Many Americans are planning to visit Canada this year. For some, it’ll be their first visit to their northern neighbour. If you’re planning to drive up to Vancouver, you may curious about the driving regulations and whether there are any major differences between driving in the USA and driving in Canada.

Driving in Canada is like driving in the USA. But also like the USA, driving rules and regulations are not a country-wide phenomenon; in Canada, they vary from one province to the next. In the province of British Columbia where Vancouver is located, there are certain things you should know, and other driving tips that are specific to Vancouver. To help set expectations, I put together this basic overview to help inform Americans planning their first driving trip to Canada’s third-largest city.

Canada uses the metric system

Speeds, weights, volumes, and distances are measured differently than in the USA.

  • Speeds are posted in kilometers per hour (km/h).
  • Distances are measured in kilometers (km) and meters (m).
  • Heights (ex: elevation) are measured in meters (m).
  • Gas prices are in (Canadian) cents per litre (and gas is taxed heavily in Vancouver). It costs me around $45 to fill up my Honda Civic sedan in Vancouver these days, though prices fluctuate. That’s about $35 in US dollars at today’s exchange rate.

Despite this, Canadians still talk about their body weight and height in feet, inches, and pounds. But that’s another topic!

Prices are in Canadian dollars

In short, when in Canada, use the Canadian dollar. It’s as simple as that.

  • All prices are quoted in Canadian dollars ($).
  • Parking meters and pay stations only accept Canadian coins, though many accept credit cards.
  • Gas stations will accept credit cards, debit cards, and Canadian cash.
  • Nobody pays with American dollars, though most businesses will accept them as a courtesy to the few American tourists who insist, but the change is always given in Canadian dollars.
  • American coins are treated like Canadian coins and will be accepted at Canadian value.
  • If you need to get Canadian dollars for cash expenses, use an ATM while in Canada. It’ll withdraw Canadian dollars from your American bank account and will automatically factor in the exchange.

parking is expensive

If there’s one thing I’ve observed, it’s that Americans value access to free, easy parking when they travel. Set your expectations accordingly before driving in Vancouver.

  • Street parking is metered from 9am-10pm, 7 days a week, even on weekends and holidays.
  • At rush hour, a quarter (25 cents) may give you 7 minutes of parking. A loonie ($1 coin) may get you 20 minutes of parking.
  • You can pay for street meters in Vancouver using the PayByPhone app.
  • Street meters usually have time limits of 2-3 hours.
  • Free parking in the city is often limited to 2-3 hours. Pay attention to street signs.
  • Parking garages are also called “parkades” in Vancouver and there are many of them all over the city, such as Easy Park and Impark.
  • Few hotels in Vancouver offer free parking. Expect to pay $30+ per night to park your car.

There are no freeways in vancouver

Despite the lack of freeways, traffic still flows. But be patient.

  • The City of Vancouver prohibits freeway infrastructure within city limits. For example, driving up from Washington, Hwy 99 turns into Oak Street when it enters Vancouver.
  • In Vancouver, you will be driving along regular city roads with frequent traffic lights and 50 km/h speed limits.

REST AREAS ARE RARE

Rest areas are common along USA interstates, but you won’t find them in Metro Vancouver.

  • The closest rest area to Vancouver is 52 km (32 miles) east along Hwy 1 in Abbotsford.
  • Restrooms are called washrooms here. Provincial and municipal parks will often have public washroom facilities.
  • Most locals use the local gas station, Starbucks, or Tim Hortons if they need to go.
  • If you’re planning a road trip outside of Vancouver, here is a map of BC’s rest areas.

road signage is not the best

Compared to road signage I’ve observed in the USA, road signage around Vancouver is inconsistent, if it exists at all.

  • Don’t rely entirely on signs to navigate your way to Vancouver or throughout the city.
  • Street names are well-marked, but exit signs and directional signs often show up last minute.
  • Map out your routes ahead of time using Google Maps or a paper road map.

it’s illegal to do a u-turn at an intersection

Here’s a surefire way to get yourself an unsuspecting ticket in BC.

  • It’s illegal to do a U-turn at an intersection with a traffic light in BC unless otherwise specified.
  • It’s also illegal to do a U-turn in BC if it interferes with other traffic.
  • It’s illegal to do a U-turn in a business district, except at an intersection where there is no traffic light. Hmm.
  • It’s illegal to do a U-turn in BC on a curve or near the crest of a hill.

drive through the blinking green lights

Here’s something that will be new to you: blinking green traffic lights.

