Safe driving tips for tackling Canada’s varied landscape

Summer driving

If you’re going on a road trip anywhere in Canada this year, chances are you’re going to come face to face with a landscape that provides plenty of beautiful views—and lots of driving challenges. Safe driving practices—leaving enough space, not speeding and staying focused—are a given, regardless of landscape, but there are some special tips to follow when the terrain gets challenging.

Here’s how to stay safe on the road this summer, no matter where you’re driving.

Staying alert on long, flat (boring) stretches of road

Montana may be officially known as “big sky country,” but Canada’s prairies fit that description pretty well too—lots of sky, and not much else for long stretches of driving. For roads where there’s not a lot of variety, like Ontario’s highway 401 between London and Windsor, it’s hard to keep your attention on the road. To stave off boredom, listen to podcasts or recorded books, find an unusual radio channel to listen to, and stop often. Even gas stations can be great diversions—especially if you make it a goal to try one new flavour of potato chip at every stop, or chat with the clerk behind the counter.

If you’re feeling sleepy, a long, straight stretch of road can be absolutely hypnotic—and potentially deadly. If you feel your eyes start to droop, pull over and take a nap, or trade drivers. Don’t depend on cranking the air conditioner or the volume on your car radio to help pull you out of a drowsy funk—sleep is the only thing that will do that. If you can, do your best not to drive between midnight and 6 a.m., and consider taking a catnap after lunch.

Tackling mountainous terrain

For a lot of folks in Canada, driving through mountains is an unfamiliar experience, so here’s how to stay safe, especially since many of our country’s mountainous roads are a) scenic and b) crowded, especially in the summer.

When you’re driving in the mountains, overheating your engine can be a real concern. To avoid that nasty red light, shift into a lower gear to maintain a constant speed and turn off your air conditioning, which places extra strain on your engine. If you start to overheat, pull over somewhere safe and let the engine idle. If you can’t pull over, brace for some discomfort and turn your heater to full blast, which will pull some excess heat off the engine.

When you’re driving downhill, shift into a lower gear to avoid having to ride your brakes, which can cause them to overheat and—gulp—fail. Brake firmly enough to slow yourself down; then take your foot off. The more you coast, the more gas you’ll save.

Remember that cars climbing uphill have the right of way, and pull over safely if you’re looking at gorgeous scenery—not everyone wants to slow down to tourist pace.

Avoiding collisions with animals

Hitting an animal with your car isn’t just heartbreaking; it can be deadly to you and your passengers (not to mention the animal you hit). In BC, for example, there are approximately 9,900 vehicle-animal collisions per year, with 450 of those crashes resulting in injury and five involving fatalities.

Reducing your speed can go a long way towards reducing the severity of crashes, as well as enabling you to keep a more focused eye on the road. Be aware that many animals are most active at dawn and dusk, and that you may be focusing more on the right-hand side of the road, since your headlights do a better job of illuminating that area. Compensate by regularly checking both sides of the road. Look for flickering road reflectors, which may indicate an animal walking in front of them.

If you’re faced with an animal, try to decide whether to swerve. Swerving can cause you to lose control of your vehicle, causing a serious accident, so for smaller animals and deer, try to use your brakes rather than your wheel. For moose, though, it may be safer to swerve—a crash with a moose, which can weigh up to 500 kg, can result in serious injury or death to the driver.

Driving in bad weather

You may not be dealing with snow in the summer (and if you are, we have some handy tips), but rain, fog, and sunlight can all be challenging in their own way. Reduce your speed and leave plenty of space in front, behind, and around you to allow for the greatest maneuverability. Don’t rely on automatic headlights—in fog or rain, turn on your headlights manually, which will activate your tail lights and make you far more visible to cars behind you. If you start to hydroplane, don’t make any sudden movements—stay calm, take your foot off the gas, and look and steer where you want to go. If you know it’s been dry for a while, keep in mind that roads may be extra slippery with built-up grease and engine oil.

There’s no quicker way to spoil a road trip than with an accident, so drive safely. What are your best safe-driving tips?