Canada: Ontario Is Making Roads Safer One Winter Tire At A Time

Co-authored by Cassandra Khatchikian, Student-At-Law

The Government of Ontario is striving to make the roads in this province a safer place. In one of its latest endeavors, Ontario has implemented a new regulation in an effort to promote safer driving during those slushy and icy winter months.

The new regulation pertains to offering Ontario drivers an incentive to get winter tires on their vehicles. Under s. 14.1 (3)(1) of RRO 1990, Reg 664, Automobile Insurance, which is a regulation under the Insurance Act, companies offering auto-insurance policies are now obliged to offer a discount to drivers who buy and install winter tires on their vehicles. This regulation came into effect on January 1, 2016.

Prior to January 1, 2016, less than half of the auto-insurance companies in Ontario had already offered a discount for customers who had winter tires on their vehicles. Now, this discount is mandatory thanks to the newly implemented regulation.

In order for the regulation to apply, each vehicle must have four winter tires. Proof of winter tires is normally not necessary in order to obtain the discount. However, in the event of a collision, the insurer may then take measures to confirm that winter tires were in fact installed on the vehicle.

For some companies, this discount did not apply automatically after January 1, 2016, to pre-existing customers. Therefore, in order to receive the discount, a customer had to either renew their insurance policy or commence a new policy after January 1, 2016.

Though the regulation does not specify what the discount for sporting winter tires ought to be, the average going rate is a 5% reduction off of the collision portion of the auto-insurance policy.

Unfortunately, winter tires are not mandatory in Ontario, and to date the Ontario courts have held that failing to have same on a vehicle does not, as of yet, amount to contributory negligence.

However, there is case law from British Columbia which indicates that failure to have winter tires installed on a vehicle can be a consideration in a finding of liability in the event of a motor vehicle accident.

In Hutton v Breitkreutz1, the defendant's vehicle slid across the centerline of a highway into oncoming traffic and collided head-on with the plaintiff's vehicle. The defendant argued that she was not liable for the accident. She claimed that her vehicle hit a patch of black ice, which caused her to lose control of the vehicle and the accident was therefore, unavoidable.

In finding that the defendant was completely liable for the accident, the judge considered the fact that witnesses at the scene of the accident neither observed black ice on the road, nor did they observe themselves or others slipping on any ice on the road. The judge also considered the fact that the defendant was travelling too fast for the poor road conditions.

The most notable factor the judge considered in his finding of liability on the part of the defendant was that three of the tires on the defendant's vehicles were in poor condition and the defendant did not have snow tires installed on her vehicle. The judge added that the defendant did not take appropriate steps to confirm her tires were safe for winter driving as a reasonable and prudent driver would have.

Moreover, In Hart v. Jacobsen2 the defendant lost control of his vehicle during a winter storm and became stuck in the snow on the side of a highway. He was pulled out of the snow bank by a good Samaritan, but his vehicle was then left parked southbound in the northbound lane on the highway. The collision occurred when the plaintiff came around a bend and did not see the defendant's vehicle parked in the northbound lane.

In finding the defendant 100% liable for the collision, the judge took into consideration that expert witnesses determined that the defendant's vehicle was not appropriate for winter weather. Specifically, it was found that the defendant should not have been driving "all season tires" because they were inappropriate for northern driving.

Given the above two decisions, courts in British Columbia have considered the appropriateness of tires for winter weather when determining liability following a collision. Time will tell if Ontario courts will also begin to hold drivers responsible for vehicles that are ill equipped for winter weather; however, given the recent case law and in light of the recent legislative changes, it appears likely that courts will begin holding drivers responsible, especially in the more remote and northerly jurisdictions in Ontario. Undoubtedly, this if a consideration that both plaintiff and defence counsel should be aware of moving forward.

1 2015 BCSC 1164.
2 2014 BCSC 704.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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