  • Blinking green lights exist at pedestrian-controlled intersections all over Vancouver.
  • Drive cautiously through a blinking green light as you would a regular solid green light.
  • Only when a pedestrian presses the crosswalk button does the green light stop blinking. It’ll then turn amber, and then red, allowing the pedestrian to cross. Then it turns back to a perpetually blinking green light until the next pedestrian comes along to trigger the crosswalk.

Don’t use your cell phone while driving

It’s illegal to use your cell phone while driving in BC, and the penalties for doing so are getting steeper all the time.

  • It’s illegal to drive while using (talking, texting, using apps, etc.) your cell phone in BC.
  • The fine for driving while distracted is now $368.
  • You can use your cell phone if you’re legally parked, but not if you’re stopped at a red light.
  • The official details about “Distractions While Driving” can be found here.

be aware of bike lanes

In its quest to be the world’s greenest city, Vancouver has ambitiously built protected bike lane infrastructure all throughout the city.

  • Don’t drive in the bike lanes.
  • Be mindful of cyclists when turning, parking, and opening your car door.
  • Bike lanes run parallel to traffic lanes. Some are divided by paint while some are divided by concrete barriers.
  • Bike lanes are sometimes located between traffic lanes and street parking, so be extra careful.
  • Green paint at an intersection means the presence of a designated bike lane.
  • Some intersections have designated bike traffic lights.
  • You can learn more about Vancouver’s protected bike lanes here.

check your tires before driving to Whistler

You don’t need a special car to drive to Whistler from Vancouver, but if you’re driving in the winter months, you are legally required to have specific tires.

  • Between October 1 and March 31, you are legally required to have “Mud and Snow” (M+S) tires or snow tires on your car if you want to drive Hwy 99 between Vancouver and Whistler.
  • This is a new law as of 2014 and I’d argue that most locals in Vancouver aren’t fully aware of it.
  • The official rules about what tires are needed on what BC highways can be found here.

other Vancouver driving observations

  • Drivers in Vancouver seem to ignore the “slower traffic stays right” or “pass on the left” custom.
  • Drivers in Vancouver typically drive 10 km/h faster than the maximum speed limit even though. technically they shouldn’t. And even then, you may find the occasional driver tailgating you if you’re not going faster than that.
  • Legal blood alcohol level is 0.05 in BC. Don’t drink and drive.
  • Some right lanes on busy Vancouver streets (ex: Georgia Street) are designated for buses during rush hour.
  • You must legally yield to buses turning into your lane.
  • There are a lot of “No left turns” at rush hour in downtown Vancouver (ex: Georgia Street).
  • There are even “No right turns” in downtown Vancouver (ex: Dunsmuir Street).
  • Downtown Vancouver has a lot of pedestrians on its sidewalks. Drive extremely cautiously, especially when pulling in and out of parking lots and alleys.
  • Expect a lot of jaywalkers if you’re driving along Commercial Drive.
  • Advanced left turn arrows are inconsistent at intersections if they exist at all.
  • Granville Street between Nelson and Hastings is only open to buses and taxis, not cars.
  • Expect a lot of jaywalkers along East Hastings and around the Downtown Eastside. East Hastings. between Abbott and Jackson has a 30km/h speed limit in place to address this.
  • Sometimes it’s easier, faster, and cheaper to leave the car parked and simply walk, cycle, or use public transit to get around Vancouver.

Did I miss something? Is there something else that should be added to my list? Leave it in a comment below.

 

 

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29 Comments

  1. In Bc getting caught going mote than 40 km over the posted speed limit will get your car impounded for 1 week and you are responsible for the tow truck, storage fee, speeding ticket, your taxi fare to your destination, replacement vehicle rental cost.
    It can add up to 2000 dollars quite easy and if you don’t pick-up your vehicle expect to pay a additional 50-70 dollars per day.

    Even though traffic often flows along at 15-20 km over the posted limit but pass anyone and your close to impound and yes the Police do impound for 42 km/hr.

  2. Interesting to read as a born and raised Vancouverite who has driven from Vancouver to Anaheim and back, twice.

    It hasn’t occurred to me that Americans don’t have pedestrian controlled crossings.

    As usual, read the signs. They’re not for fun. If it says “No right turns on red” that doesn’t mean anything other than “Do not turn when the light is red”.

    ACTUALLY don’t turn left when prohibited. Actually though.

    Everywhere is two lanes, we don’t need you wantonly turning left when you can simply make three quick rights.

    Also, don’t park in the HOV lane when disallowed [3:00pm-6:00pm].

    The police WILL be on their cellphones and WILL be actively using their laptop WHILE driving. You are not allowed to. They are (apparently) super-humans and we’re just dumb idiots [I jest. They swerve all over the road. ‘Do as I say and not as a I do’]

    The police WILL impound your vehicle for doing 40kmph over the speed limit.
    Not 41. Not 42. At 40.

