Anyone who’s driven abroad (back when we used to travel regularly, if anyone remembers those times) knows there are many road laws unique to individual countries. This helps explain why people from the U.K. tend to lose their minds when they see drivers making right turns on red lights in Canada. The same can be said for Canucks who witness Americans pulling legal U-turns at intersections, a habit that your author understands helps traffic flow but routinely terrifies the tar out of him during visits south of the border.
There are plenty of odd traffic or traffic-related laws floating around, some of which are simply the result of legislators who enacted a particular rule decades ago but is now sorely outdated. Others are strangely specific, some are brow-furrowing in their direction, and a few simply make no logical sense at all.
We’ve focused on Canadian laws, but there are also a few weird regulations from other jurisdictions that are just too good (or too bad) not to mention. Let’s discover how the long arm of the law can reach out and grab you when it’s least expected.
Tee Minus Twenty
If you’re a cab driver in the Nova Scotia town of Yarmouth, don’t even think about wearing a tee shirt while you’re behind the wheel during a shift. In what is presumably an effort to put the town’s best foot forward to tourists, cab drivers must “wear a shirt or military type blouse with a collar and sleeves (no T- shirts), ankle-length trousers or dress shorts which are worn within at least three inches of the knee.” That’s, um, pretty specific.
These rules used to be on the books verbatim for the capital city of Halifax, but they have recently been updated to read that a driver must have “a high standard of personal hygiene which will be reflected in neat, clean, and professional appearance.” Go mad with the T-shirts, then – at least until Uber and Lyft have a decent toehold in the market.
Taking a Gander
When the residents of Gander, Newfoundland, aren’t busy eating salted codfish or opening their homes to thousands of stranded travellers, they seem to occupy themselves with creating odd driving laws. For starters, no one is allowed to park within 200 metres of a “fire in progress,” presumably a nod to leaving plenty of room for first responders. But have you ever measured 200 metres? That’s over 650 feet, or the width of roughly 18 average housing lots in the GTA. Here’s the good news: you’re exempt from this rule if you’re a member of the clergy. Jesus, take the wheel.
One more oddity from the airport town? Section 53 of its traffic act declares, with great specificity, that it is illegal for a person to throw tacks on the road. We guess they must have had a problem with James Bond and his tricked-out BMW 750iL from Tomorrow Never Dies.
Seize Your Horse? Of Course, of Course
Headed westward across our nation, we find an Ontario rule permitting innkeepers to confiscate and sell “a horse, other animal or carriage” for the value of any food or accommodation supplied should the guest not pay up in a prompt manner.
And don’t think you can place a friendly innkeeper on the hook if some ne’er-do-well rides off with your horse during your stay. According to Ontario law, they are not liable – beyond the sum of $40 – to “make good to guests any loss of or injury to goods brought to the inn not being a horse or other live animal or any gear appertaining thereto, or a carriage” unless it was an inside job or through the willful neglect of the innkeeper. Saddle up, pardner.
Snow Way, Man
Until now, the only association your author had with Wetaskiwin, Alberta, was a television jingle from the ’90s hawking used cars – because buying ad time on cable TV in rural Newfoundland was a great spend of marketing budget for car lots out west, apparently. Actually, considering the number of people who worked on rotation between those two parts of the country (and still do), it perhaps makes more sense than at first blush.
Anyway, despite their frigid winters, people in Wetaskiwin need not think they can get away with skating on a roadway, even if that surface is covered with several inches of fresh ice after one of the region’s famous bouts of freezing rain. Section 50(4)(i) specifically forbids this activity. One also cannot “coast on a sled, toboggan, ski or similar winter conveyance” on a highway, scuppering any dreams of recreating that scene from one of the Fast and Furious movies.
I Like Bike
If you’ve decided to ride a bicycle in traffic through the town of Sudbury, know that – thanks to a rule from 1973 – it is illegal to “operate any siren or other artificial noise device” from such a conveyance. Bells or horns don’t count, so that aah-woo-gah horn on your kid’s BMX won’t run afoul of this strange law.
Oh – and if you’ve received proper permission from council for a parade of some kind, the above law doesn’t apply. In particular, the Salvation Army gets a special callout as being exempt from this chapter of legislation, as do a “newsboy” or “peddlar” who are “plying his/her trade legitimately.” Go ahead and crow about the newspapers you’ve got for sale on your Sudbury-based bicycle, then.
Red, White, and Blue
We’ll finish our list with a couple of strange driving laws from America just to prove that Canucks aren’t the only ones with mangled legislation. The code of ordinances in Rockford, Maryland, state that a person may not “profanely curse and swear” within the hearing distance of “persons passing by, upon or along” a street, sidewalk, or highway. In other words, it’s technically a misdemeanour to cuss someone out because you’re frustrated at them for cutting you off during a lane change.
Meanwhile, residents of an area in South Carolina are theoretically breaking the law if they have a car cluttered with leftover fast food containers. This is thanks to Section 9-1-114, which deals with an apparently persistent rat problem. It is illegal for a person to permit the accumulation of any garbage or trash “in any building, vehicle and their surrounding areas” lest the mess afford food or harborage for rats. We hope that the state’s drive thru lanes have plenty of garbage bins.