driving in Canada

Discussion in 'Canada' started by sly_karma, Dec 21, 2011.


    sly_karma Part of the Furniture Season Pass Gold

    That time of year again when the Aussies and Kiwis head across the Pacific. I've posted many times here about winter driving so you can search if you want more detail. This one hits the key points and then I thought I'd add some detail on road rules that you guys will find slightly different from home.

    Golden Rule For Winter Driving: Don't have a schedule. If you have a tight schedule, you are tempted to hurry. Not good when it's slimy out there. Knowing when to simply stay off the road is a really powerful tool that is no longer at your disposal if you must be somewhere at a certain time.

    No sudden moves. Gentle, smooth inputs on the pedals and wheel make for a stable vehicle.

    Gears are for slowing, brakes are for stopping. It's not quite as cut and dried as that, but you get the picture. Use gears for slowing smoothly and gently. No such thing as a manual rental car in nth america, but autos have gears too. Use them. The road down from ski resorts is almost always steep and twisty for an extended period of time. Put the vehicle in the appropriate gear (2nd if it is a 4 speed, likely 3rd if it has 5 or 6) and let the engine take a load off those brakes.

    Near-freezing is the slipperiest snow. Dry cold snow is relatively grippy. Be wary when the temp is hovering right around freezing. Road traction will be slippery and, worse yet, variable. Places in the sun will melt and re-freeze, shady spots, not as much. Bridge decks change temp fast because of air circulation on all sides. Warm, melting snow is mucky and there will be a constant splatter of fine spray on the windscreen from other vehicles. Make sure before going on a highway trip that you have a full tank of washer fluid, and please don't put water in there. Servos have 'windshield antifreeze', about $5 for 4 litres. Have a backup one in the boot because you are in deep poo if you get stranded out between towns with no washer fluid.
    :thumbs: Snow Addict and cold wombat like this.

    cqen2l Addicted Member Season Pass Gold

    Good advice Sly!

    jgm Active Member

    Don't forget to wash your headlights as well.

    sly_karma Part of the Furniture Season Pass Gold

    Road rules. These are based on rules in BC because that's what I know best and it's where the majority of you will be visiting. No major differences in Alberta or Washington though.

    Licence. Visitors are permitted to drive for up to 6 months with a valid licence from another country. International licence not needed, save your money and buy me a beer sometime.

    Right turn on red. Unless experessly prohibited and indicated by signs (extremely rare), you can turn right at a red light after coming to a complete stop. Providing it's clear to do so, of course.

    Left turn on red onto one way street. Same deal as above. If you're turning left onto a one-way street, you can turn once it's clear.

    Four way stop. This is an intersection where both streets have equal priority. All approaches to the intersection face a stop sign. Once you come to a halt at the stop line, you must give way to all other vehicles that were there before you: first to stop, first to go. This type of intersection is indicated by a flashing red light suspended over the centre of the roadway, and a sign saying "4 WAY" under each stop sign. Occasionally you might encounter a three-way stop, same rules as a 4 way.

    Traffic lights flashing green. These are pedestrian-controlled lights.

    Lights flashing orange near a traffic light. This will be on roads with higher speed limits. The lights begin to flash to tell you to prepare to stop: the traffic lights are about to change to orange.

    Traffic lights flashing red. Lights are out of order; treat the intersection like a it is 4 way stop.

    Roundabouts. There are a few of these around, rules are the same as for Australia but of course travel is to the right (anticlockwise). Give way to vehicles already in the roundabout. Be careful though, they are a newfangled idea in BC and the locals (especially the vast hordes of seniors) are not very used to them. Don't be surprised or annoyed at uncertain and erratic driving behaviour near roundabouts.

    Speed limits. There is no blanket 100 kmh limit outside builtup areas, it could be almost anything from 60 kmh to 110 kmh depending on the road width, number of lanes, degree of 'builtup-ness' or whatever. Speed limit signs are the same black numbers on white background we see in Australia, but they don't have the red circle. That makes them harder to see IMHO, so keep vigilant for changes in speed limits. Speed limit in builtup areas is 50 kmh unless posted otherwise.

