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What you should know about driving - and walking - in Canada

Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail

The Internet is big, but it's not big enough for me to list all the things I don't know about cars and driving. For every column I write, I come across surprises. Most of them make it into stories, but others don't. Here's a very small sample of things that surprised me this year.

Only Quebec reserves the left lane for passing.

In Quebec, life in the fast lane lasts only as long as it takes to pass another car.

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"Article 324 of the (Highway Safety Act) says, on a road with two lanes or more, you have to be in the right lane except if you're going to pass," said Sgt. Audrey-Anne Bilodeau, Sûreté du Québec spokesperson. "You can't be in the left lane if nobody's in the right lane."

Driving in the left lane is a $30 fine, and Quebec is the only province with this rule. The other provinces only say slower traffic should keep to the right, but the left lane isn't reserved for passers. Also unique to Quebec: it's illegal to pass cars to the right on a highway.


An advertised six-year warranty for a used car isn't really for six years.

Honda Canada's website said there was a "Peace of Mind" six-year / 120,000 km warranty on Honda Certified Used Vehicles (CUV). A B.C. Honda dealer's online ad for a 2010 Honda pilot said the same thing.

There is a six-year warranty – but it started three years ago, back when the car was new. Honda has since changed their CUV warranty page to say that the warranty is "from original vehicle in-service date." At the time we went to press, the dealership hadn't added that fine print.


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In Halifax, skateboarders could pay more for car insurance if they don't wear helmets.

A 25-year-old Halifax man had his car insurance cancelled after he was fined twice for skateboarding without a helmet and once for driving without a seat belt. The Insurance Bureau of Canada said riding without a helmet shows a pattern of taking risks – to your insurance company, that could mean you're a risk-taking driver.

No word yet on whether your insurance can be axed for other risky business, like dancing to Bob Seger in your underwear when your parents aren't home.


It is illegal to start crossing the street once the hand starts flashing and the countdown starts.

Look carefully, there's flashing hand next to that countdown.

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"The hand means don't walk, even when it's flashing," said Toronto Police Traffic Services Const. Clint Stibbe. "If I walked up to you and put my hand in your face, would you walk?"

The countdown is there to tell people already in the crosswalk how much time they have to get to the other side (and often even that isn't enough time for seniors, Stibbe says. Twenty seniors have died in pedestrian collisions this year in Toronto). If you haven't started crossing when the countdown begins, you're supposed to wait at the curb for the next Walk sign – and not rush across the street in the nine seconds left on the timer, police say.

Researchers from Sick Kids hospital took another look at Toronto accident data from 2006-2009 that showed timers had no effect on pedestrian safety. This time, they found that the number of pedestrians hit in crosswalks rose by 26 per cent after countdown timers were introduced.


"Look both ways before you cross the street" is the law, sort of.

The rules vary across the county – in Ontario it's section 140.4 of the Highway Traffic Act – but generally they say pedestrians can't step out into a crosswalk if a car's too close to stop in time.

"You have to give cars time to stop," says Vancouver Police Const. Brian Montague. "They can't yield if they can't see you in time."

The law aside, waiting to make sure cars see you before stepping off the curb could save your life.

"I've been hit by a car as a pedestrian," said Toronto Police's Stibbe. "Even when I push the button and the amber lights flash, I don't step onto the road until they've stopped and I've made eye contact.

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