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driving concerns

My friend has a British Columbia learner’s licence which requires that she has an eligible supervisor with her when she’s driving. Can she drive in an empty parking lot without a supervisor? Or is she prohibited from driving there, too – the same as on a road? – Raman

After Costco closes, that empty parking lot might seem like an ideal place to let a learning driver go alone.

But, in every province except, Ontario, if you’ve got a learner’s permit, you can’t drive alone anywhere that’s accessible to the public.

“Even if it’s privately owned, since it’s accessible to the public and its main purpose is for parking, [a shopping mall parking lot} falls under the definition of a ‘highway’,” said Lindsay Wilkins, spokeswoman for the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia (ICBC), which handles licensing.

In B.C., that means you need a valid licence to drive in a parking lot – and you have to follow that licence’s rules.

If you have a B.C. learner’s licence – which you get by passing a written test – you must drive with a supervisor in the front passenger seat.

Your supervisor doesn’t have to be an ICBC-approved driving instructor. They can be anyone who’s 25 or older and has a valid licence.

There are other rules for B.C. learners. For instance, you can’t have any alcohol or drugs in your blood, you can’t talk on a cellphone except to call 911 (even if it’s hands-free) and you can’t drive between midnight and 5 a.m.

You also have to drive with a red magnetic L-sign on the back of your car.

Other provinces also have learner’s licences, which let you, well, learn. They let you practice on the road to prepare for your first driving test. While they go by different names, they all require you to drive with a licensed driver.

You have to be at least 16 to get one in every province except Alberta, where the minimum age is 14.

When you don’t need a licence

Are there any places where a learner can practice without a supervisor? Yes, if you’re on private property that isn’t accessible to the public.

Most provinces don’t require driver’s licences at all on private land – for instance, in business parking lots that are fenced and blocked from the road by a locked gate.

That’s because provincial traffic laws generally don’t apply there.

So, if you’ve got permission from the property owner, you can drive alone with a learner’s licence – or with no licence at all. That’s as long as you don’t cross a public road.

“At all times when someone drives onto a public road, crosses a public road, uses a forest road, commercial parking or any private ground where public circulation is authorized, he must hold a driving license,” said the Société de l’assurance automobile du Quebec (SAAQ), a crown corporation responsible for licensing drivers and vehicles, in an e-mail.

There is one province where you can drive alone in a mall parking lot with just a learner’s licence – or no licence at all.

In Ontario, the rules of the road don’t apply on private property, whether it’s accessible to the public or not.

“A driver’s licence is not required to operate a motor vehicle on private property,” said Michael O’Morrow, spokesman for Ontario’s Ministry of Transportation, in an e-mail. “As such, the holder of a class G1 licence is not required to comply with the conditions and restrictions associated with that class of licence.”

So even though you don’t need a licence in parking lots, you still have to obey traffic signs and drive safely, O’Morrow said.

While you can’t get a provincial ticket at the mall, you could be charged with dangerous driving under the Criminal Code.

Have a driving question? Send it to and put ‘Driving Concerns’ in your subject line. Emails without the correct subject line may not be answered. Canada’s a big place, so let us know where you are so we can find the answer for your city and province.

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