Image of someone's bare feet resting on the dashboard of a car.

Why driving in the summer is more dangerous than driving in winter

As Canadians welcome the arrival of summer this week, one thing’s for sure: warmer temperatures are right around the corner.

With road trip weather arriving — and with pedestrians bringing new life to our streets, buses, and sidewalks — drivers need to be on high alert.

Deadly collisions are more common in Canada’s warm months than in its frigid winters. Sure, it sounds counterintuitive. Winters above the 49th parallel are icy, snowy, slippery, dark, and stressful for drivers. No amount of salted streets or winter tires can make a highway feel totally safe during a frigid January.

But the reality is that the warm air, clean streets, and good visibility of summer have proven to be a deadly combination for drivers, too. Based on the 2016 Ministry of Transportation Ontario collision data, the total number of fatal collisions during the four warmest months (June, July, August, and September) was a whopping 70% higher than during the four coldest months (December, January, February, and March). Similarly, the total number of non-fatal personal injuries due to vehicle collisions in Ontario was 52% higher during the summer months than the winter months.

So what accounts for this surprising road reality? There are a number of factors that make roadways deadlier in the summer.

 

Perceptions of safety

 

The days are longer, the mood is lighter, the skies are clearer — summer just feels safer. If you’re planning for a long weekend road trip, you’re probably thinking more about what to pack in the cooler than about how to stay safe on the road. And that’s part of the issue — drivers in the summer assume safety, instead of taking measures to promote it.

Unlike winter driving, when treacherous weather conditions demand our undivided attention, drivers simply aren’t as focused during  a carefree summer joyride. Couple that with the fact that warm weather means more pedestrians and more cars travelling at higher than normal speeds and you have all the more reason to stay just as vigilant as you are during the snowier months.

Broken down, the data show just how much more dangerous the warmer months are. In Ontario in 2016, there were 42 fatal accidents in July, 46 fatal accidents in August, and 45 fatal accidents in September. In comparison, there were 15 fatal accidents in December, another 35 in January, and 22 in February.

 

Distracted at every turn

 

Distracted driving — which includes reading, eating, using your phone, and even using your GPS — was the single leading cause of fatal accidents in Ontario in 2016 according to the Ontario Provincial Police. Basically anything that takes a driver’s attention away from the road can be deadly, and the government is doing everything in its power to guard against it. If you’re a fully licensed G driver in Ontario, a distracted driving charge will set you back $490 if settled out of court (up to $1,000 if you lose in court), plus three demerit points (which can wreak havoc on your driving record). The fact is, driving habits have a greater impact on road safety than external factors such as the weather. If you’re distracted, it doesn’t matter what condition the roads are in.

 

The cost of a collision

 

Car collisions aren’t just a threat to your physical safety: they can also carry a heavy financial toll.

We found that the average driver who has been in an at-fault accident sees their premium rise by nearly 10%. We used an auto quoter provided by LowestRates.ca, a Canadian rate comparison website, to collect the data.

Here’s an example. Our test subject is a 32-year-old female driver in Kingston, Ont., who drives a 2017 Honda Civic Touring (4-door) and has been insured for 12 years with a clean driving record. Before adding any traffic tickets, her premium would be $1,200 per year.

Now, if she gets into an at-fault accident — resulting in vehicle damage greater than $2,000 and/or sustained injuries — suddenly you’ve added an extra $100 or so to your annual premium. We found that one at-fault accident would raise her premium to $1,319 yearly.

It’s clear that accidents have serious financial consequences. And serious accidents are more likely to happen in summer. So when you hit the road this summer, don’t be complacent. Check your blind spots, watch your speed and drive according to weather conditions. Don’t let the balmy temperatures lull you into a false sense of security.