Rules of the road in Quebec

Rules of the road in Quebec

Rules of the road in Quebec? Yes, there are some, but…

by Bill Russell

Recent reports reveal that Quebec City has the unenviable record regarding the number road accidents per population being worse than Montreal’s. Visitors and newcomers to Quebec may understandably get the impression that driving here is a free-for-all and that there are no rules of the road. Oh, but there are – even though some of them might not appear in the Traffic Code.

Because drivers cannot be trusted to yield to pedestrians at intersections, Quebec City has many “scramble corners” where all vehicles must wait while walk signals flash in all directions. However, those signals operate on a cycle that is designed to keep cars moving. Rather than suffer a long, freezing wait on a winter’s day or night, those on foot proceed as soon as they can. Hence, frequently all the drivers are forced to wait, idling uselessly and wasting gas, with no pedestrian in sight.

Pedestrians beware: zebra crossings mean nothing. The only city in the province that enforces the crosswalk rule is St-Hyacinthe. The exception to this rule is the flashing lights indicating “yield to pedestrians” on the Université Laval campus. They should be observed, even though the students will probably appear surprised if you do stop for them.

Cycle_accidentCyclists are invisible to drivers, day or night, so you can expect that drivers will cut them off or open their doors in front of them. Designated bike lanes have mysterious beginnings and sudden endings. A prime example runs along the south side of Boulevard Laurier from Place Ste-Foy towards Vieux Québec. Nice and wide and generally protective, the lane shrinks to nothing just before Chemin Saint-Louis. The bold cyclists merge with the traffic, while the timid take to the narrow sidewalk.

In congested neighbourhoods, cyclists often go in any direction on either side of the street. Generally, the more congested the street, the more random the behaviour. Once more, fearful cyclists will take to the sidewalks, much to the chagrin of the people of foot. It also appears that many cyclists have no idea what those traffic lights and stop signs are all about.

The posted speed limit is merely suggestive of what might be proper for the street or road you are on. If you actually drive at the speed shown on the sign, everyone behind you will become very offended and overcome with a desire to pass you, legally or otherwise.  Of course, speed limits also let the police know when they can start collecting tolls – er, giving out tickets.

Red_traffic_lightUp until a few years ago, the rule throughout the province was “no right turn on a red light”. To celebrate this heritage, almost every major intersection in Quebec City has some variation on that dictum.  You will need to know the twenty-four hour system to understand the signs. By the way, there is a mostly forgotten rule that one can be ticketed for honking at someone who does not turn right on red when allowed. Another oft forgotten rule is that you are supposed to come to a complete stop before making your turn, but it seems that that rule has been forgotten almost everywhere in the world.

Quebeckers like to surprise you. Do not expect any helpful warnings, such as turn signals. Most drivers appear not to remember that there is a stick on the left of the steering wheel that can be used to indicate where they intend to go. A few do remember to use it, but only after having started a turn or a lane change, not before. One driver told me that she never signalled a left turn because the oncoming driver would speed up to cut her off. She was not kidding.

The rule for the amber/yellow light is that you had better speed up to cross the intersection, or the car behind you will push you through it. This rule is particularly important during rush hour, when everybody is in a hurry, no matter how ridiculous that may be. And since there often is not enough space on the far side of the intersection for that last car, those coming from the other directions are blocked.

One general rule throughout the province, but most evident in Montreal, is “if they can cut you off, they will”. So they will cut in and merge at the last possible moment when a lane is disappears.  And the driver of the car that hits the rear end of another is always deemed to be responsible. Perhaps that is why we have no-fault insurance.

Finally, if you are bigger, you have priority – or more to the point – if you are smaller, you had better give way. So pedestrians must yield to bicycles, then both to cars, then all three to buses, then all the above to trucks, and everybody to trains. This rule is especially true around construction sites and during snow removal. If you have ever had your rear-view mirror filled by a two-storey snow removal truck while descending the winding hill on Avenue Saint-Sacrement, you fully understand this rule. Note that motorcyclists abide by their own unwritten rules. But, pedestrian, beware of anything in motion. They all hurt.

In short, yes, there are rules of the road here. Many of them are true all over the world (check out the last one above if you ever go to Africa), and others have their own “distinct” character. I am sure that I have left out a few of your favourite “rules”.

If you would like to contribute a few of your own, please log on and make a comment.

Categories: News, Opinion

About Author

Bill Russell

Bill Russell resided in Quebec City from 1997 to 2014, but has returned to Toronto, Ontario. A professional folksinger since 1970, he mostly performs in Ontario schools with Mariposa In The Schools. He also calls square dances and teaches figures done with a loop of string. Bill plans on keeping touch with his friends in Quebec City. His primary Quebec City interests are in the Quebec Art Company, the Centre de valorisation du patrimoine vivant, and the Auberge du Mont’s Road Scholars programs.

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