Blog Ontario Summer Vacation And Long Weekend Driving Tips

May 17, 2017

Whether you are planning a summer vacation or a long weekend getaway, taking a road trip is one of the most popular ways to get away, explore, and enjoy some much needed time off.

Long Weekend Driving Tips For Ontario

The province has long been known for its summer mass exodus, especially on long weekends, as people escape the Greater Toronto Area – and other large urban centres – to head up to cottage country and popular vacation destinations.

Road congestion during the summer is inevitable. With construction season in full swing, and no shortage of local drivers and tourists clogging the highway, it can be easy to get frustrated, which can lead to instances of road rage and accidents – slowing down traffic even more.

If you want to avoid getting caught in the bottleneck of summer and long weekend traffic, use the following long weekend driving tips to help minimize the stress and frustration you may experience as you travel during your summer vacation.

The Worst Times To Drive In The Summer - Long Weekends, Rush Hour, And More

When you travel can be just as important as where you travel during the summer. We all want to avoid getting stuck in traffic, especially in the GTA during rush hour and high volume traffic times. No one wants their summer vacation plans to get derailed by unforeseen traffic. When planning your summer road trip, try to avoid driving during these times:

Rush Hour In Toronto And GTA

As a general rule, it's a good idea to avoid driving during rush hour in any city, but especially in Toronto. The amount of time you expect to spend on the road can quickly double or triple, and without a moment's notice.

BlogTo provides some insight into the best time to avoid driving (and taking the TTC) during the summer :
"There are three distinct rush hours in Toronto. The first, between 8:00 a.m. and 9:00 a.m., is when both highway speeds and transit crowding are worst. In the afternoon, the second rush between 3:30 and 4:30 p.m. is when the DVP and Gardiner are slowest. The third rush, slightly later between 5:00 and 6:00 p.m., is when the TTC is most claustrophobic."

Ontario Long Weekends

Ontario Long Weekend Driving Tips

Summer long weekends in Ontario are when you will find some of the most congested highways and roads in the province, especially if you are heading toward cottage country, the beach, or popular summer tourist spots.

From the Victoria Day long weekend until Labour Day, you can pretty much count on traffic jams on the 400-series highways. Here is a list of summer long weekends:

  • Victoria Day – Monday, May 22nd
  • Canada Day – Saturday, July 1st
  • Civic Holiday – Monday, August 7th
  • Labour Day – Monday, September 4th

Mother's Day and Father's Day can also be busy travel times as families head out to spend quality time together.

The Cottage Country Commute

Whether you are heading north on Highway 400 on your way to Muskoka, or to other popular cottage locations in Ontario, such as Haliburton, Niagara on the Lake, Tobermory or the Bruce Peninsula, you can expect to get caught in cottage country traffic jams every Friday and Sunday.

Popular Summer Vacation Times

While many take vacations in late spring and early summer, the summer vacation season in Ontario really kicks into high gear once the school year ends. July is the most popular month for summer vacations, followed by August.

Tips For Planning A Summer Vacation Driving Trip

The key to a successful summer holiday is to plan ahead, especially if you will be driving. Here are some summer driving tips that will help you plan your trip:

Plan An Earlier Or Later Departure Time

When you depart for your trip will play a big role in how long it will take to get to your destination. To avoid the traffic, it's recommended that you either leave early in the morning, or wait until the evening rush hour traffic subsides. The Ontario Provincial Police recommend to "go home, have a nice dinner and then think about getting on the road." It's about finding an alternate departure time – leaving after or before most other drivers do – for the cottage.

Pick An Alternate Route For Your Trip

Ontario Summer Vacation Driving Tips

Consider the "scenic route." Traffic volume increases by 20% on long weekends. Think about taking the road less traveled – maybe a secondary or country road. Even though you won't be able to drive as fast and it may not be a direct route, you may get there faster than if you took a 400-series highway.

Inspect Your Vehicle Before Leaving For Summer Vacation

Checking your car, especially if it is an older model, should be part of your summer driving trip planning. No one wants to experience a breakdown while on summer vacation.

A handy list of fluids to check include: your engine coolant, transmission fluid, windshield washer fluid and your oil. If you're low on any of these, they can impede your travel or harm your car. After checking your fluid levels, think about keeping some fluids with you in the event of a roadside problem.

It's also important to check your brakes, tires, and your lights before you get on the road. These little checks will help to make your trip trouble-free. If you are not confident in doing the check yourself, stop in to see a mechanic.