    They’re absolutely logic-less and it doesn’t occur to the local police force that when you have two lanes with the same maximum speed, you cannot physically pass anyone, as you would have to breach “maximum” speed to pass………….. No really. As a society, we seem to not understand that.

    Pay for your parking. There is not enough room for locals, let alone tourists. Pay your share for the 8′ x 5′ rectangle your car takes up; we do and we live here.

  3. One thing I find Americans do much better than BC drivers is leaving the right lane for merging cars. Here people don’t bother to slow down or move into the left lanes for merges on the highway.

    1. I’ve observed the same thing. You really notice it when you drive along I-5, but coming back into BC, it’s not common practice, even if we’re taught it in driving school (many, many moons ago!).

    2. Right lane traffic don’t need to slow down and switch lanes to merging traffic in the freeway, merging traffic are suppose to match the speed of the freeway traffic so they can easily merge, drivers already on the right lane(freeway) can’t easily find a safe gap on their left to change lanes to give way to merging traffic. In a jammed freeway traffic, as a courtesy, zipper merging is strongly encouraged.

    3. As a lifetime Vancouver driver, I feel the need to clarify. Most of our ‘freeways’ are only 2 lanes wide. Even the wider roads will narrow down to 2 lanes as they get towards the Vancouver core. However we still expect to do highway speeds on them. It causes a safety hazard to move into the fast lane to let in merging traffic but, if the highway is 3 lanes wide, we will try to move over.
      As stated elsewhere, we do have a lot of people moving into the city that have not driven previously in Canada or the US, or even driven at all, so it’s like driving in a sea of new drivers.
      And signalling here is terrible and trust me, the locals hate this too. We are used to watching to see if someone is trying to get into our lane by just the movement of the car. (If it’s a Ferrari or Tesla we kinda have to let them but we are pissed off about it.) Canadians believe in playing by the rules and taking your turn so if you’re not signalling, we really don’t want to let you in.
      Finally, the rain: it can make the roads dangerous and very hard to see the entitled pedestrians or the traffic jam up ahead. Please don’t expect to drive at normal speeds.

  4. I’m an American and have lived here for almost two years. I honestly prefer driving in l.a. to Vancouver. For whatever reason, most drivers do not posses the basic rules of road. No one pays attention. You might have your car impounded if you speed, but in actuality there seems to be only 4 traffic cops for the entire metro area. Because there’s almost zero enforcement of traffic regulations, the roads are the Wild West. Tips: watch out for poorly marked pedestrian crossings. There are no flashing lights, and often times pedestrians will just walk into the road without looking, expecting you to stop. Vancouverites regard stop signs and red lights as suggestions. Be extremely vigilant at intersections, because you’ll be the only one. Don’t rush, because people somehow manage to drive both slowly and poorly. To conclude, if you’re a moderately competent driver from the U.S., you’re going to be frustrated and angered by the disrespect Vancouverites have for basic road etiquette and rules.

    1. I’m a local who has lived here my entire life and I can completely corroborate this. Slow and incompetent drivers are extremely common. Red lights are definitely just suggestions. I regularly see drivers who are impatiently waiting behind a left hand turning driver (on an Amber) casually decide to go through that same interesection on a red (because they were likely entitled to go through that intersection earlier if there hadn’t been any left hand turners).

    2. I am a Canadian truck driver and I have driven all over LA, but give me a trip to Vancouver and anxiety and panic overcomes me. Vancouver in any kind of vehicle is scary.

  5. Thanks for this guide! I am taking a trip to Vancouver from Seattle this weekend. Especially appreciate the tip about the cell phones. While I rarely talk on the phone when I drive, I do use my phone as GPS. Now I know to get one from the rental company to avoid any issues.

  6. Vancouver drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists are among the worst most selfish and ignorant in the entire world let alone the American comparison. “Blinders on” tunnel vision idiots who only care about themselves when it comes to traffic! As for personal interaction face to face, you won’t find friendlier more polite people. It’s a strange dichotomy.
    Also it’s seen as a sign of weakness to use your turn signal here. As soon as you turn on your signal to change lanes you will be rapidly passed by everyone behind you. Have fun!

    1. In my experience as a visitor, I’d have to agree with Scott. So friendly face to face and so unyielding (literally) in their cars. If I signal to move to another lane, even in slow traffic and moving closer to make it obvious, car after car just passes me and doesn’t let me in. Curious and frustating at the same time…

  7. In Vancouver area transit buses have the right of way to merge into traffic from curbs. They will push their way into busy traffic to facilitate their schedule . Locals are aware of this, but it must be a shock to tourists.

