Aggressive Quebec driving
January 14, 2010 7:30 PM   Subscribe

Why are drivers in Quebec so much more aggressive than in other provinces?

I'd always heard about "Montreal drivers" but thought that maybe it was just a stereotype. But after my first visit there years ago I realized how much truth there was to it. People rarely use their blinkers when changing lanes, tail-gating is rampant, there just seems to be a real aggressive streak in drivers there that I haven't seen elsewhere in Canada.

I'm honestly curious as to why so many people there (and in Quebec in general, it seems - I find the same style of driving on highways and in cities across the province) drive like this? Is it something cultural? Are there different road rules I'm not aware of? I've learned to adapt to the different style when I drive to Montreal so it's not really a problem for me anymore (although managing to find my exit off the autoroute is another matter!) but I'm still curious.
posted by fso to Travel & Transportation around Quebec, QC (31 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Mr. F claims (warning: stereotype ahead) that the Quebeçois drive like shit in South Florida, too, so it may not be related to rules of the road in Canada.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 7:33 PM on January 14, 2010

As an Ottawan, I find Montrealers drive pretty similarly to Torontonians. You have to drive aggressively when there's always fairly heavy traffic. I think infrastructure also has a lot to do with it.
posted by sunshinesky at 7:40 PM on January 14, 2010

Also, I feel I should add that while many people find 'montreal drivers' intimidating, I appreciate them for their confidence. I actually feel safer driving in a place like MTL or TO than Ottawa sometimes, because people tend to hesitate a lot more in Ottawa.
posted by sunshinesky at 7:43 PM on January 14, 2010

As an Ottawan, I find Montrealers drive pretty similarly to Torontonians.

As a Torontonian, I disagree. I find Montrealers more aggressive. They're like New Yorkers. But it may just be that when you're not familiar with the streets and need to slow down to find your way around, you realize how impatient everyone is around you.

I don't know why it got this way, though my best guess is that relatively narrow and crowded streets force people to be aggressive about changing lanes because there isn't a lot of opportunity. Who knows? But once a pattern like this starts, it keeps up because that's how everyone has to drive there to get anywhere.
posted by Dasein at 7:50 PM on January 14, 2010

I think it's a faux-Euro thing. People in NYC drive the same way. (I speak as someone who has driven pretty extensively in both cities.) They just lack patience.
posted by youcancallmeal at 7:57 PM on January 14, 2010

I'm an Edmontonian who once got a speeding ticket on Quebec highway. I hate generalizations: you find bad drivers and good drivers everywhere, but you only notice the bad ones. (Exception is Calgarians on Hwy. 2 - they really are crazy bad drivers. All of them. Without exception.)
posted by Kurichina at 7:57 PM on January 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

As an Ottawan, I find Montrealers drive pretty similarly to Torontonians.

As both an Ottawan and former Torontonian, I too disagree and have found Montreal traffic to be significantly more aggressive. Not speed so much as tailgating and aggressive lane changing without signaling. I suspect it has something to do with Montreal being an island with only several highways leading to the city center, creating unavoidable bottlenecks which leads to higher congestion and angrier drivers/ the need to be significantly more aggressive.


once a pattern like this starts, it keeps up because that's how everyone has to drive there to get anywhere.

Agreed. Like you, I too have found the need to adapt to a different way of driving in that area. I regularly use my blinkers but find that in Montreal, blinkers likely make other drivers speed up and cut off a lane change rather than allow entry.
posted by kitkatcathy at 8:06 PM on January 14, 2010

Naw, they're just fast and assertive. Drive likewise, and you'll be fine.
posted by scruss at 8:14 PM on January 14, 2010

As someone who has lived and driven in a lot of cities, including Montreal, Boston, San Francisco, Philly, and Washington D.C., I would characterize Montreal drivers as "nonchalant," rather than "aggressive." I think of "aggressive" drivers as people who claim a part of the road as their personal territory, and drive in a manner intended to ensure that no one ever encroaches on that territory: pulling out into traffic, cutting you off without warning, honking the second the light turns green, disregarding right-of-way rules, double-dipping at stop signs, and treating pedestrians and bikers as non-sentient road obstacles.