    Speed enforcement. Generally less pervasive than Australia (eastern states anyway). Speed cameras were prohibited a decade ago (but red light cameras are still around). The unwritten rule is you can do 10kmh over the posted limit and the cops won't do a thing. That's been true for me in my 20 years of driving here, driven through many many radar traps at 10 kmh over and they don't bat an eyelid. Now of course there are times when even the posted limit might be too fast for the conditions, so always use your judgement and drive to the conditions. Radar detectors are not illegal in BC.

    Emergency vehicles. You must pull over and stop if possible when an emergency vehicle with sirens and lights is driving in the vicinity, regardless of whether it's travelling the same direction as you or not. On multi lane roads, pull into the kerb lane and stop or slow way the hell down. If there are emergency vehicles and/or tow trucks stopped, you must slow down and pull to the farther lane (multi lane roads). On roads with speed limit 70 kmh or less, you must reduce speed to 40 kmh; on roads with faster speed limit, you must slow to no more than 70 kmh.

    School zones. Reduce speed to 30 kmh between 8am and 5pm on school days - zone not in effect weekends or holidays. Cops patrol these areas and show no leniency - the only exception to my '10kmh over the limit' unwritten rule.Signage is prominent and often accompanied by flashing lights and other paraphernalia.

    School buses. These are the traditional bright yellow jobbies that are still styled like Korean War troop buses. When they pull over to pick up or drop off kids, they display very prominent flashing red lights and stop signs. Traffic in both directions must stop and wait until the red lights are turned off.

    Snow tyres/chains. Roads that cross mountain areas have signage that states that "chains or good winter tread tires are required October 1-April 30". Since it's virtually impossible to get rental companies to fit real winter rubber to their vehicles, by rights this rule applies to most of you folks. In practice, it's almost never enforced. In the last 3-4 years, the police have been targetting truck drivers and enacting mandatory chainup when road conditions are bad enough to warrant it. Passenger vehicles have not yet been subjected to this enforcement, but if you decide to carry chains, there are large chain bays at key locations on all the major passes.

    Mobile phones. You are not permitted to use a handheld mobile phone whilst driving. Handsfree units and headsets are OK provided you have voice dialling or one-touch system.

    Headlights. All vehicles must have headlights on day or night. Moot point if you're in a car built after 1999(?) as they are required to come on automatically .

    Alcohol. Actual limit is .08, but there are fines and 72 hour licence suspension for blood alcohol in the 'warn' range - between .05 and .08. Best to consider the limit to be .05 and govern yourself accordingly.

    Toll roads. There are currently no toll roads in BC. The Golden Ears Bridge over the Fraser carries a toll; it is not on any of the major highway routes in and out of the lower mainland.For ski season 2012/13 the Port Mann Bridge on the Highway 1 crossing of the Fraser will be a toll bridge; that's the main route to the interior. Watch this space for details.

    In general, attitudes to driving and vehicles are bit more relaxed compared to eastern Australia. For example, there is no annual vehicle inspection (Vancouver area cars have to be smog tested every 2 years). It's a lot easier to modify vehicles - witness the large numbers of jacked-up trucks and lowered cars. Speed enforcement is less merciless - the cops actually hand out written warnings in some cases, and 10 kmh over the limit is fine. Alcohol road checks can only ask you to blow if there is 'reasonable cause' - if they smell alcohol on the driver's breath or see open liquor in the vehicle. On the other side of the coin, road conditions can be very tricky at times. Be very careful driving in cities and towns when roads are slippery - the close proximity of other vehicles takes away a lot of your options.

    Finally: bookmark and use the Ministry of Transport website: http://www.drivebc.ca. It is an excellent resource, providing to-the-minute updates on road conditions, road works and closures. There are dozens of cams overlooking key highway and city trouble spots that update every 2 minutes.
    Last edited by a moderator: Nov 14, 2013

    markopolo Naughty Corner Resident Season Pass Gold

    handy stuff sly !

    Astro66 Still looking for a park in Thredbo

    Overtaking on dual carriage-way when snowy.
    I have had 2 cars spin-out beside me in this situation.
    This due to kerb lane is quite snow-free, due to high use, whilst overtaking lane is quite snowy. My Advice.
    Wait for long stretch of straight road.
    Slowly move into overtaking lane, and confirm you can maintain your current speed, and car is stable.
    Only then accelerate up to overtaking speed.
    Keep speed as low as possible to complete overtake before next bend in road.
    If at any time the car begins to wander, decelerate, and move slowly back to better lane.
    And as Sly says, use your gears, not your brakes, whenever possible.
    robbo mcs

    robbo mcs Dedicated Member Season Pass Gold


    Awesome info.