  8. In BC, a flashing green light actually indicates that cross traffic may be present and that vehicles should be prepared to stop if necessary.

    This is misunderstood by most people and most people do not drive this way, but it is the law.

    Where cross traffic has a stop sign (and not a stop light) vehicles may proceed through the intersection when safe to do so (note that bicycles are also considered vehicles under the MVA in BC). Where pedestrians have control of the signal (which is usually the case at such intersections in Vancouver) they must wait for the “walk” symbol and must not cross when the “do not walk” symbol is displayed. In locations where there is no “do not walk” symbol pedestrians may cross with caution and vehicles are expected to stop (I don’t believe there are any such intersections in Vancouver but there are elsewhere).

    Note that these rules are also different from other parts of Canada, where a flashing green light may indicate an advance left turn signal or similar.

    See: http://www.bclaws.ca/civix/document/id/complete/statreg/96318_05

    ——————–
    From the BC Motor Vehicle Act section 131 (Flashing lights):

    (5) When rapid intermittent flashes of green light are exhibited at an intersection or at a place other than an intersection by a traffic control signal,

    (a) the driver of a vehicle approaching the intersection or signal and facing the signal must cause it to approach the intersection or signal in such a manner that he or she is able to cause the vehicle to stop before reaching the signal or any crosswalk in the vicinity of the signal if a stop should become necessary, and must yield the right of way to pedestrians lawfully in a crosswalk in the vicinity of the signal or in the intersection, and

    (b) a pedestrian may proceed across the roadway with caution and at an intersection only in a marked or unmarked crosswalk.

    ——————–
    From the BC Motor Vehicle Act section 132 (Pedestrian controls):

    132 (1) When the word “walk” or an outline of a walking person is exhibited at an intersection by a pedestrian traffic control signal, a pedestrian may proceed across the roadway in the direction of the signal in a marked or unmarked crosswalk and has the right of way over all vehicles in the intersection or any adjacent crosswalk.

    (2) When the word “walk” or an outline of a walking person is exhibited at a place other than an intersection by a pedestrian traffic control signal, a pedestrian may proceed across the roadway in the direction of the signal and has the right of way over all vehicles.

    (3) When the word “wait”, the words “don’t walk” or an outline of a raised hand are exhibited at an intersection or at a place other than an intersection by a pedestrian traffic control signal,

    (a) a pedestrian must not enter the roadway, and

    (b) a pedestrian proceeding across the roadway and facing the word “wait”, the words “don’t walk”, or an outline of a raised hand exhibited after he or she entered the roadway

    (i) must proceed to the sidewalk as quickly as possible, and

    (ii) has the right of way for that purpose over all vehicles.

  9. Vancouver covers flashing green lights as part of its own bylaws. The bylaw essentially reinforces the “be ready to stop” portion of the equivalent rule in the BC MVA.

    From section 7.(3)(c) of Vancouver’s “Street & Traffic Bylaw” (bylaw 2849):

    (c) Flashing green (Alerting signal).
    When a green lens is illuminated by rapid intermittent flashes, drivers of vehicles may proceed through the intersection but must approach the nearest crosswalk in readiness to stop should a yellow light be displayed before the said crosswalk is reached.

  10. I got a $60 ticket for parking within 6 meters (20′) of a Stop sign. There was no painted curb or sign indicating a no-parking zone – it’s the law in Vancouver. Please include this in your blog under Parking.

  11. I agree with another commenter that as an American living in Vancouver, I’d rather deal with LA traffic than Vancouver traffic, simply because the drivers tend to actually pay attention to the rules of the road more. Almost got into an accident near the Lions Gate Bridge. Looked it up and turns out over 1,000 crashes happen there every year: https://www.callkleinlawyers.com/vancouver-intersections/

    I love living here, but wish people were more careful drivers/wish law enforcement was more stringent about actually enforcing road rules.

  12. Traffic Regulations in BC are very similar to the rest of the provinces and states. There are some differences to note but there is generally no problem for Canadians and Americans traveling between provinces and states. Being a responsible driver and taking caution when driving in any city you haven’t been in is enough to have a nice stay. Read street signs for parking regulations so you don’t get ticketed whenever and wherever you park and you’ll have no problems.

  13. Thanks for your blog. Further to the ‘flashing green light’… Sometimes these pedestrian-controlled lights are in the middle of a block, however it is not generally known that, once the pedestrian has crossed over, a driver may proceed even on the red light. You will get dirty looks, though. The exception to this is – don’t do this if there is any intersecting roadway.

