Welcome to your quick course in highway driving! You’ll learn how to drive safely on the 400 series highway network that connects Canadians throughout Southern Ontario.
- Road tripping to Montreal?
- Shopping in Buffalo?
- Camping in Sault Ste. Marie?
It’s more than likely that you’ll need a 400 series highway to make it there and back safely. Let’s get started with the some of the basics like the rules of the road and where they can take you.
The Rules of 400 Series Highway Driving
One of the main differences between the 400 series and the other Ontario highways is that they have four lanes instead of two. They come with their own set of rules, too.
Driving Rules and Restrictions
- You cannot drive on a 400 series highway with a G1 Permit License unless you’re with a licensed driving instructor.
- They all have a speed limit of 100km per hour (62mph), although they are testing an increase to 110km/hour on stretches of the 402, 417, and QEW.
- It is dangerous and illegal for a slower moving vehicle to cut in front of a faster moving vehicle.
- Use the far left lane for passing only, then move back into the middle or right lane; do not stay in the passing lane.
Entering and Exiting
- Access the highway using the entrance ramp, then enter the acceleration lane and increase your speed to match that of the traffic.
- Signal and merge safely. Drivers should move over for you if it is safe to do so.
- When exiting the highway, use the deceleration lane to begin slowing down and follow the exit ramp.
- Your exit will end with an intersection, stop sign, or yield sign.
- Green signs are used for guiding drivers, like distance to destinations and nearby interchanges.
- Blue signs are used for services and attractions at upcoming exits.
- Blue signs are also used to signal collector lanes and toll highways
- Black and white signs are used to signify 400 series highways
- High Occupancy Vehicle lanes (carpool lanes) can only be used with two or more passengers. They’re being added to most of the 400 series highways, but as of 2020 they exist on portions of the 400, 401, 404, 410, and 427.
- There is a striped buffer zone that separates the HOV lane from the rest of the highway. Don’t cross that zone.
- Vehicles with “green” license plates can use HOV lanes any time. Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles and full-battery electric vehicles are eligible for those plates, if you have one!
- Buses and emergency vehicles are permitted to use the lanes at any time.
Safe highway driving tips in Canada
The collision avoidance and traffic management systems of the 400 series highways gives them the lowest accident and fatality rate comparative to traffic volume in North America.
“Ontario’s roads continue to be among the safest in North America. In 2016, Ontario’s fatality rate of 0.58 per 10,000 licensed drivers was the second lowest in all of North America, behind only the District of Columbia. In 2016, the number of traffic fatalities on Ontario roads was 579.”
– Ontario Road Safety Annual Report 2016, Government of Ontario
Here are some highway driving tips that will help you get home safe, whether you’re a new driver or a seasoned road warrior:
- Drive at a steady speed consistent with the traffic around you.
- Check your mirrors frequently just as you would when driving in the city.
- Look ahead as far as you can see to anticipate what’s coming next.
- Stay clear of large vehicles that block your vision; pass them or adjust your speed to make sure you’re not in their blind spot.
- Leave two seconds between you and the vehicle in front of you so that you can stop in time if that driver slams on the brakes.
- Always slow down to the posted speed when moving into an exit ramp. Losing the ability to judge your speed is a special danger of highway driving known as speed adaptation.
- Pay close attention to upcoming exits and do not make dangerous lane changes to make your exit. It’s not worth it.
- Fatigue is a leading cause of highway accidents, so take a break at a rest stop if you’re tired. It’s even better to plan rest stops ahead of time if it’s a long trip.
- Avoid driving at rush hour if you can (7:30am – 9:30am and 3:30pm – 6:30pm.)
One final safety tip: drive slowly and leave more distance when it’s snowing or raining. That applies to every road in Canada—not just the 400 highways!
Getting home a bit earlier just isn’t worth the risk.
Quick refresher: what are the 400 series highways?
In 1952, the Department of Highways felt Canadians needed faster, more direct routes for getting across Southern Ontario.
Something with four lanes to reduce congestion, but covering enough ground that it could connect both major cities and remote areas to encourage economic growth. Thus the 400 series highways were born!
Skip ahead 68 years or so and Southern Ontario now has seventeen 400 series highways, including the infamous 401 through Toronto (the widest and busiest highway in Canada). They stretch from Windsor to Quebec, and hopefully one day soon as far North as Sudbury.
You can see the Official Ministry of Transportation Road Map of Southern Ontario here, if you’re curious.
400 Series Highways in Southern Ontario
As of January 2020, these are start and end points of the existing 400 Series Highways. There are several extensions planned for the future, especially the addition of HOV lanes (read more about those below.)
