Snowy Season Driving: Tips for Safe Winter Travel in Ontario

Snowy Season Driving: Tips for Safe Winter Travel in Ontario

Written by: William Keele, lawyer, and Jamie Davison, Student-At-Law

The impending arrival of snowstorms in Ontario is looming. While it may feel that Halloween was just yesterday, most of us have already traded in our thin jackets for our thick winter coats. As we brace ourselves for incoming snow falls, we must turn our minds to the challenges that come with navigating snow-covered roads. Last February, a mega winter storm swept through Ontario, leaving in its wake a flurry of accidents that kept Ontario Police busy responding to hundreds of collisions. While snow tires are often considered a crucial safety measure for winter driving, they sometimes cause overconfidence in drivers, potentially increasing the likelihood of collisions on slippery and slushy roads. This blog aims to provide you with valuable information on maintaining your safety and the safety of others during winter travels while also explaining the implications of winter driving conditions on personal injury lawsuits.

How to stay safe while driving in the winter

As the roads become increasingly slippery, it is crucial that drivers do everything in their power to prevent collisions both before hitting the road and while on route.

Make your vehicle winter-safe.

  • Install winter tires: As Partner, Salvatore Shaw, states in his article The Importance of Installing Winter Tires, “compared to all-season tires, winter tires consistently outperform all-season tires in terms of traction, cornering, and braking in winter conditions[1]. Having winter tires on your car will reduce your chances of a collision, keep you safe in unpredictable weather, and even save some money on your auto insurance policy.”
  • Keep your vehicle clear of ice and snow: To keep everyone on the road safe, make sure to clear off the ice and snow from your vehicle. It’s not just about seeing better—it also helps you dodge a hefty fine for having a “unsecure load”.
  • Maintain your vehicle: Make sure your defogging and heating systems are working to prevent cloudy windows. Be sure to keep windshield washer fluid topped up and store an extra bottle in your trunk so you can always see clearly on the road. And, when you park, pop up those wipers to stop them from getting stuck to your windshield in the freeze. Lastly, as always, ensure that your brakes are functioning properly.
  • Gas up: The Ontario Government recommends keeping your fuel tank at least half full to help reduce moisture in the fuel system that can freeze your gas line and to help add weight to the vehicle to prevent sliding and slipping.
  • Put together an emergency kit: Partner, Joesph Cescon, highlighted the most important items to keep in your trunk and in your vehicle during the winter:
    • In your trunk:
      • Shovel
      • Booster cables
      • Antifreeze and extra windshield wiper fluid that works down to -40 degrees
      • Matches and “survival” candle
      • Extra clothing, mittens and hat
      • Road flares
      • Compass
    • In your vehicle:
      • Ice scrapper
      • Road maps
      • Flashlight
      • First aid kit
      • Warm blanket

Drive according to the conditions.

  • Never slam on the brakes[2]: In a moment of skidding or sliding on ice or snow, your knee jerk reaction may be to slam on the brakes. But due to the lack of traction, your safest maneuver to quickly stop is to pump the brakes. Cars with modern braking systems engage the anti-lock braking system to help you stop by rapidly pumping the brakes for you. In a standard transmission vehicle, downshift through the gears instead of hitting the brakes. Do your best not to feather the clutch as you release it to avoid initiating a skid.
  • Take slow corners: If you are turning a corner, as we’ve already covered, never brake hard, but also never accelerate. Take it slowly and in a controlled manner. If you begin to slide, ease off the brakes and steer in the direction you want to go. [3]
  • Slow down and stay back: While you can control your own actions, you cannot control the actions of other drivers. Driving slowly and keeping a generous distance from other vehicles can protect you from inexperienced drivers and those without snow tires. This is especially true for driving near snowplows. Never pass a working snowplow, doing so can result in a severe collision. In Ontario, there are talks of implementing a fine for drivers overtaking slow-moving snowplows on Ontario highways without specific circumstances due to the danger of collision.
  • Stick to main roads: Favouring main roads over back roads and side streets increases the likelihood that the route you’re taking will be plowed and salted. Before venturing out in the cold, visit Ontario511 to check where the plows are on provincial highways. You can also check the road conditions at or dial 511 for a hands-free, voice-activated option.
  • Don’t use cruise control: You need to be free to adjust to conditions as they come. The cruise control function is not made to accommodate to winter conditions.
  • Stay alert: Driving in the snow is not the time to play DJ. Keep distractions to a minimum. You should be sober and attentive; don’t get behind the wheel after a late Christmas party where you’re less likely to have the capacity to respond to sudden changes.

And of course, if possible, avoid driving all together during times of seemingly treacherous weather. Reducing your time behind the wheel is the most sure-fire way to prevent winter weather related collisions.

Who is liable for collisions “caused by” bad weather?

While municipalities have responsibilities[4] to keep their roads clear and safe, drivers are responsible for adjusting their driving to the conditions of the road. Under Ontario’s no fault insurance scheme, if you are injured in a collision, your insurance company will cover the damages you sustain regardless of who caused the collision. However, if you choose to bring a lawsuit against the other driver involved in the collision for personal injuries, proof of the liability of the other driver will be necessary for your success in your claim. Winter conditions are a factor to be considered in determining whether the other party is liable for the damages sustained in a collision. Negligence can be found in both the maintenance and the operation of a vehicle in inclement weather. The failure to adjust driving behaviours to the weather conditions by driving too fast for the conditions, following too closely, taking fast turns, or failing to turn on their headlights could all be held to be negligent driving in the circumstances.

Inadequate vehicle maintenance during Ontario winters including operating a vehicle with worn or inappropriate tires for the conditions, failing to maintain visibility in your vehicle (through defoggers and windshield wiper fluid), or neglecting to clear your vehicle of ice and snow prior to operation have all been deemed to be negligent in the circumstances. In conclusion, if the driver is operating a vehicle unequipped for the conditions and/or in a way that can be seen as unsafe given the conditions, despite difficult driving weather contributing to a collision, liability can still be found. Let’s all do our part to stay safe on the roads, especially when the winter hits. Wishing you a safe and happy holiday season from all of us at McLeish Orlando.

See our other winter safety articles:

Winter Wonderland Road Trip Safety

How to Prepare the Ultimate Car Safety Kit

Take off that Bulky Winter Coat Before Buckling Up!

Sliding Safely Into Fun with Canada’s Favourite Winter Pastime – Tobogganing

Winter Cycling

Winter Slip and Fall Injuries: The Importance of Municipal Sidewalk Maintenance





William Keele


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