Canada at a Glance
Driving in Canada
Canada has over one million kilometers of roads, ranking the 6th largest in the world. Transport Canada is responsible for issuing specific information about almost everything to do with driving in Canada. Due to the country’s enormous size and the fact that Canada consists of ten provinces and three territories, there are various rules to pay attention to when driving in Canada.
How Essential is it to Have a Car?
With more uninhabited territory than you can imagine, Canada‘s topography covers everything from dense forests to long coastlines, from mountainous terrain to endless prairies. Therefore driving in Canada is generally indispensable. In 2004, out of a population of 25.8 million people over the age of 16, there were 21.6 million Canadians with driver’s licenses and more than 25 million registered vehicles.
Your need for a car depends on where in Canada you plan to relocate: downtown; in the suburbs; or, in the country. In Canada’s largest cities – Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver – many locals opt for public transit or bicycles. It is no wonder when one takes into account the most recent Congestion Index Report published by GPS maker TomTom in 2013. Vancouver ranks as the second most congested city in North America, second only to Los Angeles. Toronto comes in sixth and Montreal tenth. Considering that there are more inhabitants in the state of California than in all of Canada, for three Canadian cities to rank in the top ten is surprising.
In downtown Toronto it can cost more to purchase a parking spot than a new car! If you are set on downtown living, you might be better off without a car.
Road Infrastructure in Canada
Canada has a well-constructed network of roads, especially in the south and southeast. Road conditions for driving in Canada, especially in large cities, are generally excellent, and aside from the usual rush hour traffic, you will not encounter many problems. The most important road in Canada is the Trans-Canada Highway from St. John’s, Newfoundland to Victoria, British Columbia. At around 8,000 km, it is also the longest federal point-to-point road in the world. Other important roads are the Alaska Highway in the west, which stretches from Edmonton, Alberta to Alaska, and the Mackenzie Highway from Alberta to the Northwest Territories. The federal government is working on building a network of access roads in Yukon and the Northwest Territories. To check delays and road conditions, the Weather Network provides up-to-date information, especially for highways.
As stated before, for many Canadians driving is essential. The majority of the population uses a car daily, whether for going to work, the supermarket, or on a family trip. If you do not want to import your car or buy a new one, another option for driving in Canada is leasing a vehicle. There are many car companies that offer this, as Canadians who cannot afford to purchase a car often take advantage of this method. Keep in mind that you must be at least twenty-one (or older, in some provinces) and have a valid license.
Driving Safely in Canadian Winters
With the exception of Vancouver, winters in Canada are severe. Although the government tries to keep up road maintenance, the freezing temperatures and heavy snow take their toll on the roads. Driving in winter requires the utmost caution. You should use snow tires and carry appropriate supplies when travelling longer distances, especially in rural areas. In addition to having your car checked regularly at a garage, here are some supplies to keep in your car when driving in Canada during winter:
- snow chains that fit your tires
- extra windshield washer fluid that is made for sub-freezing temperatures
- blankets, emergency food (such as snack bars), and water
- cell phone or GPS
- snow brush
- ice scraper
- traction mats
- a bag of salt, sand or kitty litter
- sunglasses to avoid snow blindness
- flashlight with extra batteries
- Fuel system de-icer
- A warning device like emergency lights or flares
Driving in Canada’s harsh winter conditions can be dangerous, especially your first time. If you do not feel comfortable in such conditions, it is best to stay at home. That said, any Canuck will tell you that winter driving is not only possible but also simply a part of Canadian life. Just be prepared. Drive slower than usual. Factor in the extra time that you need to remove the snow and ice from your car and to warm it up. Drive with low-beams only.
Larger Canadian cities are usually prepared for winter and take care to plough and sand streets as soon as possible after a snowfall. Some roads and bridges may be closed during severe weather or for the remainder of the winter. Always make sure to pay attention to the traffic and weather advisories on television and the radio.
In addition to the winter weather, which may make roads unsafe for everyone driving in Canada, in rural areas you should pay attention to deer, elk, and moose, which tend to cross roads at random, especially in winter and at night. Since 1979 more Canadians have died from car accidents than were killed in World War II. Fortunately, the number of fatal car accidents has been declining. In 1979, there were 5,933 fatalities caused by car accidents and in 2009 there were 2,406. Nonetheless, it’s important to always be alert.