Pack Food, Water And Some Good Entertainment

If your summer vacation drive happens to coincide with rush hour traffic, you really can't predict your arrival time or when you will be able to make your next stop. This is why it's a good idea to pack some snacks and water. Being stuck in traffic with a car full of hungry and thirsty passengers is not a situation you want to be in.

Packing some entertainment for the drive is also a good idea, especially if you are travelling with young children. When you're packing up your car for the long haul, remember that your kids have shorter attention spans and have more difficulty sitting still. Plan games or songs that you can enjoy together. Bring some surprise foods or some new "toys" to help keep them occupied.

Upset children can create quite a distraction to drivers. Planning and packing for their needs will help reduce their irritability and help your stress levels.

Be Prepared For A Roadside Emergency

You often read about emergency kits in winter driving tips. They are just as important for summer road trips. You never know when something could go wrong. Include a flashlight, flares and first aid kit in your emergency roadside kit, along with booster cables and washer fluid. The Government of Canada provides an extensive list of what to include in an emergency car kit.

Summer And Long Weekend Safe Driving Tips

Summer Vacation Driving

Being safe is the most important concern while on summer vacation or taking a trip on the weekend. Being safe starts with the driver. Be a safe and effective driver by following these driving safety tips:

Program Your GPS Before You Drive

Whether you choose an alternate route or the most direct path, program your GPS before you leave. If you use Google Maps, you can always use the Waze app to check for accidents and slowdowns before you are in the midst of them. If you need to check your GPS during your trip, pull over to a safe location or have a passenger do it for you.

Don't Allow Baggage Or Vacation Supplies To Obscure Your Vision

Packing your vehicle the right way is important. Cars have blind spots, and the last thing you want to do is create more of them when packing the car for a long weekend trip or vacation. By putting luggage in sight lines, you increase your blind spots and reduce your rear view and side view mirror visibility. Once you've packed up the car, check your mirrors to make sure nothing is obscuring your view.

Take Driving Breaks

Taking a break helps you to freshen up and refocus. It is the perfect opportunity to stretch your legs or grab a coffee and also readjust your vision. Driving for a number of hours can be tiring. If your trip is more than 2 hours, plan a stop part way through your trip. If you have multiple drivers, taking a break is an ideal time to switch.

If You're Feeling Tired, Pull Over And Take A Rest

Did you know that approximately 20% of fatal collisions involve driver fatigue? Survey data from Transport Canada found that "about 60% of Canadian drivers admitted that they occasionally drove while fatigued and 15% of respondents admitted that they had fallen asleep while driving during the past year."

Driving while drowsy is a road safety issue and something you need to be mindful of during your vacation or long weekend trip. Typical signs of fatigue include:

  • Blinking or yawning frequently.
  • Closing eyes for a moment or going out of focus.
  • Having wandering or disconnected thoughts.
  • Realizing that you have slowed down unintentionally.
  • Braking too late.
  • Not being able to remember driving the last few kilometers.
  • Drifting over the centre line onto the other side of the road.

If you are starting to feel tired, it's time to take a break.

Adjust Your Expectations For The Drive

Summer Vacation Driving Safety

Frustration is closely connected to your unmet expectations of how you envision your drive. Summer and long weekend traffic is always going to be slow moving. Expect it. Accept it. Don't fight it. Adjust your expectations - it will go a long way to helping you be more relaxed. How many times do you catch yourself saying, "I can't believe this traffic!" If you get in your car believing and then accepting the traffic the way it is, the more likely you are to be patient. It's a long weekend, and there's going to be more traffic than normal.

Go Easy On Your Brakes And Gas Pedal – Don't Drive Aggressively

When traffic slows down and the volume builds, drivers can become impatient. They jump from lane to lane to gain a better position or sneak into small openings in traffic. Weaving in and out of lanes puts you and other drivers in danger. Driving this way doesn't get you there any faster. How many times have you seen that same car a few cars ahead of you when traffic comes to a standstill?

Pick A Lane And Stay In It

We're all susceptible to it - comparing where we are in the traffic relative to another driver. This comparison leads us to lane hop and weave in and out of traffic. We think it's going to get us there faster but, believe it or not, tests find weaving in and out trying to pick the fast lane of traffic ended up costing more time. So be patient. Pick a lane and stick to it.

