Picking up your rental vehicle
The majority of hire vehicles have automatic transmission and it is recommended that you familiarise yourself with the car’s controls, switches etc, and adjust your seat and mirror positions. This is because about a minute after you drive off for the first time in Canada you meet Highway 409/401 and more than likely in rush hour – which is akin to the M25 on a bad day and on the wrong side of the road! That said, driving in Canada is generally very relaxed and once you are away from the centre of Toronto, you will be ready to engage cruise control and head off in the direction of your chosen piece of heaven.
Driving in Canada
As a general rule regarding speed limits; unless otherwise posted, on dual carriageways and motorways the limit is 100 km/hr (62mph), on a two-lane highway 80km/hr (50mph) and in towns 50km/hr (30mph). BE VERY CAUTIOUS IN SCHOOL ZONES AND SMALL TOWNS, WHERE POSTED SPEEDS MAY BE VERY SLOW.
If a School Bus is stopped with its lights flashing, traffic in both directions must stop to allow children to cross the road in front of the bus. You are also expected to stop and allow pedestrians to cross at Signed Pedestrian X-Walks.
Unless there are indications to the contrary, you may turn right on a red light once you have stopped and made certain there is no oncoming traffic. When turning left at traffic lights, a flashing green light or green arrow means that opposite direction traffic is stopped and you are cleared to cross over. A 4-Way Stop is something you may not have seen before, where all vehicles must stop at an intersection and the first to arrive is the first to leave – be careful!
You may be happy to know that there are almost no roundabouts in Canada, only underpasses, overpasses and many, many traffic signal lights.
Drivers under 25yrs of age will not be permitted to drive a hire-vehicle without paying additional premiums. Check with your rental car agency, if applicable.
Highway 401 deserves a mention, as you will likely be forced to travel on it sometime during your holiday. The 500 mile East-West motorway was originally intended to by-pass the City of Toronto but is now an integral part of the city’s transit system. It is one of the busiest motorways in North America with sections around Toronto exceeding 20 lanes.
If you are heading north to Muskoka and Parry Sound, you’ll thankfully be able to avoid Hwy 401, as you head north on Hwy 400, however for those whose final destination is the Kawartha region or Eastern Ontario you have no choice but to route across the top of the city.
Basically, the centre 6 Express lanes (3 in each direction) are for longer journeys and the other 14 or so Collector lanes are for shorter on-off type trips. You may exit directly from the Express lanes to the Airport and a few major intersections (like the 400 or 404) otherwise follow the signs and exit via the collector lanes always easing to the right so as not to miss your exit. Don’t get too far right or you may be forced to exit prematurely. Try to avoid using this route in the vicinity of Toronto on weekdays before 9:30AM, between 3:00-7:00PM and on Sunday evenings.
An alternative route to/from the Airport and travelling east, is via the 407 ETR (Electronic Toll Route). Although not completed in its entirety, it will avoid much of the potential congestion. If you use this road, expect to be billed a month or so after you get home.
On motorways the exit numbers don’t appear to make any sense; in fact they are the distances from the start of the motorway in km. So if you pass exit 521 and are looking to get off at exit 543 you have 22km to go.