Auto Insurance

Stay in your lane: Unusual driving laws in Canada

By: Joel Kranc on March 24, 2023
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Getting a driver’s license is an important milestone. However, the promise of freedom afforded to a young driver or newcomer in Canada isn’t without its own responsibilities. And those responsibilities — i.e., the rules of conduct that apply to every driver — are regulated from province to province, with some slight differences in between.  

Breaking down federal traffic laws  

At the federal level, the Motor Vehicle Safety Act sets national safety standards for vehicles, equipment and drivers only. 

Some of the most common laws that you will find in any part of the country (and most of North America, for that matter) include: 

  • A valid driver’s license is required to operate a motorized vehicle 

  • Drivers should drive on the right side of the road and pass on the left 

  • Cell phones and other devices are not allowed while driving 

  • Seat belts are mandatory 

  • Impaired driving is never allowed 

  • Pedestrians always have the right of way 

  • Drivers must stop (or proceed with caution) when encountering stopped school buses 

  • Anyone in Canada driving a vehicle must have insurance 

The above list is just a sample of the most common laws that affect any driver anywhere in Canada.  

Regulations from province to province 

At the provincial level, enforcement is related to rules of the road, vehicle repairs, road design and maintenance, and licensing and registration. Your insurance is handled at the provincial level, as well.  

While most provincial rules mirror each other, there are enough differences between them you need to be informed of when moving from one area to the next. For example, did you know it’s illegal to make right turns on a red light in Montreal? That is not the case in most other areas within Canada (including the rest of Quebec!). 

Because road design and maintenance are provincially regulated, speed limits in Canada vary as well. The maximum speed on most highways is 100km/h but it can be lower in other areas. Speed limits are also different in areas such as residential, school zones, and construction zones. 

Some other provincial differences (and lesser-known laws) include: 

  • In British Columbia, it is illegal to use an electronic device while driving, even if it is hands-free. This includes cell phones, GPS devices, and even portable music players. Drivers can face fines and demerit points for violating this law. 

  • Not allowing a vehicle to pass in the left lane of a multi-lane highway in B.C. can get you three demerit points and a $167 fine. 

  • A vehicle’s gears must not be in neutral and the clutch must not be disengaged when traveling down a hill in B.C. 

  • In Ontario, it is illegal to drive with a passenger in the front seat who is not wearing a seatbelt.  

  • In Prince Edward Islands, you are technically supposed to honk if you want to pass another vehicle so that your intention is clear. That law, however, is generally not enforced.  

  • In Saskatchewan, it is illegal to drive with a pet on your lap. This law is designed to prevent distracted driving, which can be dangerous for both the driver and their furry companion. 

  • Also in Saskatchewan, it is illegal to hold onto a moving vehicle on the highway – better known as the “Back to the Future” rule. 

When you travel between provinces, it’s important to be aware of these subtle differences in road regulations. Violating driving laws in Canada will have negative consequences for your insurance rates.  

Additionally, many insurers offer discounts to good drivers, such as a claims-free discount of 10% or more, a conviction-free discount of 10% or more, and an accident forgiveness clause whereby you will be “forgiven” by the insurer if you get into one at-fault accident.   

Each province has different fines and demerit point systems for traffic violations. Your insurance provider will monitor any infractions and increase rates accordingly. If you get too many demerits or fines, you may lose your insurance altogether. Your best bet is to drive safely, educate yourself about local traffic laws, and stay in your lane. And before even hitting the road, compare insurance quotes to sure you're getting the best policy for your driving needs. 

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