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Top 5 safety tips for winter driving in Ontario

Nov. 22, 2023
4 mins
Rear view of teen girl in car over snowy forest on winter roadtrip to the nordic way.jpg

This article has been updated from a previous version.

Embracing winters in the Great White North comes naturally to many Canadians who find joy in relish what Mother Nature has to offer. Snowshoeing in Banff, skiing in B.C., or skating just about anywhere helps residents and tourists alike make the most of frigid temperatures and frequent snowfall. In urban areas such as Toronto, winter festivals feature live music, parades, and fireworks for cold-weather entertainment.

Right before the pandemic, 32 million tourists crossed Canadian borders in 2019 to seek fun and adventure. But as both residents and tourists find their fun amid frigid temperatures and frequent snowfall, it’s still important to prioritize safety, especially when driving through Ontario's occasionally treacherous winter roads.

Here are five wintertime tips for driving in Ontario:

1) Get winter tires

According to the 2022 Tire and Rubber Association of Canada (TRAC) consumer report, 76% of drivers with winter tires claimed that operating a vehicle with winter tires saved them from being involved in a potentially hazardous driving situation, such as loss of control or a collision.

Mandatory in Quebec, winter tires are indispensable for safe driving in winter conditions. These specialized tires offer more than just traction on snow and ice, and should merit strong considerations from Canadians in all other provinces, as well.— Better traction translates to less chance of accident or injury on the roads. The rubber compound of winter tires stays flexible in cold temperatures, ensuring optimal grip on icy surfaces. Additionally, advanced tread patterns designed to expel snow and slush, coupled with features like sipes (small channels), enhance their effectiveness.

Lighter vehicles such as passenger cars with front-wheel drive stand out as excellent candidates for winter tires, increasing the odds of a safe trip for work or pleasure. Many Ontario insurance providers offer discounts of up to five per cent for drivers with winter tires, or have roadside assistance programs, recognizing the proactive steps taken to reduce the risk of accidents during winter conditions.

Read more: Are winter tires worth it?

2) Downshift before hard braking

In many provinces, drivers will encounter both uphill and downhill terrains. Especially on snow-covered roads, hard braking while descending a hill can cause a vehicle to lose control. Downshifting to a lower gear without jamming the brakes helps reduce speed and lessen the chances of skidding off the road or colliding with another vehicle or pedestrian.

3) Hidden hazard: Be prepared for black ice

It's difficult to prepare for invisible road hazards, but all drivers need to anticipate black ice conditions. Black ice forms in areas with poor sunlight exposure, such as under overpasses or on shaded road sections. Exercise caution, especially when moderate temperatures quickly drop below freezing within a short time. What may seem like normal dry pavement can mask a thin, imperceptible ice layer, posing a significant threat to drivers who brake hard or make aggressive turns.

Incorporating advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS) into vehicles can help keep you steady, given the unpredictable nature of black ice. These systems, including sensors and cameras, can detect subtle changes in road conditions, providing real-time warnings to drivers and potentially preventing accidents caused by unexpected black ice patches.

4) Pack a survival kit

Drivers shouldn't venture out in winter weather without planning for an unexpected stop. Because harsh climates and treacherous roads increase the risk of being left stranded, always have a well-stocked emergency kit that includes non-perishable food, water, flashlights, booster cables, and warm clothing. You may also consider including a compact folding shovel which can clear snow around the tires when needed to regain traction and continue your journey. Take extra care to keep gas tanks topped off so you can maintain heat in the vehicle for as long as possible.

Related: What to do if your electric vehicle breaks down on the road

5) Slow and steady wins the race

While all- and four-wheel-drive vehicles can assist with winter navigation, nothing replaces the practice of taking it slow and easy on the roads. Reducing speeds, practicing defensive driving, and maintaining heightened awareness will, when combined, forge a shield of safety to help ensure a safe trip from start to finish. Keeping cars in good operating condition including, regular maintenance checks for brakes, tires, and fluids, factoring in extra time for trips, and expecting the unexpected will also prevent routine travel from spiraling into a full-fledged nightmare.

Last but not least: Roadside assistance

Help is often a phone call away, and subscribing to a roadside assistance service could make the difference between safely arriving at your destination or getting stuck somewhere in between. Almost all Ontario auto insurers offer some form of road service, and if that benefit doesn't exist, shop around for competitive auto insurance quotes and extensive coverage today.

A proactive mindset that anticipates changing conditions, potential hazards, and the actions of other drivers turns routine travel into a safe and secure experience.

Read next: Tips to avoid winter accidents

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Save on Ontario auto insurance

Auto insurance rates change often, so how do you know if you're still getting the best deal? By comparing car insurance quotes upon renewal and at other key milestones (such as when you buy a new vehicle, or more to a different neighbourhood) you can make sure your rates remain competitive. Save money by comparing Ontario car insurance quotes today.

Arshi Hossain ,
Writer and Editor

Arshi Hossain is a writer and editor at RATESDOTCA. She has 4+ years of experience in delivering strategy-backed digital content through various mediums. Her expertise lies in breaking down complex information, meeting people where they are, and in the moments that matter.

Prior to joining RATESDOTCA, she worked in the editorial and digital content space at Wealthsimple, supported digital strategies, and UX writing for payment products and solutions at Bank of Montreal. She has also worked with startups to support editorial, content writing, communications, copywriting, and marketing needs.

  • Car Insurance
  • Home Insurance
  • Mortgage
  • Professional Communication - BA (Hons) at Toronto Metropolitan University with minors in Global Narratives, Public Relations, and Philosophy
Featured in
  • Financial publication, MoneyLetter
  • Golden Meteorite Press
  • Editorial spin-off series from the award-winning magazine, Money Diaries, for Wealthsimple Foundation.

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