    The four way stops freak me out when it is busy!

    Other things I would add,

    People are worried about traction climbing up a snow covered hill. Be more concerned about downhill sections, that is where things tend to go bad. Slow down well before downhill corners because you may well need 3-4x the distance you think you do.

    If you do get a brake lockup and are skidding on ice and snow, don't keep pushing the brake pedal and turning the wheel sideways. Release the brake pedal, point the wheels straight, and then gently apply brake pressure again


    Astro66 Still looking for a park in Thredbo

    ^^^This^^^ So true.
    AWD is not going to help, going downhill, with all 4 wheels locked up.
    Last edited by a moderator: Nov 18, 2013

    jgm Active Member

    Is alternating (eg one car at a time from each road on merging roads coming onto Lions Gate) law or just a convention?
    main street

    main street Sun Peaks Resident Season Pass Gold

    Good manners.

    It's Canada !! [​IMG]
    Last edited by a moderator: Nov 12, 2013
    main street

    main street Sun Peaks Resident Season Pass Gold

    Great advice right there.

    Not just bits of Sly's post...... ALL of it.
    Last edited by a moderator: Nov 18, 2013
    main street

    main street Sun Peaks Resident Season Pass Gold

    One thing I would add to this.....

    When being overtaken.

    You're on unfamiliar roads in conditions you're not used to so common sense would tell you to back off a bit..... hence you are likely to be slower than the "local" traffic.

    When people get out into that snowy lane to go past you, make life a bit easier for all & just ease off the throttle a tad.

    It gives you more control & allows them some extra space to get back onto the better patch of road.
    Last edited by a moderator: Nov 18, 2013

    sly_karma Part of the Furniture Season Pass Gold

    MS beat me to it. Just because you're comfortable at your chosen speed doesn't mean you should force everyone to blast past you. A foot off the gas for a few moments to make their pass faster is a whole lot safer for all and achieves the same net result anyway. 100% true in summer too.

    Astro, I'm not in fully in agreement with your passing advice. I like to do it quickly for several reasons.
    1. no one likes the wanker who creeps past at 1kmh faster than the car they're passing
    2. takes up way too much length of a passing lane and denies others their chance to get past a slow vehicle before the lane ends.
    3. exposes the passing vehicle to the less predictable snow conditions out in the passing lane for a lot longer
    4. lengthens the 'splatter zone' time for the passed vehicle. BTW, make sure to get a fair bit in front of the passed vehicle before pulling back into the slow lane, no one likes having slush and gravel thrown at them from close range.
    5. try passing a B double (known as B train here) very slowly and you'll likely run off the road. Those guys create their own snowstorm.

    Pick a straight piece of road and make the pass as quickly as is safe. If you have to go to unsafe speeds to do so, then ask yourself: DO I REALLY NEED TO PASS THIS VEHICLE? It's winter, reduce expectations and speeds and we'll all make it home tonight. Even better if people being passed would lift their foot for a moment and let it happen gracefully.
    main street

    main street Sun Peaks Resident Season Pass Gold

    Those B doubles still make me nervous over here..... They don't appear to slow down for ANYTHING.
    main street

    main street Sun Peaks Resident Season Pass Gold

    The "time to get from A to B" can be interesting......

    One rule of thumb here in winter I use is that if Google directions tells me it will take 4 hrs 40 mins to get from Vancouver to Sun Peaks (for example) ..... I'll ADD 50% to that time & figure on that being my BEST time to get there if someone wants a ballpark arrival time.