NOTE: One exception, though – the fast lane or the passing lane is not the lane to stay in for your trip. It's strictly for overtaking. Don't drive in it.

Keep A Safe Distance

Summer traffic is unpredictable. Traffic flow can suddenly stop, and if you're too close to the car in front of you, you could end up in a rear-end accident. Use the two-second rule when following behind other vehicles. For the two-second rule, mark a stationary object and watch as the vehicle in front passes it. Then count for 2 seconds. If you pass the same object before you've gotten to two, you're too close. Slow down and try the rule again.

If You're Pulling A Trailer – Do A Thorough Safety Check

To ensure a smooth and safe drive, you need to check your trailer lights, tire pressure, and hitch and safety chain. A trailer on the road without lights is a hazard to other drivers, not to mention there are fines for improperly lighted trailers. The night before you leave, spend some time checking your lighting system and testing it. Tire pressure is important, too. If you haven't used your trailer for a while, the tire pressure may be low. Get it checked.

Take your trailer to your mechanic to check your hitch and safety chain. Did you know that the police can pull your trailer off the road if they think it's unsafe? An even worse scenario is that your trailer might become unhitched while you're driving.

Finally, make sure you can see what's behind your trailer as you travel. Make sure your external mirrors can adequately offer you the view you need for safety.

Summer Safety - Weather Related Driving Tips

Another sometimes unfortunate thing you will have to contend with during your holidays is weather. Driving during heavy rain, during wind storms, or even when the sun glare is in your direct sightline can impact your ability to drive safe.

Safe Driving Tips In Heavy Rain, Wind, And Summer Storms

  • Weather : Always check weather conditions before driving.
  • Rain : Give yourself extra time when driving in rain storms.
  • Don't Tailgate : Give other vehicles extra space and don't tailgate.
  • Consistent Driving : Avoid making sudden changes in speed in speed direction.
  • Wind Gusts : Be prepared for strong wind gusts that blow your vehicle.
  • Trucks : Pay extra attention when driving near large vehicles and transport trucks.
  • Two Hands On The Wheel : Keep a firm grip on the wheel during windy conditions.
  • Stop If It's Not Safe : Pull over if visibility is poor – wait for the weather to pass, if possible.

Tips For Driving On Sunny Summer Days

Summer Vacation Driving Trip

You may think there is nothing to worry about when driving on a sunny day. However, the sun can create driving safety issues during your vacation if you are not prepared:

  • Sunglasses : Invest in a quality pair of sunglasses for driving.
  • Visibility : Make sure your windshield is clean and dashboard is not cluttered.
  • Visor : Invest in a secondary sun visor or shade for your car.
  • Slow Down : Reduce your speed if you are having trouble seeing.
  • Sun Glare : If possible, try to avoid driving during times when sun glare is an issue (often first thing in the morning and later in the evening).

Highway Driving Tips For 400-Series Highways In Ontario

Driving on Ontario highways presents a number of challenges for drivers - traffic, construction and road closures, cottage country congestion on weekends, tourists travelling to popular destinations, and driving in Toronto and the GTA. These are all things you will likely have to deal with when planning a summer vacation or long weekend trip.

There are some ways you can lessen the impact of these driving challenges on 400-series highways. Here are some great Ontario highway driving tips :

  • Review Your Route : Review your route beforehand, even if you are using a GPS.
  • 407 Transponder : Consider investing in a transponder and taking the 407 toll roads to avoid summer traffic.
  • Delays : Expect delays and sudden changes in speed, especially on 400-series highways.
  • Traffic : Check traffic in advance for accidents or construction delays.
  • HOV Lanes : Use the HOV lanes when travelling with 2 more people in the car.
  • Rules : Know the rules of the road in the areas you will be driving.
  • Speed : Keep up with the flow of traffic.
  • Don't Hog The Passing Lane : Move over and allow faster traffic to pass.
  • Off Ramps : Pay extra attention when driving past on and off ramps and interchanges.
  • Changing Lanes : Always double check before making a lane change.
  • Be Aware : Always pay attention and be aware of your surroundings at all times.

Get more tips for driving in Toronto and the GTA by checking out our Guide to Toronto and GTA Road Closures.

We know that you can't control the traffic and you can't control other drivers, but you can certainly adjust your driving habits, plan for potential challenges and prepare to make your weekend and vacation drive as uneventful as possible. Using these handy summer and long weekend driving tips is sure to make your road trip safer and more enjoyable.

Enjoy the summer vacation season!