Written By: Patrick Brown and Nicole Fielding, Student-at-Law
Winter is known for treacherous weather and subpar driving conditions. The weather and resulting road conditions add an additional element of distraction for drivers, which can lead to dangerous conditions for our cyclists and pedestrians.
Below are some tips and suggestions that all drivers can implement to ensure the safety of our more vulnerable road users this winter.
Reducing your time in the car is the easiest way to decrease your risk of collisions and avoid dangerous driving conditions. Large snow piles from ploughs on the sides of roads, and icy conditions can make for more congestion on our streets during the wintertime. Fewer vehicles on our roads will only decrease the risk of collisions this winter.
Excellent alternatives to driving are available throughout the province. For a safer alternative to driving this winter, make use of your local public transit options. Not only is transit a safer way to reach your destination, it is also is more environmentally-friendly, and less stressful than a white knuckle drive in a blizzard.
Give Your Vehicle Some Winter TLC
Some additional care for your vehicle this winter can not only protect you while driving, but may also prevent injury and incident to other road users.
Winter tires are a no-brainer for those opting to drive in cold winter conditions. The rubber compound from which these tires are made conforms better to imperfections in the road, and remains soft even in conditions up to -40 degrees Celsius. The stopping distance of a car with winter tires can be 30 to 40 per cent shorter than one with all-season tires. This shorter stopping distance can provide an aid when reacting to sudden hazards or the actions of other road users. The force of a crash increases with impact speed, so faster stopping can have a serious and possibly lifesaving impact in the event of a collision.
In addition to winter tires, proper de-icing and removal of snow from your vehicle surfaces can improve visibility and protect other road users. Falling snow and ice from vehicles can act as a dangerous distraction for surrounding drivers, and cause injury to cyclists and pedestrians. Ensure proper maintenance of your vehicles defogging and heating systems, to avoid clouded windows. Keep your winter windshield washer fluid topped up – an additional bottle kept in your trunk ensures you always have a clear view while driving.
In colder months, where roads are icy and wet, it can take up to double the time to slow down than it can in dry conditions. It is no surprise then that the risk of a fatal collision increases when speeding in snow or ice conditions. At a higher speed, you lose the opportunity to react to hazards or other road users on the road. For these reasons, decreasing your speed in the wintertime is one of the most important things you can do to protect yourself and others on the road.
It is important to remember that your vehicle may brake differently on ice or snow. If your car has an anti-lock breaking system (ABS), you should maintain a steady pressure on the brake pedal as your slow down. When your vehicle engages its ABS, you may feel a pulsing in the brake pedal. This is the system engaging. It is important to maintain pressure on the brake once you feel the system engage. If your car doesn’t have ABS, pump your brakes slowly to slow down effectively without sending your car into a skid.
Finally, as with dry conditions, braking early when approaching stopped vehicles, cyclists or intersections allows more time to react, and creates a safer roadway for all users. Cyclists do not have brake lights to warn you when they are slowing down or stopping. As such, maintaining a safe distance between your vehicle and a cyclist is critical, particularly during the winter months.
Stay Alert and Share the Road
In the wintertime, weather and road conditions can change in an instant. Added hazards in the form of snow piles and reduced visibility, and worsened road conditions can make predicting other road users’ movements more challenging in the winter. For this reason it is important to always remain alert to your surroundings. Before moving your vehicle from a parked or stop position, ensure the entire area is clear. At intersections and crosswalks, perform extra checks when proceeding to ensure the roadway is clear.
Be aware of the added risks cyclists face travelling in winter weather. Ice and snow pileups on curbs or in bike lanes often force cyclists to travel further away from the sides of the roads. Drivers of motor vehicles are required by law to maintain a minimum distance of one metre when passing cyclists. Where possible, change lanes to pass them. Avoid spraying cyclists with slush or ice from the road as your pass – what may result in the need for a car wash for you could be the cause of serious injuries to a passing cyclist or pedestrian.
Cyclists planning to bike during the winter should be aware of the shorter daylight hours and changing road conditions that come with the winter season. Always ensure your bike is equipped with proper lighting, to ensure your visibility to drivers. Opt for wider roads and cleared, salted routes when planning your commute.
We all have a responsibility to be aware and make efforts to stay safe on our roads, especially during the winter. We owe this to ourselves, and our fellow road users, which includes both other drivers and cyclists alike.
 “The science behind winter tires and how they work” The Globe and Mail (27 October 2016) https://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-drive/adventure/red-line/the-science-behind-winter-tires-and-how-they-work/article32531630/
 “How Driving on Ice Works” HowStuffWorks.com (5 October 2009): https://auto.howstuffworks.com/car-driving-safety/accidents-hazardous-conditions/driving-on-ice2.htm
 “Safety in Numbers” National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (August 2015) www.nhtsa.gov