    Through the mountain passes, the limits are typically 100/110 ..... but on a crappy day you can be crawling along at 30 - 50 klm hr for extended periods quite easily
    main street

    main street Sun Peaks Resident Season Pass Gold

    AND tail lights !!
    Last edited by a moderator: Nov 18, 2013

    bigwhite-rameok Active Member

    All great advice - Just one more - If you happen to find yourself on a dark highway and it is snowing heavily, do NOT use high-beam headlights, you'll just blind yourself as the light reflects off the snow right back at you. If it's snowing heavy, you should be travelling slow enough anyways that low-beam headlights will do the job much better.

    snowtyres Active Member Season Pass Gold


    sly_karma Part of the Furniture Season Pass Gold

    BW-R's post reminds me of one that should have gone on the original list: avoid driving snowy roads at night if you can. It's certainly not impossible, but Australian drivers used to reflectors on shoulders and centreline will find the non-reflectorised roads here a handful at night. Some roads have centreline rumble strips, some have shoulder rumble strips, most have none at all. Reflectors on road surfaces or posts are pointless, the snowploughs would wipe them out in no time. Bare roads are fine but when there's snow covering the shoulder and centre lines, you can have a hard time telling which way the road goes - especially when you can't use high beam. Snow driving in the dark is a lot more tiring because you're constantly craning forward trying to see.

    cqen2l Addicted Member Season Pass Gold

    The lack of reflectors was the first thing that got my attention when night driving to Rossland many years ago. Driving in an all white landscape certainly focuses your mind.
    You quite quickly come to appreciate Hotham's orange poles (now fitted with reflectors).

    Astro66 Still looking for a park in Thredbo

    You sound like you enjoy pulling the band aid off quickly.
    Where I prefer to savour the pain for longer. [​IMG]

    I think I'll continue to pass slowly. Both the cars that spun-out beside me were trying to perform a quick pass. But I understand the logic.
    Last edited by a moderator: Nov 18, 2013

    sara777 Addicted Member Season Pass Gold

    I've grown up in Europe and drove my car for 8 years in sometimes dire winter conditions. When lots of snow, I had to get up 20 min earlier, put the engine on, scape the windows, reverse step by step and drive to work keeping it to single rules as pointed in all posts - hardly ever use brakes only when stopped, use gears instead ( and manuals are much more prevalent in Europe ). Keep the distance and overtake only when absolutely necessary. Special caution downhill. Good winter tyres.
    Except for one slipping of the road to avoid an accident, I made it somehow ( and my partner says I am not the best driver [​IMG] ). In my experience most accidents were caused by people in a hurry or underestimating the road condition..
    Last edited by a moderator: Nov 12, 2013

    tobyinsydney Active Member

    One thing I would add, and apologies if it has been mentioned already.

    Ensure your washer fluid is topped up on a regular basis. You need the stuff that doesn't freeze (from the petrol station or Canadian Tyre). Check it before a long drive.. Running out of it means your screen will quickly become totally blocked by dirty dried on snow and mud if driving on the Hwy or many busy roads.

    Donza Pool Room

    hows when sheets of ice blow off them...thats nuts..
    Last edited by a moderator: Nov 18, 2013

    Donza Pool Room

    They should have the japanese solution to that problem...
    arrows suspended over the road...pointing down
    Last edited by a moderator: Nov 18, 2013

    Triangle42 Just Registered

    Also, Look out for pedestrians at all intersections and also in built up areas at all times. Canadian rule of thumb seems to be that the pedestrian has right of way over vehicles, probably because it is cold and snowing outside and you are in a nice warm car. I have had a couple of close misses in Banff where pedestrians have walked out in front of me nowhere near an intersection.

    Astro66 Still looking for a park in Thredbo

    Sound advice this. Missus just about tore me a new one, when spots of mud were spoiling her Canadian Wilderness photos. [​IMG]
    Last edited by a moderator: Nov 18, 2013

    sly_karma Part of the Furniture Season Pass Gold

    If the conditions are really mucky and there's lots of traffic out there with you, you can burn through a full reservoir in a couple of hours of highway driving. Hence my note to carry a backup.

    Cars get disgustingly dirty in winter, those drive-through car wash places do a roaring trade. Lots of people have a summer car - often something sporty - that gets insured only half the year and sits in the garage during the cold months. That's another detail that's different from Australia - you can insure and register a car for as little as 3 months. In BC, the provincial government pretty much has a lock on motor vehicle insurance so you only deal with one place for everything. Renewing for the year takes about 10 minutes, then apply the new sticker and off you go. If you buy a car at a dealership, they will call the insurance agent who comes there and does all the paperwork on the spot. No cover note, you drive off with plates, papers, everything. The same bunch does all the drivers licences too, so they have you cold if you don't pay your speeding tickets.

