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Canadian traffic laws tough on drivers? Think again

Compared to the rest of the world, Canada is relatively tame when it comes to laying down the law for road offences.

  • Scenic cityscape of downtown Toronto Ontario Canada during a sunny day

From speeding fines determined by your income to 15 years in jail for injuring someone in a highway construction zone, traffic laws vary significantly around the world — and even within Canada.

Even something as basic as the minimum age for obtaining a learner’s permit can vary greatly. For instance, in Kansas you only have to be 14 years old. In California, it’s 15½. Here in Ontario, you can get one at 16 but you have to be 17 in England and 18 in Italy.

Indeed, depending on which roads they choose to travel, motorists face a myriad of different laws legislating everything from smoking (in Ontario, it’s illegal to smoke in a vehicle when children under the age of 16 are present) to towing speeds (New Zealand limits cars to speeds of 80 km/h when towing a caravan or trailer), to impaired driving (zero tolerance in Hungary means a driver found to have consumed any amount of alcohol whatsoever can have their license revoked immediately).

So, how do some traffic laws in one jurisdiction stack up against another’s? To fuel the discussion, here’s a comparison of various driving laws from around the globe:

SPEEDING FINES

CANADA: Ontario drivers who are convicted of driving 50 km/h or more above the speed limit face a maximum fine of $10,000 (after having their car impounded for a week). Alberta’s maximum fine for speeding is $25,000.

ELSEWHERE: In Finland, speeding fines are calculated as a percentage of net income, with police accessing citizens’ income tax records via cell phone and issuing traffic fines on the spot. In 2004, multi-millionaire Jussi Salonoja was slapped with a fine of 170,000 Euros (more than $200,000) for driving 80 km/h in a 40 km/h zone.

Switzerland has a similar income-based speeding fine system.

IMPAIRED DRIVING/BAC

CANADA: The legal limit for Blood Alcohol Content is 0.08 (Section 253(b) of the Criminal Code). However, all provinces, with the exception of Quebec, also have sanctions for drivers who register a BAC of 0.05 to 0.08 (Saskatchewan starts at 0:04) plus all provinces have varying BAC restrictions for novice and young drivers.

ELSEWHERE: Lithuania — 0.04 mg/ml; Sweden, Noway, Poland — 0.02 mg/ ml; Czech Republic, Hungary, Malta — 0.0 mg/ml.

ROADSIDE TESTING

CANADA: Police are authorized to stop vehicles if they have grounds to suspect the driver has been drinking, to demand roadside physical sobriety tests and a breath sample on a roadside screening device, and subsequently to demand bodily substance samples.

For drivers suspected of drug-driving who fail the standardized roadside field sobriety test and a subsequent evaluation by a Drug Recognition Expert, a saliva, urine or blood sample can be demanded.

ELSEWHERE: In Belgium, France and Germany, drivers are screened for drugs with roadside saliva tests.

DRIVER REQUIREMENTS

CANADA: When stopped by police, drivers must produce their licence, vehicle registration and proof of insurance.

ELSEWHERE: In France, as of this coming July, all vehicles must carry a portable breathalyzer test kit along with the previously required luminous high-visibility vest (inside the vehicle – not in the trunk) and a red reflective warning triangle.

In Spain, drivers must have a spare pair of glasses (if required for driving), two red warning triangles, a spare wheel, a full set of spare light bulbs and a reflective jacket.

In Germany, motorists must have a warning triangle with them as well as a first aid kit.

DISTRACTED DRIVING LAWS

CANADA: All provinces and territories except Nunavut have distracted driving laws. Most prohibit use of hand-held cell phones, electronic communication devices and entertainment video displays. Alberta also specifically forbids grooming, writing and reading while driving.

In Ontario, there is a $155 fine bbut no demerit points. Nova Scotians receive a $164.50 ticket for a first offence and up to a $337 ticket for subsequent offences. In Saskatchewan, the ticket is for $280 and they tack on a $60 victims’ surcharge and 4 demerit points.

ELSEWHERE: In the United Kingdom, drivers are prohibited from using a hand-held mobile phone, or similar device. Also, a passenger is prohibited from using a hand-held mobile phone while supervising a provisional (learner) driver.

In Portugal, all cell phone use is banned while driving, including hands-free ones.

NEW DRIVERS

CANADA: In British Columbia, new drivers must first display a red L (learner) sign, then a green N (novice) sign in the rear window (inside or outside) or elsewhere outside the vehicle, at the back. Motorcyclists must have it on the rear of their machine or on the back of their clothing.

ELSEWHERE: In France, new drivers must display an “A” disk on their vehicle for 2 years. In New Jersey, drivers under the age of 21 holding a learner’s permit or probationary license must display a detachable red decal on the front and back license plates.

In Australia, the use of coloured probationary driver plates is mandatory, although rules differ slightly depending on the state.

SENIOR DRIVERS

CANADA: In Ontario, drivers aged 80 years and over must renew their licence every 2 years and complete a vision test, a multiple-choice rules of the road/signs test and a Group Education Session.

ELSEWHERE: In Illinois, drivers over 75 must take a road test to renew their licence. In Japan, all drivers over 70 must display a “momiji mark” on the front and back of their vehicle.

FINES AND DEMERITS

CANADA: Ontario doubles fines (but not demerits) for offences in community safety zones and construction zones when workers are present.

ELSEWHERE: In Michigan, a motorists can be fined $7,500 and jailed for up to 15 years for killing or injuring a worker in a construction zone. In Australia, during holiday periods and long weekends, double demerit points apply for speeding, seatbelt and impaired driving and helmet-related offences.

wheels@thestar.ca

  • Canadian traffic laws tough on drivers? Think again OPP Ride Program 12.31.2007O.P.P. officers check vehicles at the 401 Eastbound on ramp at Avenue road as part of the OPP's new years ever R.I.D.E. program.(Carlos Osorio/Toronto Star)

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