Warning, this is a long post.
So, having experienced some of Canadian driving during my time north of the border, I'd like to post some observations. It's interesting to note the extreme difference in driving style... granted, I only really drove in town in toronto and surrounding areas, and my highway experience is limited to the 401, 407, and a few supporting highway... but the behavior was consistent enough for me to think that what I was seeing was representative. Comments are welcome, especially from the Canadian contingent.
So, I entered Canada from Windsor on 401. You get a mix of Michigan/Ontario drivers around there, so I was able to drive like an American with really not too much badness. Progressing deeper into your country, however, it became more and more harrowing. I quickly saw that everyone was speeding. I was a little unsure about the cop situation, so I drove at the posted 100km/h. A little pokey I thought, seeing as how that's 60mph or so. But I didn't want to get a ticket.
EVERYONE speeds. Seriously, I found maybe two people actually doing the speed limit. It was when I was passing some poor soul with a trailer (doing 90, wonder of wonders) that I started to develop some Rules for Canadian driving. I'm passing this dude, I'm going about 101, and this Bronco or something comes out of nowhere doing like 160. I'm still passing and he starts flashing his lights beind me, honking his horn, generally indicating he's mighty pissed off at me hogging his lane and being legal. I proceded to pass at 100km/h, and he flipped me off as he passed me. Again, honking. This pissed me off a LOT. So I started speeding, too.
It was a whole new world for me. I set the cruise at maybe 110 or 115, payed attention to the signs saying, "Slower traffic use right lane", and slowly over the weekend developed the following rules for driving in Canada. Mostly these apply to highway driving, but to some extent they do apply to local roads as well. Note: 1 mile = ~1.6km. If I refer to big numbers it's probably km/h, smaller ones are more likely mph
Here they are:
- Drive 20 over the posted limit. If it's listed as 100, you go 120. If you're feeling frisky you can probably go faster, but I didn't want to risk a ticket and almost everyone was hovering around that speed.
- Assume you are the slowest person on the road. This means you stay in the right lane. If you have to pass someone, do so, but get back in the right lane after you're done. If there are three or more lanes, you can probably get away with hanging out in the middle, especially in toronto where the right lanes typically turn into Collectors and you don't want to take those unless you're getting off the expressway.
- If you are passing and someone comes up behind you, speed up then move right as soon as you can.
- It's okay to cut right in front or right behind people. This is important when coupled with the above rule, because if you need to pass but there's a line of cars in the left lane, you can squeeze in and get your passing done. You don't have to wait for the line to pass.
When I followed these rules it was smooth sailing, and if I assumed that all the Canadians were following them I could accurately predict what any given driver was going to do in a given situation. It was a new experience to be able to determine exactly what another driver was going to do.
You Canadians may think the above is pretty normal or obvious, so let me post some general rules for driving on American Interstates, based on my experiences driving the roads between New York and Colorado. Obviously there are local differences, but for the most part these hold true.
American Highway Rules:
- 5mph over is the general limit. I think this stems from the urban myth that cops cut slack up to 5 over due to radar and speedometer inaccuracies. I don't know if it's true, but it seems to be the norm. 10 over is more exciting, and indeed parts of the country that's what people drive, but there seems to be some expectation that you're risking a ticket, even if everyone else is doing 10 and 15 over.
- Pass when you can, but don't cut in front of people. Wait your turn. This means you can easily get stuck behind slow trucks waiting for a line of faster cars to pass.
- If you are passing, there's no real obligation to break the law in order to get back in the right lane. For example, if you're doing 65mph and start to pass a truck going 60, feel free to continue your pace even though someone behind you wants to go 70.
- No lane is sacrosanct. You see people hanging out in any lane, though there is some tendency to stick more towards the right. In three or more lane situations the left-most lane typically is for the very fast traffic or passing, but you still do see people going the speed limit on that side.
- It's basically a free-for-all.
I was trying to figure out why there's such a disparity in social rules of driving. The best I can come up with is it's the psychology of numbers and the fact that we use miles per hour while you use kilometers per hour. Think about it... Canadian speed limits seem to increment in 10s, American limits go by 5s. Add to that the apparent hard limit for getting a ticket at 20km over versus 5mph over and it kind of becomes apparent. If the limit is 100 and everyone's going 120, you canadians have ~15mph to play with. People tend to like whole numbers, so you'll see clustering at 105, 110, 115, 120, etc. So the differences in speed are more obvious in Canada than in the US where you've got a narrower range... people going 67-71 or so. As well, if you go by 10s, doing 10km over equates to doing something like 3 miles over in people's minds. It's all about how significant your speeding feels.
Oh, I should also add this... 100km/h = ~60mph. 120km/h = 75mph. In every place I've lived, 15mph over the speed limit is a reckless driving charge and license suspension. So for US drivers there's that disincentive to go much faster than posted.
So, American rules work in the US because really you're going to have less of a difference in speed between you and other cars. They don't work so well in Canada. Canadians have more significant differences, so it almost requires that one follow such rules as "if you're in my way, you better break the law in order to get out of my way". However, driving like a Canadian in the US will get you lights flashed and horns honked, because your driving style makes you seem like a reckless speeder... and cops will view you as such, too.
Anyway, it was interesting. Once I got used to it and learned the rules, I kind of like driving in Canada. Mainly because it's really nice to be able to predict what other drivers are going to do. And besides, I just like being able to go 75.