    Darksidepoints Active Member

    Good advice RE road rules, snow driving and especially pedestrians!

    I just want to mention that your rental car that comes with 'winter tires' is more likely to have mud tires than proper snow ones, so take care and be aware that the cars you are following probably have better tires than you, so do not try to match their speed. Especially if you rent the economy car, if you try to drive as fast as the 4wd in front you will just keep sliding.

    IZN Active Member

    Sly, thanks for initiating this topic.
    I am going to Vancouver early Feb and driving to Revelstoke and back so I am sure the driving tips will be handy.

    I have limited snow driving experience, but I think I have experienced the extremes of snow driving in Japan and AU and I know how important tires are for snow driving.

    In Japan I drove a Nissan Micra with snow tires and I felt safe all the time: on ice, fresh snow and everything else in between...
    In the other hand, in Australia 5 years ago during the Opening Weekend, I spun my Pajero (4x4 low gear but without chains) on my way to Perisher. I was doing less than 20Km/h so after completing a 360 the car stopped on the side of the road. Luckily, I kept more than 100 meters distance from the car in front of me an I had no issues to continue (now even slower). That day was carnage, I remember an ute with chains in the rear being completely unable to steer ... anyway I digress...

    I cannot find a car rental in Vancouver that provides vehicles with snow tires (actually I found only one and they charge whooping 2.5 times more for the car, which is not viable) and they don't provide snow chains either.
    So at this stage I am planning to rent a RAV 4 with all season tires. I have never driven on snow with all season tires so it is hard for me to know how they would perform. When I was in Jackson Hole it was -40C the roads were like an ice skating ring and everyone I asked was driving around on all season tires with no issues...

    My understanding is that by law there are some passes where chains/snow tires are mandatory and police could fine you or ask you to return.

    -Will I cross mountain passes that require chains/snow tires on the way to Revelstoke from Vancouver?
    -Regardless of the requirement, SHOULD I carry chains?
    -Where would be a good place to buy/rent chains near Vancouver?
    main street

    main street Sun Peaks Resident Season Pass Gold


    Plenty of signage on the roads about it too.

    Yes,.... several

    If you only have "all season" tyres on the car, Yes.

    On my last two trips to SP/BW, I have seen several 4WD's (& other cars) speared off the side of the road.... "all season" tyres, aren't.

    At highway speeds (90 klm/hr +), slick ice patches come at you very quickly & without warning.

    One small "oops" can completely ruin your holiday,..... why run the risk ?

    Canadian Tire - There are stores everywhere in Vancouver.
    Last edited by a moderator: Nov 18, 2013
    main street

    main street Sun Peaks Resident Season Pass Gold

    Some more handy stuff......

    Invest in some tea candles, extra water & some munchies for the trip in case you do get stuck or held up. It gets damn cold when you're just waiting for the road to clear..... & that can be several hours.

    Also,.... don't even consider pushing the edge of the envelope re fuel. If you have to travel over mountain passes & you have less than 1/2 a tank of fuel on board, fill up. Not only does it add that extra 30-40 kilo's in weight (making traction just that little bit better on ice), It could save your life if you get stuck.

    HappyGirl Dedicated Member

    I just love Ice Road Truckers.

    sly_karma Part of the Furniture Season Pass Gold

    There is a critter out there called M+S tires - Mud and Snow. This is an all season compound with a chunkier tread pattern similar to winters. What they lack is the key part: low temp rubber compound. The tire industry's Severe Winter rating (the one with the 'mountain and snowflake' logo) means the tire is made of a softer compound that remains flexible (and therefore more grippy) at low temps. The industry says conventional compounds start to harden from +7C and colder. This is what you want to be using for general snow driving; braking and cornering characteristics are considerably enhanced. Studs can be added for added traction on ice.

