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How to Safely Get Back to Driving During COVID-19

Returning to commuting? Ease back onto the road with these tips.

A man is shown driving with a face mask on

Ontarians spent a long spring and early summer weathering the province’s first (and hopefully only) wave of COVID-19. For many, that meant staying at home whenever possible. We worked at home, helped our children learn at home, even ordered groceries to be delivered to our homes. But as public-health restrictions are lifted and businesses reopen, many of us will find ourselves commuting again. If you’ve been out of the driver’s seat for a while, ease back onto the road by practicing safe-driving techniques, avoiding distractions and keeping an eye out for cyclists and pedestrians.

Before your hit the road

Give your vehicle a good once-over before you get back behind the wheel. Check the pressure on your tires and top up with air, if necessary, then pop the hood and top up your windshield washer fluid. Speaking of under the hood, your vehicle’s battery can be negatively affected by summer’s extreme heat. If your battery is more than three years old—or if it seems like it’s struggling—get it tested by CAA’s Mobile Battery Service. We’ll come to you to test the battery’s charge; if you need a replacement, we’ll give you a discount on the purchase of a new CAA Premium Battery and install it at no charge. (CAA Premier Members also get 20 CAA Dollars when they buy a battery.) And once you’ve started driving, if you hear any unusual clicks, clunks or thunks—or if you just want the peace of mind of having your vehicle looked over by a pro—head to a CAA Approved Auto Repair Service facility for a 139-point inspection.

Share the road

Spring’s stay-at-home mandates made for near-deserted roadways, which was a boon for pedestrians and cyclists. They’re still out in full force. Some municipalities have increased bike lanes—and even partially closed certain roads—to help them more easily get to and from work, run errands or simply enjoy the outdoors. Getting safely back behind the wheel, therefore, means being more aware of vulnerable road users.

  • Watch for pedestrians moving between sidewalk and street to ensure physical distancing.
  • Keep at least one metre of distance when passing cyclists. Fail to do so and you may be faced with a $110 fine.
  • Be vigilant when making right turns. Check your mirrors and blind spot to make sure you don’t cut off oncoming riders.
  • Exiting a vehicle parked on the street? Use the Dutch Reach. Use your hand farthest from the door to open it (for drivers, that’s your right hand). The move forces you to turn your body and check your blind spot.

    Watch your speed

    Less traffic volume can lull us into a false sense of security. But the rules of the road apply no matter how many vehicles are on the road. Ontario has some of the world’s toughest penalties for aggressive driving and extreme speeding, and those penalties have indeed been enforced. During the first month of quarantine, from late March to the end of April, Toronto Police reported that stunt driving incidents—with drivers speeding more than 50 km over the speed limit—increased by nearly 600 percent over the same period in 2019. Officers also handed out nearly 25 percent more (regular) speeding tickets. Regardless of road and traffic conditions, speeding puts you in danger—while also endangering the lives of fellow drivers, cyclists and pedestrians.

    Slow down, move over

    Watch your speed, too, when approaching emergency vehicles stopped at the roadside with lights flashing, including police, fire, ambulances and tow trucks. Slow down and proceed with caution. If the road has two lanes and it’s safe to do so, change lanes to provide more space for the roadside responders.

    Don’t get distracted

    Beyond speed, it’s inattentive driving that causes a great many collisions on Ontario roads. While it’s true that a lot has been happening these past few months—we mustn’t let our minds wander while in the driver’s seat. Using a mobile device remains the primary source of distracted driving, but attention can be diverted by other things, too: your in-vehicle infotainment system; the coffee you just picked up at the drive-thru; even attention-seeking kids in the back seat. These distractions negatively affect your brain’s ability to engage with the complex task of driving. Even if your eyes are on the road, you’re actually seeing less and your ability to react to obstacles is affected.

    Drive sober

    Don’t get behind the wheel if you’ve indulged in alcohol or cannabis. While the global pandemic has given many Ontarians good reason to want to enjoy a cold drink or two at a family barbecue or on a newly reopened restaurant patio, if you plan to do so, you should also plan a safe way home. Have a designated driver, use a taxi or ride-sharing service, or take public transit. Just remember to respect the health and safety of others by keeping your physical distance, when possible—and by wearing a mask.

    Image credit: iStock.com/Maksym Belchenko