Winter Tires in Ontario, are drivers liable?

Published: October 14, 2016

Updated: July 24, 2018

Author: Luke Jones

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Road safety is a hot topic around Canada. In Ontario, the government implemented a winter tire program last year to help makes its roads and highways safer during the cold months. The program was introduced from Jan. 1, 2016 under s. 14.1 (3)(1) of RRO 1990, Reg 664, Automobile Insurance, which is a regulation under the Insurance Act.

The province does not make winter tire installation mandatory, but to help entice customers to install these tires, Ontario mandates that insurance companies offer discounts. This will be the case for the first full winter tire season for the 2016-2017 winter season. Under the new law, insurance companies are obliged legally to offer all new customers premium discounts if they install winter tires.

As we have covered before, the discounts amount to 5% off a premium at a most. That is not enough to cover the cost of buying and installing winter tires, but Ontario believes it is enough for a double-pronged incentive. As well as getting a discount, customers are also getting an installation that undoubtedly makes their vehicles safer on the country’s harsh winter roads.

However, there is a question for insurance companies to ponder. If an accident occurs during winter involving a vehicle without winter tires, could the lack of installation make the driver liable? Considering Ontario does not mandate winter tires for all motorists, the situation would suggest a driver cannot be held liable for not installing them.

There is a case in British Columbia that could contradict that logic. Hutton v Breitkreutz saw the judge rule a lack of winter tires as a factor in a collision between the two parties. The judge found the defendant did not ensure adequately enough that their tires were safe for winter conditions.

It is unclear how a similar situation would play out in Ontario, where the winter tire laws are different. However, drivers could be liable for a lack of installation, even if the law says they do not need it.