    Getting real winter tires is an ongoing problem with rental cars because of the cost. The mainstream rental companies keep their cars for 12-18 months, meaning they will see probably only one winter. Spending up to $1000 on tires per vehicle is a considerable sum when spread across a fleet, not to mention the logistics of scheduling the tire changes and storing the off-season tires. Also, winter is slow time in the car rental world and the bean counters have everyone instructed to tighten their belts, not to be spending money that they view as hard to recoup. Likely the only way we'll see real winter rubber on rental fleets is for provincial governments to make them mandatory on all vehicles, as is the case in Quebec - the only jurisdiction to do so as yet. Until then, they will continue to duck the issue. As IZN is doing, best bet is to get some kind of AWD or 4WD system, that will at least help forward traction on steep hills or driveways. Just remember it does nothing for braking or cornering.
    main street

    main street Sun Peaks Resident Season Pass Gold

    Nasty conditions out there for the next few days..... Take extra care out there people.
    main street

    main street Sun Peaks Resident Season Pass Gold

    Mods,.... Can we make this thread a sticky please ?

    sly_karma Part of the Furniture Season Pass Gold

    bump, another winter season just starting. Suggest new readers go back to the start for the original post.

    northsail Dedicated Member

    Tips/rules for following snow ploughs?

    Chester Dedicated Member

    1) keep your distance (especially if you're driving your own car) to avoid the grime they throw up and salt they're sometimes spraying on the roads.

    2) do not even think about overtaking

    3) be patient

    4) smile, because it's snowing

    northsail Dedicated Member


    sly_karma Part of the Furniture Season Pass Gold

    Depends on what the conditions are like and how much it's snowing, whether it's a busy highway that gets plowed heaps or a quiet road where that plow might well be the only one out there tonight. Unless the conditions are pretty damn ugly, I wait for the right spot and pass the plow like any other slow moving vehicle. Occasionally it can be some gruesome out there that it's better to tuck in behind and take the safe but slow trip. However, don't be fooled into thinking that plow driver will stop and help if you still somehow manage to go off the road.

    EquatorBunny Active Member

    Awesome thread guys. Very handy for my trip this Saturday.

    I can remember asking someone about driving from Whistler to Revelstoke in the other thread.
    On Google, it gave 2 options. one through Lillooet and another is to go back to Vancouver and drive up to Merritt. Both route joins at Kamloops.

    So can I do this trip for the whole day? If so, I imagine the morning would be pretty icey to start driving? I only had experience while driving in NZ. [​IMG]

    Also, been reading a lot from other website, avalanche related road block can take up to a day!!! I better be flexible now, although everything has been booked. [​IMG]
    Last edited by a moderator: Nov 12, 2013

    sly_karma Part of the Furniture Season Pass Gold

    Go via Vancouver this time around. Roads are better, smoother, lower, straighter. That's a long day to put in especially getting used to winter roads and right side of the road. The back road through Lillooet is advanced level, save it for the next trip.

    Lots of freeway driving for you, that has its hazards too. Keep an eye on the outside temp and take cruise control off if there's so much as a sniff of frost or slush.

    Hacski Guest

    I'd remembered this thread but didn't know where it was. Must bookmark it for planning next Jan. Thx SK.

    Ralph_implement Addicted Member

    It's one of my favourite threads on this board as it is so useful. Could a Mod consider making it sticky since this is now a Canada forum, not just a Travel forum???

    Astro66 Still looking for a park in Thredbo

    Just did the Revie to Van leg last month. Watch out for road closures due to avalanche.

    Got caught for 2 hrs at Chateau on Lake. Otherwise it's pretty straight forward. Took breaks at Kamploops and Chilliwack.

    Beautiful drive. Make sure you keep windows clean for missus to take photos.
    Last edited by a moderator: Dec 13, 2013

    chunky Old And Crusty

    We got stuck in Revie for a couple of days due to avalanches so be prepared for that if you take the drive over in snowy weather too. If you get stuck in Golden it's a long detour south.
    Telemark Phat

    Telemark Phat Part of the Furniture Season Pass Gold

    I found Truck drivers to be shocking corner cutters. I always drove as far to the right as I possibly could.

    northsail Dedicated Member

    Good place to be stuck in! Two days of skiing?
    Last edited by a moderator: Dec 13, 2013

    chunky Old And Crusty

    Unfortunately no. The resort had restrictions in place and the visibility would not have been fun at all. Lucky we have a friend, who lives there to keep us entertained. Spewing cos we had been thinking lets try some backcountry snowmobiling with a guide here too.