car in Canada, but some hire companies may request that you also have an International Driving Permit. You will be allowed to use your license for six months before needing to obtain a Canadian license. Although some provinces allow only three.

Car Insurance in Canada For Hire Cars

Everybody driving in Canada must have car insurance and the minimum liability varies across the Provinces so you should look into that when hiring and insuring your car.

For added peace of mind, it is worth adding worldwide car hire excess insurance. That way you remain further protected should anything unfortunate happen whilst you have your hire car. With policies that cover multiple trips or policies that are purely holiday car hire excess insurance, you can avoid the costly excess fees that could otherwise put a downer on your Canadian adventure.

Direct Car Hire Excess can give you a free excess insurance quote today! Contact us to find out more.

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