Highway 400 (226km)
- Maple Leaf Drive Toronto to Highway 69 in Carling
- aka the Toronto – Barrie Highway
- Future extension to Sudbury planned
Highway 401 (828km)
- Ojibway Parkway in Windsor to A-20 towards Montreal, Quebec
- Goes through Toronto where it becomes the widest and busiest highway in Canada
- aka Highway of Heroes, Macdonald-Cartier Freeway, Rt. Hon. Herb Gray Parkway, and is part of the Trans Canada Highway
Highway 402 (102.5km)
- Canada-United States border at Point Edward / Sarnia to Highway 401 in London
Highway 403 (125.2km)
- Highway 401 in Woodstock to Highway 410 in Mississauga
- aka Chedoke Expressway, Alexander Graham Bell Parkway
- Main route through Hamilton
Highway 404 (50.1km)
- Highway 401 in Toronto to Woodbine Avenue in East Gwillumbury
- aka Don Valley Parkway or the DVP
- Very busy route through Toronto
Highway 405 (9.7km)
- Queen Elizabeth Way in St. Catherines to Canada-United States border at Lewiston, NY
- aka General Brock Parkway
Highway 406 (26km)
- East Main Street in Welland to Queen Elizabeth Way in St. Catherines
Highway 407 (151.4km)
- QEW + Highway 403 in Burlington to Highway 35 + Highway 114 in Clarington
- This is a paid toll route
Highway 409 (5.6km)
- Highway 401 to Pearson International Airport
- aka Belfield Expressway
Highway 410 (20.3km)
- Highway 401 + 403 in Mississauga to Highway 10 (Hurontario Street) in Caledon
Highway 412 (10km)
- Highway 401 in Whitby to Highway 407 in Whitby
- aka West Durham Link
- This is a paid toll route
Highway 416 (76.4km)
- Highway 401 near Brockville to Highway 417 in Ottawa
- aka Veterans Memorial Highway
Highway 417 (192km)
- Highway 17 in Arnprior to A-40 THC towards Montreal
- aka The Queensway, also part of the Trans-Canada Highway
Highway 418 (12.8km)
- Highway 401 in Clarington to Highway 407 in Clarington
- Also called the East Durham Link
- This is a paid toll route
Highway 420 (3.3km)
- Regional Road 98 (Montrose Road) to Niagara Falls Canada-US border
- aka Niagara Veterans Memorial Highway
Highway 427 (19.9km)
- QEW + Gardiner Expressway in Toronto to Regional Road 7 in Vaughan
- Used to be known as highway 27
- Extension to Major Mackenzie Drive in progress
Queen Elizabeth Way (139.1km)
- Canada-United States border in Fort Erie to Highway 427 in Toronto
- It’s included in the 400 series as highway 451 for administration reasons, but known publicly as the QEW
New Driver FAQ
Still not sure about highway driving? Here are a few questions other new drivers before you have asked when they’re unsure of the rules:
What is an acceleration lane?
You enter the acceleration lane after the entry ramp, but before you merge on to the highway (the ramp becomes the acceleration lane). It allows you to increase your speed to match that of the traffic before merging smoothly—but it doesn’t last forever.
What is a deceleration lane?
You must not decrease your speed on the highway. Wait until you’ve entered the deceleration lane (which becomes the exit ramp). Then you can lower your speed to the posted limit of the exit ramp.
Who has the right of way when merging?
Drivers on the highway are required to move over and make room for new vehicles entering the highway from the acceleration lane, unless it is unsafe for them to do so. But don’t forget—it’s your job as the merging vehicle to match their speed. If you cut in front of another driver in the right-hand lane and that driver has to slam on the brakes, then it wasn’t safe to merge.
Which lane should slow moving traffic use?
If you drive on the slower side of the speed limit, you should keep to the right of the highway. If trucks and merging vehicles also make you nervous, we recommend one of the middle lanes as the safest option.
Don’t be the Sunday driver in the left-hand passing lane.
What speed should a driver travel when merging?
Common knowledge says you should be going at least a minimum of 90km per hour when you merge onto the highway. However, the safest option is to match the speed of the current traffic. If traffic is going 100 km per hour, then you should too. Follow this rule within reason though—if several vehicles are speeding, then it might be wise to let them pass and then merge at a safe speed.
What is the minimum speed on 400 series highways?
There is no official minimum speed on the 400 series highways, but if you are driving so slow you are blocking or impeding traffic, you can still get a ticket—or cause an accident. If you aren’t comfortable driving at least 90 km per hour, you should consider an alternate route.
When is it legal to enter an HOV lane?
HOV lanes require at least two passengers to be used and you must enter them at proper access points. Don’t drive over the striped buffer zones that separate them from the rest of the highway. Sometimes the occupancy requirements can change, but that typically happens in special circumstances and will be posted on digital signs above the highway itself. See our HOV lanes section above for more details.