In contrast, the behaviors I notice most among Montreal drivers seem to me to indicate a general obliviousness to other drivers: failing to use turn signals; failing to pull into the center of the road when making a turn so that others may pass around them; reacting to lights in a rather lazy fashion. If anything, I find Montreal drivers to be rather timid and excessively polite. Hell, walking to work today I saw a police car with its emergency lights on patiently wait while a car blocking its path took its time getting out of the way at an intersection.

Why is this? My guess is that it is part of a more generalized kind of laissez-faire attitude that seems to characterize Montrealers, which can sometimes seem like rudeness but is really just nonchalance.
posted by googly at 8:20 PM on January 14, 2010

Not signalling: It is crucially important not to let other cars know you're going to move into the lane in front of them or they'll close the gap. (as kitkatcathy said)

Tailgating: You have to drive close to the car in front or you won't get through the lights. Remember, no right on red. Also, I think Montreal's traffic lights are not synchronized to the grid as well as most cities, so you could hit a red almost anytime - you *have to* get through.

Speed: You're slowing everybody down (because, who knows where the congestion on Decarie will be today?). If the speed limit is 70 (km/h) and you're not doing 90, you should be in the far right lane.

I disagree with some of the sentiment here, I think Montreal drivers are very confident in their aggressiveness, and rarely do anything dangerous.
posted by niccolo at 8:29 PM on January 14, 2010

I'm with "nonchalant" more than "aggressive". I am convinced I got my driver's license years ago in Toronto only because my examiner was from Montréal. I performed decently throughout the test, and completely rocked parallel parking, but really messed up perpendicular parking at the end, ending up badly skewed in the parking space. The examiner opened his door, looked down at the painted line disappearing at an angle under the car, shrugged, and told me I passed.
posted by maudlin at 8:31 PM on January 14, 2010

Your observations are most likely confirmation bias. As a Montrealer I have the same experience with crazy "Ontario drivers". I now live in Alberta where they complain about aggressive BC drivers while in when on vacation in BC they complain about how Albertans drive.

If you want systemic reasons:
no right on red means you can be a bit more care free at the intersection.
no pedestrian crosswalks means you don't ever slow down for pedestrians.
four way stops at every intersection means he who acts first moves first.

I agree though, highway 2 in Alberta is insane, I once saw a man practicing on a mini piano while driving a car, and someone else reading a newspaper.
posted by furtive at 8:32 PM on January 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

Lived in Connecticut since 1987. Every time someone blasts past me at 1,000,000 MPH on I-91 South, damn sure it's a Quebecan.

Don't know why.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 8:33 PM on January 14, 2010

Quebecer, not Quebecan, just for future reference.
posted by Dasein at 8:36 PM on January 14, 2010

I'm a quebecois living in montreal and I agree that people here drive very agressively and not well at all. it's fucking dangerous out there! people get run over a few times a year.
even by snow removal equipment.
posted by PowerCat at 8:43 PM on January 14, 2010

The certainly is something to the stereotype of the aggressive Montreal driver. While in Edmonton, traffic stops whenever you look like you might want to walk across the street, in Montreal you have to watch out for drivers backing up at great speed on one way streets (I learned this lesson soon after moving to Montreal).

I think it can be pretty difficult to trace back how this sort of widespread culture practice came to be, but here are a few ideas:

1) Infastructure: lots of narrow one-way streets, frequent stop signs, relatively few highways, which means that driving aggressively can save you a bit of time. The highway interchanges are, of course, very complicated, and can require a certain degree of aggressiveness. Even driving from Ottawa to Gatineau, there is a significant difference in the design of urban highways.

