If staying in the city, or Meadowvale near us, car rental won’t be necessary for the whole of your trip. The TTC (subway/streetcars) and local trains/buses will be fine. You may wish to hire a car for the Niagara portion of the trip, but if so, please note: the airport car hire places seem more expensive than ones outside the airport.
Firstly, Canadians drive on the right! You should probably do the same too.
You will most likely be driving an automatic car - so with no clutch and the gear stick on your right, the left side of your body is redundant! Also, if you have never driven automatic before, once the car is out of 'park', it will roll forward unless you have your foot on the break. Also, the car may rock slightly when you put it in park. This is normal!
DRIVING ON HIGHWAYS:
On city streets with 2 lanes, they are both driving lanes, not a driving lane and a passing lane. You can pass people on both sides.
On highways, technically, the far right lane is the driving lane, and the others are passing lanes like in the UK, however, no one really follows this. If you are going slower, keep to the right, but 'undertaking' on the highway definitely happens, so always check your blind spots!
Sitting in the 2nd/3rd to right lane might be best to avoid having to change lanes often. The far-right often turns into an exit lane for the next junction.
Some highways have diamonds painted on the road in the far left lane - this is a lane for 'carpooling'. If you are travelling alone, you can't use this lane. If you have a passenger with you, you can. (A mannequin in the passenger seat doesn’t count. A man tried once and failed, making headlines in Toronto!)
Signage for 'off ramps' or slip roads off the highway are above the lanes with a distance marker, not on the side of the road like on UK motorways. This can be confusing because in the UK, if the sign is above the lane it usually means 'stay in this lane for this destination', here it is a warning to start moving over in preparation to exit.
On highways, there can be ‘express’ or ‘collectors’. The express lane bypasses the next few junctions, and keeps you moving. The collectors refers to the lanes where the off-ramps are. Your GPS system should tell you when to move over, or which route is travelling with less traffic. Sometimes if there is a build-up of traffic on the express, travelling on the collectors is better, even if you don’t need to exit yet.
Park in the shade where possible, otherwise you will hate yourself when you come back to your car... it will be very hot!
When parking on the side of the road, always park in the direction the traffic is moving... for parking the wrong way around (facing oncoming traffic), or overstaying your parking time, you WILL get a ticket.
RED LIGHTS, JUNCTIONS & PEDESTRIAN RIGHT OF WAY:
One difference here is the traffic lights are not level with the white line where you need to stop on the road. In the UK, you have a traffic light where you stop (level with the white line), and another one across the other side of the junction. Here you only have a traffic light on the other side of the junction, but you still have to stop at the white line when the light is red. Be wary of this, and make sure you break in time, because if you aim for the actual light, you will go careening across the junction into crossing traffic.
When TURNING at an intersection, you need to look for pedestrians crossing the road you are turning into. When your light is green, and you are turning, the pedestrians have a walk sign and they have the right of way, so look before you turn. However, if you have an advance green ARROW to turn, the pedestrians waiting on the crosswalk of the road you are turning in to will still have a stop, so you can just turn. This is one of the strangest things I had to get used to in Canada. You see a gap in the traffic, and think: I’m going to turn in that gap, but you then have to remember to check for pedestrians too BEFORE you make the turn to avoid getting stuck in front of oncoming traffic!
On that note, at any intersection, or in a car park, pedestrians generally have the right of way, and they will cross in front of you if you are turning into a side road. Just be cautious, and let anyone who steps onto the road walk across before you turn.
You can turn right on a red light, if there is a gap. (Just make sure you check for pedestrians crossing in front of you at your red light before you turn).
NOT MANY ROUNDABOUTS – LOTS OF STOP SIGNS:
Roundabouts don’t really exist (and where they do, no one knows how to use them, so the lanes are just painted on the road, follow around, and exit with no changing lanes needed!) More popular are Stop signs, including 4-way Stops. These are tackled on a first come first served basis, so keep track of when you arrived and you’ll know when it’s your turn to go!
4 way stops are marked with a Stop Signs, T-junctions are often 3 way stops here too. Occasionally you will get a red light hanging above a 4-way intersection instead. These exist in more rural areas, and are treated the sames as a stop sign.
I have often said here, Canadians are pleasant and polite people until they get into their cars! Although this is a joke, tailgating, not letting people in, and moronic or selfish driving is quite normal... as long as you EXPECT everyone to be an idiot, you will be just fine. And luckily, the roads are wide enough for you to trundle along at your own pace and let them speed off into the distance. :-)