Quebec Driving 101 - A Word of Caution

Car with no front bumper



So, what IS it with Quebec drivers?! (No linguistic or cultural slurs intended – I don’t know what linguistic or cultural groups the people behind the wheels of these cars belong to.) Since I arrived here from Nova Scotia some 20 years ago, it has become more and more evident to me that a great number of Quebec drivers – male and female, old and young – need to take a remedial – Driving 101 – course. Don’t get me wrong, I love living in Quebec but I feel a word of caution needs to be extended to newcomers, new drivers and visitors before they can safely drive on our streets and highways and perambulate on our sidewalks.


Here are some drivers to look out for:

- The Red Light Runner: It seems that many drivers in this beautiful city of ours seem to think that a yellow light means “step on the gas” not “slow down because the light is about to turn red.” Most of the time they don’t make it through the light before it turns red. Quite often, therefore, as you are about to enter an intersection after the light facing you has turned green, a Red Light Runner will go whizzing past, barely avoiding a collision. If you should happen to be approaching a green light as the light turns yellow and you feel you have plenty of time to slow down and stop before it turns red, you’d best brace yourself for a possible rear-end collision as the Quebec driver behind you will most likely be stepping on the gas to avoid having to stop. On several occasions I have been “flipped the bird” by Red Light Runners swerving around me to race through the yellow light for which I had bags of time and distance to stop.


- Rolling Stoppers: Is there an intersection with a stop sign coming up? Be on the lookout for drivers performing what they call un stop américain (I wonder why?), slowing down just enough to have a quick look each way to see if the coast is clear (ie.: no police in sight) and then continuing on their merry way.


- Illegal Red Light Turners: Now you have to understand that in most of the Ville de Québec and the province of Quebec, you are NOT allowed to turn right on a red light IF there is a sign up there somewhere which shows a black right turn arrow with a big red slash through it. IF there is NO sign saying you cannot turn right, then you can turn right after you have come to a full stop and verified that there is no oncoming traffic or a hapless pedestrian trying to cross the street. (I hope you can understand all that, not sure if I do and I wrote it!) How many times have I seen a driver barely glance to his left before turning right at one of these intersections or illegally turning right where there is a sign that says they can’t? 


- Pedestrian Hazards 1: Speaking of pedestrians; if you are one, be sure you can see the whites of the eyes of any driver who is approaching or stopped at an intersection before you dare to walk in front of their vehicle. Make sure he (or she) knows that you are there. A friend of mine was recently tossed into the air like a rag-doll by a driver who “didn’t see her” as she was trying to cross the street. Luckily, she wasn’t seriously hurt, just badly bruised and scraped as she hit the pavement. The driver was most likely looking to his left and had started to make the right hand turn before being sure that there wasn’t a pedestrian in his way. I suggest you read the rules of the road of the Société de l’assurance automobile de Québec (the SAAQ as opposed to the SAQ which is where you go to buy alcoholic beverages – don’t confuse the two, and don’t drive drunk).


- Pedestrian Hazards 2: Newcomers and visitors to the city should be aware that IF there is a pedestrian crosswalk sign at an intersection with a traffic light, you must push a button on a nearby pole to activate the signal that allows you to safely cross the street. After making sure there isn’t a Red Light Runner headed your way, you can cross the street in any direction, even diagonally! What a great idea – a six-way scramble! Then there are those pedestrians who press the button, then realize there are no cars in sight and cross before the pedestrian signal comes on, thus forcing us drivers to sit needlessly at a red light for another 10 to 20 seconds (depending on the width of the intersection), but I won’t go there.


I have occasionally seen drivers turn right when they had a red light and the pedestrian walk signals were flashing and was curious to know if this was legal.

The answer is YES and NO. Or as certain Quebecers say, “P’tet ben que oui, p’tet ben que non.”

The SAAQ web site < > says YES, you can make a right turn on a red light in this situation IF there are no pedestrians in the crosswalk and IF there is NO sign prohibiting a right turn on a red light. And there are darn few of those kinds of intersections in our fair city.


In my home town of Halifax, drivers have been well trained and ticketed over the years to respect the rights of pedestrians at all costs! During a recent trip home, while I was walking on a busy downtown sidewalk, I stopped near an intersection with no stop signs or lights trying to decide if I would cross the street to check out another boutique. Busy looking at the stores and not the traffic, I suddenly realized that vehicles in all directions had come to a halt, and were waiting for me to make up my mind and cross the street. Boy, was my face red as I hustled to the other side!


Of course, as a well-trained Quebec driver, I was used to stopping at most red lights before even thinking about possibly making a right turn. In Nova Scotia, you can make a right turn at any red light after coming to a full stop and making sure there are no oncoming vehicles or pedestrians, unless there is a sign saying you can’t, and there are darn few of those. As a result, I frequently heard polite little beeps from cars behind me encouraging me to make that right turn on a red when there was nothing coming. They had seen my Quebec plates and understood my reluctance to turn right.


Now to get to some of my pet peeves:


- Drivers who don’t signal their intention to turn. How many times have I been following a driver who suddenly, with no warning and for no apparent reason, decides to turn right or left, or just pull over to the side of the street or into a parking lot, etc. without first putting on their turn signal, causing me to say things that can’t be printed in this paper? I swear these people have no idea of the purpose of that little stick that projects from the left side of their steering columns! For sure they know that the one on the right controls the headlights and windshield washers, a frequent necessity at this time of year.


- Drivers of vehicles with trailer hitches. As a victim of one of these inconsiderate drivers in a parking lot, I have now learned to keep a wary eye out for vehicles equipped with hitches which can make quite an impression on your bumper. The drivers don’t seem to realize that there is a metal rod with a big honking knob on the end of it sticking out almost a foot beyond the rear of their car, van or truck. Luckily, I was able to track down the owner of the truck who parked on my bumper and he graciously accepted the blame and paid for the repairs. Can’t these people somehow remove the hitch when it is not in use?!


- Hit and Run Drivers. In the past two years, my lovely little car has been hit on three occasions by drivers who did not have the decency to leave a note admitting blame for the damage. Didn’t they hear that crunching sound as they backed up? They left it for me to discover the damage when it is too late to figure out who had done it. Luckily, I was able to track down two of them (I found witnesses) who had damaged my vehicle in the same week. Luckily for them, they were able to share the cost of repairing my rear bumper. The most recent one came as quite a shock as the telephone rang at 11:30 pm. It was a policewoman advising us that our car, which was legally parked on a side street, had been struck by a truck which a witness saw driving away too late to get its license plate number. When my husband and I went out to survey the damage, we discovered the entire front bumper had been ripped off! (see photo) The witness said the truck had backed up into our car, catching our bumper on a metal bar on the back of the truck and then drove off, taking the bumper with it!! Luckily, we have no-fault insurance on the car, so we didn’t have to pay any of the $2,000 body shop bill.


- Tailgaters. Warning – if you’re not driving at least 10 km/hr over the posted speed limit, you had best get into the right hand lane otherwise you’ll have one of these drivers sitting on your rear bumper and flashing their headlights at you because you’re slowing them down. I’ve even had one of these idiots pass me on the shoulder of the road on the right hand side when there was only one lane! After twenty years, I’ve adopted the attitude of “going with the flow,” much to my husband’s chagrin.


Alors, Bienvenue à Québec, where it’s better to be a defensive driver than an offensive one. Perhaps it’s the hockey mentality of Quebecers. “Only 15 seconds left before the end of the third period . . . He shoots! He scores!!” ("Et le but!")  Remember, it’s the driver who arrives home alive who is the winner. Better to be late than “the late.”