2) Traffic: there is quite a bit of it and it is often quite slow. Parking can be difficult in some areas. There are many opportunities for frustration.

3) Stop signs: They are used everywhere in Quebec and drivers tend to treat them like yield signs. Often this is appropriate, but sometimes it isn't.

4) Latin machismo: Sure, it's a stereotype, but there's a grain of truth there.

5) Montreal is a magnet for type A personalities. It is the business, cultural, etc. centre of Quebec and attracts driven (and aggressive) people.

6) A relatively high proportion of people in Montreal don't have cars (because you can get away without one easily, because people have less money, or just because the culture is different), so fewer of the people who don't want to drive (and would probably be less aggressive) are on the road, leaving a higher proportion of aggressive drivers.

I think aggressive driving can be a bit of a positive-feedback loop. Once some portion of the population is driving aggressively, the rest of the population starts to react to them and becomes more aggressive and eventually you have an entrenched culture of aggressive driving.
posted by ssg at 8:52 PM on January 14, 2010

Yeah, we get the Quebecois on Cape Cod too during the summer. I wouldn't say they're "aggressive", but then I'm from NYC and I drive like a taxicab — they just don't seem that interested in where they are on the road or what's going on around them. They're as often driving too slow as too fast.
posted by nicwolff at 9:14 PM on January 14, 2010

There's a certain sense of working somewhat outside of the rules on Quebec streets, imo. I live here and I know that as pedestrians we cross the streets when we find a plausible gap in traffic; lights have little to do with it. With pedestrians like that, imagine the boldness of the drivers in the same streets!
There's also definitely not a lot of space to spare on the streets here; we've got a lot of single-lane streets (one each way) and a lot of one-way streets, putting road space at a premium and more likely to be fought for.
posted by Billegible at 9:48 PM on January 14, 2010

Tis true with Quebec boats as well. - former Vermonter
posted by k8t at 9:53 PM on January 14, 2010

I love driving in Montreal and feel safer driving here than almost anywhere. Also love Manhattan, Boston's not so bad though I haven't driven there as often. Ottawa? Very bad. Toronto? The worst, though it's getting better.

With age I have become a bit of a "rules of the road" absolutist and I actively watch for things like lane-change indicator lights and making full stops at stop signs etc. and based on my observations I think Montreal has a bad rap - when I started paying attention more actively to this kind of thing, I was pleasantly surprised.

There are crap drivers everywhere, but in Montreal my experience is that generally people drive with confidence and commitment, and thus to some extent are more predictable than in places like Toronto. MY experience in Toronto is that people are all over the road, only marginally paying attention to the road and extremely unpredictable.

Similarly, I remember driving in Vancouver for a week a couple of years ago and saying to myself, constantly, "just DO IT already! Pick a lane, move there and drive." Or, "make the turn you clearly are attempting. Quit thinking about doing something and just DO it."

Conversely in Montreal drivers aren't tentative. They know where they want to be, and they know how to navigate (on an autoroute, say) to get there, and they do it.
posted by mikel at 5:18 AM on January 15, 2010

The worst most aggressive drivers I've ever encountered are in Montréal and Boston. ssq nails the reasons why above.

Bowser & Blue have a great song called "Driving in Quebec" in which they talk about speed bumps in the alley. I've never seen that, but I have seen speed bumps in the McDonald's drive thru in DDO.
posted by Gridlock Joe at 7:04 AM on January 15, 2010

I've driven on three continents an multiple countries and Montreal/Quebec drivers weren't in any way abnormal to my US born sensibilities.

One important bit that I have noticed is that there are different unofficial rules in different places, such as how much space you need to merge (i.e. when it is acceptable to the person in the other lane), how long to signal before turning/merging, how close to follow and more that I have consciously recognized and many times that that I haven't. Drivers aren't more or less aggressive, but the unstated rules are different. Once you understand them the traffic patterns suddenly make sense.