  14. Beware that BC drivers generally, and Vancouver drivers specifically, are selfish, inconsiderate, entitled, and unskilled. Vancouver, like many metropolitan cities, is a city of many immigrants. Many are wealthy, yet possess little driving experience, thus it can be a source of much amusement and frustration seeing Ferraris and Lamborghinis with N (new driver) decals re-enacting scenes from The Fast And The Furious while others are merely trying to get to work. Expect to be blinded by people using fog lights as well as head lights for esthetic rather than functional reasons, and I suggest you learn to fear driving anywhere near tractor trailer units.

  15. Vancouver driverd are the worst. They dont know how to merge, instead of the left lane traffic slowing down 10 to 15 km to allow merging traffic to merge, they stop to let the merging traffic in, creating traffic jams. Its crazy.
    Other than that, driving around Vancouver isnt so bad.

  16. Drivers here rarely use their headlights during the day. No matter how dark and dreary our winter rainy days are they will not think to turn on their lights. Other people will only turn on their daytime lights on those dark days and well into dusk not knowing that their car has no lights showing from behind, and so is invisible, until they apply their brakes.

    Buses driving on relatively narrow city roads (4th ave) will often just take up all lanes by just driving down the middle of the road. It can be very tempting to try to squeeze in a pass but the bus doesn’t want that and may show it. They do this to avoid traveling close to the parked cars on the right but it is dangerous and just seems lazy…and illegal.

    There is a huge problem with people running red lights. Sometimes it seems there’s a mindset that if the guy in front of you runs the red, you are also entitled to too (two).
    And to clarify… If you are in an intersection waiting to turn left and the light changes to red, oncoming traffic still owns that lane indefinitely. If you start your turn and are hit by someone oncoming who is running the light it is considered your fault.

    There are many many bad drivers here…but driving amongst them makes for some very good drivers!

    Please, never tailgate! Even when you are trying to “teach/threaten” a slower driver out of the fast lane. Your tailgating is way more dangerous and is a clear sign to all drivers around you that YOU suck as a driver.

  17. As someone who travels a lot I would say comparing to most large cities Vancouver has a fair amount of parks but I am not sure why you would want rest areas in a city? I don’t remember seeing rest areas in cities when driving across the US.

    Parking is expensive but I don’t think its really any different than any big city across the US?

    Lots of good points raised and I love your posts.

    Sam

  18. So let me get this straight: A blinking green light means pedestrians and proceed with caution.
    DOES A SOLID GREEN MEAN GO?
    There are no U turns, period!
    Stay to the left lane, but there are very few left turns.
    The right lane is for buses so stay out of there BUT YOU CAN ONLY TURN RIGHT?
    WHAT COLOR OF LIGHT INDICATES YOU CAN TURN LEFT?
    Buses will run you over.
    A RED LIGHT OR STOP SIGN MEANS STOP THEN PROCEED, NOT WAIT TILL LIGHT TURNS GREEN?
    DO NOT RELY ON THE SIGNS BUT FOLLOW THE TRAFFIC INDICATORS?
    Bike lanes can be anywhere.
    NO RIGHT TURNS ON RED?
    Using your turn signal means everyone will pass you, but to pass means you can get a ticket. But you should use yours and wait till it is safe.
    And merge at your own risk!
    I am planning a trip there this summer, I would love a reply to my questions AND a copy of the driving laws there if someone has a link where I can get them?

    1. Blinking green means the intersection is controlled by pedestrians. It will always be blinking green, so when it’s blinking green, treat it like a solid green. Only when a pedestrian presses the crosswalk button, the blinking green will turn amber then red. And yes, solid green means go.

      You can drive in the left lane if you want, or the right lane. Some major streets have left turn lanes, some don’t. Only certain highways have designed bus-only lanes, but most roads don’t have any designated bus lane. It’s obvious.

      You can turn right on a red light, unless it says no right turns. It’ll be super obvious.

      Honestly, it’s not a whole lot different than driving in the US.

      If you want the driving laws, this is where you can find them: https://www.icbc.com/driver-licensing/Documents/drivers4.pdf

      The rest of the chapters can be found here: https://www.icbc.com/driver-licensing/driving-guides/Pages/Learn-to-Drive-Smart.aspx#

  19. I drive in both Canada and the US all the time. Other than the measurement system being different, I find everything else to be pretty much the same. The highway speed limits tend to be lower in Canada, but people make up for that by driving well over the limit, whereas in some US states people seem to drive exactly the limit (ex. Washington) while in others people seem to routinely speed well over the limit (ex. Utah)

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