Question about Driving – Appropriate Speeds for Narrow, Residential Roads


Skinny streets


Hi Carmen, thanks for writing this informative blog! My N test is 2 weeks away, and I hope you could clarify a few things for me.
1) When driving in a residential area, my coach says that if there are cars parked on both sides and the road is narrow, I should drive at around 35 km/h; if there are no cars, I should drive at around 40 km/h. Will this give me a fail because I’m not driving at the speed limit?
2) Is it alright to drive at 51-52 km/h? I hear that some friends got penalized for driving slower than the limit (47-48 ish). Is it better to go faster than it or slower than it?

Thank you!


Maximum Speed Limits


1) Hello!! No I don’t think it will. The posted speed limit within the city/town (or if not posted, 50 km/hr) has always been the maximum speed that you may go in ideal conditions.


If conditions are anything less than ideal – for example:


  • Confusing, damaged, faded or missing signs
  • Roads not salted or plowed in winter weather
  • Blind curves, intersections, or driveways and poorly banked roads
  • Lack of traffic signals or poorly placed signals
  • Improperly graded curves and uneven shoulders
  • Poor landscaping and vision obstructions
  • Overly bright lights or lack of nighttime lighting
  • Lack of appropriate road markings
  • Inappropriate road materials
  • Potholes
  • Low bridges or incorrect overhead bridge markings
  • Broken guardrails
  • Adverse weather
    • sun glare
    • rain
    • fog
    • extreme wind
    • snow
    • frost
    • ice
    • black ice
    • reduced traction
  • Debris on the roadway
  • Construction
  • Animals on or near the roadway
  • Gravel or dirt road
  • Encountering a snowplow or emergency vehicle, pedestrian, large truck, or jogger, maybe a motorcycle
  • Pooling water on the road
  • Children near the road
  • Wet leaves on the road
  • Malfunctioning traffic signals
  • Porcupine on the road
  • Driver inexperience
  • Poor vehicle, poor tire condition on vehicle or vehicle issues
  • Or a narrow roadway… 🙂


…Then it’s up to the driver to decide the safe, appropriate speed based on the unique circumstances.


You might factor in such things as:


  • Time of day

    • If you’re driving at 4:00 AM through a narrow residential street, do you think there will be many children near the road that may pose as a potential hazard, car doors opening, people walking around? Will there be more potential of seeing an animal at this time, such as a racoon, skunk or house cat? If you do see people near the road or getting out of a vehicle, what type of people do you think they are? Where did they just come from if they get home at 4:00 AM? Work? The bar? The hospital? The airport?
  •  Driver experience and condition

    • Does the driver have experience with a particular condition? If not, is it wise to go a little slower than a more experienced driver?
    • Is the driver going through an attack of hay fever and is sneezing a lot?
  • Vehicle condition

    • Do you know what kind and type of tires you have and if they are appropriate for whatever road or weather circumstances you may encounter? Have you checked the pressures? Are you driving a front wheel drive or all-wheel drive? Did you just borrow your friends’ car and know absolutely nothing about it?


What speed makes sense


I think what your coach said are good general guidelines for a narrow, residential street. The other thing I think about narrow residential streets is that in real life, people don’t drive there for miles and miles and miles (er, kilometers); they usually turn into such an area off a highway or main road and then stop when they get to the destination; often parallel parking or possibly reversing into some driveway-type place. So it doesn’t make much sense to speed up to 50 km/hr if you know you’ll be stopping in 1/2 a block, or in terms of the pizza guy/gal; who has to drive a bit slowly to look for the correct address.


Here’s a road I would personally drive 30 or 40 km/hr maximum:


Even though the speed limit may technically be 50 km/hr max here. This road is seriously skinny!






This road in Burnaby – Albert Street – has a speed limit of 40 km/hr at all times; used to be 50 km/hr. The change was probably due to increased road users of all types. It is just one block north of Hastings Street which is a busy place, so it is a bit crowded, and with the parked cars there is not a lot of extra wiggling room for someone to open a car door, or walk around near their car, and clearly there are visibility issues – how many ‘hidden stop signs’ can you see (or not see) in this picture? Is it a coincidence that the vehicle seen driving on the road is driving on the yellow line? Why is the vehicle in that position?


Hidden Stop Sign


When I zoomed WAY in, I found this




Can we surmise this driver went around the parked vehicle a bit that maybe the driver just exited, or is about to?


There is always a reason for things; we just can’t always tell what it is.


Only about parked cars?


However.. Don’t just think about parked cars on both sides; as it’s possible to have slightly wider road with parked cars on both sides where it may be quite appropriate to travel at 50 km/hr and you may even be impeding/annoying other traffic if you don’t.


16th Avenue in Burnaby


There are cars on both sides and it appears to be residential, but is it still Okay to go 50 km/hr here? I know I go 50 km/hr when I drive on this one and I feel it is the right thing. There is simply more space between the parked cars and the moving cars compared to the previous road.




2) Hmm

  • Technically, if you are driving at 51 km/hr or 52 km/hr you are breaking the law. And technically speaking, if you break the law on a road test then you fail the road test. (some examiners are more strict than others, but I would recommend playing it safe; although you are human, aren’t you? 52 km/hr for 3 seconds out of the entire road test or even here-or-there would probably be forgiven I would like to imagine)
  • Some examiners are very strict about this, even though when most people are in real life, it is kind of normal that they will at times go 51 or 52 or even 55 km/hr in a 50 km/hr zone without consequence and/or to ‘blend in’ with some type of traffic flow that is happening.
  •  Not to mention I have never heard of anybody getting a speeding ticket for anything under 60 km/hr in a 50 km/hr zone (not saying that you should always drive at 59 km/hr, though; just that police don’t see you or anyone else as a major threat to society for driving 5-ish km over the speed limit).
  • For the road test though, and especially as an inexperienced driver, you do need to show the examiner that you know what the speed limit actually is and are willing to respect it. So I would recommend trying to drive at 50 km/hr whenever appropriate, instead of 53 km/hr (illegal) or 47 km/hr (why?).
  • Driving too slowly for no reason can be problematic as well in terms of traffic collecting behind you.
  • And all ‘appropriate speed’ discussions aside, it is good to be able to show the examiner that you know how to control the vehicle at an even, constant speed and that you have acquired enough experience to be able to multitask in a way; that you can ‘feel’ what 50 km/hr is, so that you don’t have to check your speedometer every 3 seconds on the road test, so that you can actually keep your eyes on, well, the road (per se).. and things like that.


Hope that helps 🙂



2 thoughts on “Question about Driving – Appropriate Speeds for Narrow, Residential Roads”

  1. The best part of your blog is all of the examples you use. Generally, when you answer a question, you really answer the question! That takes time and thought that I hope others appreciate.

    • Hey thanks!! I was just laughing and actually kind of scolding myself like “Why can’t you just answer the question simply with one sentence, why do you have to make it such a LONG and complicated answer?!?!” So I’m glad at least one person thinks it’s good… lol

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