The only place that really stood out to me was Germany, where the driver's were uniformly skilled and conscious of other drivers. The simple fact that everyone was aware of their surroundings blew me away. That and their speed limits were reasonable so you didn't have the dichotomy between people driving the speed limit and people trying to drive a reasonable speed.
posted by thekiltedwonder at 7:11 AM on January 15, 2010

Mod note: few comments removed - if you could answer the question without calling people stupid and/or complaining about immigrants we'd all really appreciate it, thank you.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 8:29 AM on January 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

They're just fast and assertive? No they are aggressive. Not signalling is not "Fast and assertive" it's dangerous and stupid. As a cycler I have my half dozen or so close calls every year with them (I live in Montreal). They are bad drivers, plain and simple. They pull into the bus lane to cut in front of people when the light turns green etc.

I'm sure it's something akin to the rules of the road not being enforced.
posted by Napierzaza at 9:29 AM on January 15, 2010

As someone who recently (5 years ago) got her license here in Montreal, I have to say that Montreal drivers are pretty much nuts. Granted, I don't have a lot of experience driving either here or anywhere else, but as someone who's a pedestrian most of the time, I don't particularly trust the drivers out there. It also makes me more defensive and hesitant as a relatively inexperienced driver. That said, I can drive in 6 inches of snow with the best of them. ;)

My mother frequently does "rolling stops". My brother is a typical aggressive driver, speeding up quickly to make his lane change, to make his turn, who will tailgate... That said, my whole family does make use of turn signals. That seems to be what annoys us all the most about the bad drivers out there and so all of use the signals.

Having said that, at least the driving school I went to (Morty's!) taught us to be defensive drivers and taught us to do things like check for cyclists (even in January!) when making a turn. I can think of at least four occasions where I didn't get into an accident because I remembered stuff that my driving instructor told me. Hopefully the newer drivers are going to be better ones than those on the road today.

Related to the Florida comment, what's hilarious is that once, about 10 years ago, we were on a family vacation in the Tampa area. We tried to pull out of a mall's parking lot and were basically cut off by some jackass in another lane. My father, perhaps trained from his years of driving in Quebec, hadn't yet taken his foot off the brake, so we were never really in danger. He, good-naturedly, cursed in French, and we all laughed... and then we saw the plate on the car. Of course, it was a Quebec driver.
posted by juliebug at 9:46 AM on January 15, 2010

I find Toronto drivers have about the same temperament but I feel far more vulnerable driving in Montreal because I don't know my way around their byzantine expressway system. The signage is fucking horrible if you're an out-of-towner.
posted by bonobothegreat at 9:57 AM on January 15, 2010

Response by poster: Interesting comments. Thanks, everyone!

Although I find some of the habits of Montréal drivers dangerous (and, yes, I'll generalize here) I would tend to agree with those who think that it could be due more to obliviousness rather than some overall aggressiveness on the part of les montréalais.

Interestingly, I found the flip-side of this behaviour in New Brunswick when I moved there. Everyone tends to be overly courteous on the road. When making a left-hand turn on a solid green light it's not uncommon for someone coming straight through the intersection the other way to flick their lights on and off to let you know they're letting you turn first. This just confuses me and tends to be counterproductive and gum up traffic even more rather than making things run more smoothly.
posted by fso at 11:58 AM on January 15, 2010

As someone who has lived his entire life within 15 miles of the route (according to Google Maps) between pretty much anywhere in Quebec and pretty much anywhere in Florida, I can tell you that Quebec drivers aren't really more aggressive than New York, New Jersey, or Massachusetts drivers, but they drive a hell of a lot faster.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 2:19 PM on January 15, 2010

Having lived and driven in Montreal, Ottawa, and Toronto: Montreal is definitely a different class of driver than Toronto. I think the narrow streets thing is hinting at the difference: it's an island, and downtown is more dense, and there isn't room to do streets right. So you get narrow streets, and you get the bad kind of one-way streets (where it's because it's narrow, not because it's efficient). So the roads really aren't designed to make things easy, and that encourages a certain sort of Mad Max approach to driving.

The Don Valley is pretty bad when there's traffic, but the Decarie is awful when there's traffic. Raised and lowered highways, tunnels, old bridges that change direction entirely during rush hour -- driving in Montreal is bolted on to a city that wasn't really designed for the car and the geography makes it hard to fix.

(See also: Paris during rush hour vs New York.)

One great sign of the city planning problem that is Montreal roads is the old Parc/Pins interchange. A flying interchange at an intersection between residential neighbourhoods and Montreal's equivalent of Central Park! They've since torn it down and replaced it with a regular intersection, but seriously, that's Montreal's relationship with the car right there.

And now that I think about it: I recall seeing lot fewer car-car accidents in Montreal than in Toronto, and a lot fewer highway accidents too.

in Montreal you have to watch out for drivers backing up at great speed on one way streets (I learned this lesson soon after moving to Montreal).

So true! For some reason I love this about Montreal. "The arrow on the sign indicates the direction your car has to point," I tell my wife.
posted by mendel at 8:52 AM on January 16, 2010

Best answer: As a Montrealer who recently moved to Ottawa, I fear for my safety much more here than in Montreal. Also, I find that I get around faster than other Ottawans because I'm not afraid to screw someone over. So I think that it's about being aggressive and skilled. Drivers in Montreal are both. (Drivers in Ottawa are neither. Don't get me started about how sloppy and passive and just plain dumb Ottawa drivers are.)

I think the aggressiveness and skill come from the layout of the roads in Montreal. First, most roads are relatively narrow, crammed with other cars, parked cars, laneways, etc. And then there's the snow factor, where for 4-6 months per year, you have to do all this and deal with snow and ice. In the plateau, for example, driving down the street in the best conditions means that you have one foot of clearance between your mirrors and those of the parked cars on both sides -- in the summer! Then there are all the intersections that cross busy streets from a 2-way stop.

It's also the highways on the island. You have to be aggressive or you go nowhere. Think about merging onto Decarie North when getting on at Paré when you want to go West on the 40. You've got to cut across 4 lanes in 100 m. If you're not skilled and aggressive, you'll never make it (alive). The first time I had to do that (with my learner's permit) I was scared shitless -- but I learned an important lesson.

Finally, it's the highways/bridges off island. There are way too many cars for the bandwidth dedicated to getting on and off the island. There is the feeling that if you don't fight for every metre of road, you'll take much longer to get to where you're going.

Oh and:
- Re: not using blinkers. Yeah, as mentioned above, it gives away your next move. Driving in Montreal is a little like chess that way.
- Re: tailgating. It's the Quebecker's way of telling you to get out of the fucking way. For some reason, they (we) don't use high-beams to signal this desire.

PS: I noticed that now that I have an Ontario license plate, I'm treated differently in Montreal. It's almost like they see my plates and try a little harder to screw me over. So if you have out-of-towner's plates, you're in for it a little worse than locals.
posted by Simon Barclay at 4:41 PM on January 17, 2010

I learned to drive in Montreal, and I mean the actual city not any kind of suburb; I've lived in a bunch of other places since then, so this thread made me laugh.

But I think what the kiltedwonder says bears repeating:

One important bit that I have noticed is that there are different unofficial rules in different places, such as how much space you need to merge (i.e. when it is acceptable to the person in the other lane), how long to signal before turning/merging, how close to follow and more that I have consciously recognized and many times that that I haven't. Drivers aren't more or less aggressive, but the unstated rules are different. Once you understand them the traffic patterns suddenly make sense.

I go through this every time I move to a different region. It takes a while. And yeah, lots of tiny one-way streets, stop signs, no right on red: different environments encourage different habits.
posted by tangerine at 12:20 PM on January 21, 2010

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