Winter Driving 101: 7 Tips To Stay Safe On The Roads This Winter

December 1, 2020
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As Canadians we are all too familiar with cold weather, blizzards, and freezing rain. No matter which province you live in, you will experience some form of winter’s wrath for up to six months of the year. What does this mean to you? Driving on snowy, icy roads during a Canadian winter is all but guaranteed.

Whether you’re a first-time winter driver, or have many years’ experience under your belt, we’ve got some driving tips to help you get through the True North winter with snow problems.

1. Be Prepared

First and foremost, you’ve got to be prepared. Like they teach young leaders in Girl Guides or Scouts – being prepared means you are ready to cope with anything that comes your way. This goes beyond the standard flare and spare tire in your trunk.

  • Equip your car with winter tires. Winter tires increase your car’s grip on cold, snowy, or icy roads, they improve your stopping distance by up to 25%, and you can save around 2-5% on your car insurance premiums.
  • Always keep a snow brush and ice scraper in your car. This way you’ll be ready to brush off any unexpected precipitation.
  • Keep jumper cables in your trunk in case you encounter any battery issues.
  • Add a small shovel to your vehicle emergency kit. This will allow you to dig out if you get stuck in the snow while on the road.
  • Tuck a spare set of gloves and a blanket in your car. In the event you get stuck for a long time you can bundle up and keep warm.

Being prepared ensures that in the event of any mishaps, you have the tools you need. You might also be a ‘knight in shining armor’ for any drivers you encounter who weren’t prepared.

2. Plan Ahead

Planning ahead will help you avoid foreseeable issues while you’re on the road.

  • Schedule more time for your commute. Winter driving takes a bit more time. Clean-up operations, reduced visibility, and accidents all cause traffic and will add extra minutes to your drive.
  • Give yourself a buffer to get where you are going, especially during active weather. You will avoid the pressures of running late for commitments, and the temptation to take unnecessary risks on the road.
  • Planning your route in advance is also an important step to take when driving in the winter. Going somewhere new? Take a moment to review the route in advance. By doing so, you’ll be able to stick to main routes (which are more likely to be plowed), you’ll avoid any last-minute turns or lane changes, and you can maintain full attention on the road ahead (rather than your GPS).
  • Keep an eye on the weather report and be flexible on plans when driving conditions get bad. Sometimes it is better to avoid driving in severe conditions.

3. Clear Off Your Car

Your vehicle is fully equipped with the proper tools and you’ve planned your route in advance, you’re just about ready to hit the road. But first, you’ve got to clear off your car – because you don’t want to be ‘that guy’.

  • Start your engine and turn on your mirror heaters, as well as your front and rear window defrosters. This will help along the process.
  • Make sure to clear snow and ice from all windows, your roof, trunk, and hood, and brush away anything covering your lights.

By fully clearing off your vehicle you will ensure maximum visibility and avoid any fines (yes, you can get fined in many provinces for not doing this properly). Plus, it is the courteous thing to do – nobody wants ice and snow flying onto their car unexpectedly when they are driving. Not only is it dangerous, but you could also cause damage to someone else’s car.

4. Practice Defensive Driving

To become an expert winter driver, you must practice defensive driving. Defensive driving is based on three notions: visibility, space, and communication.

  • Turn on your headlights – this way other drivers will be able to see your vehicle more easily.
  • Keep a safe distance from other cars on the road. This means no tailgating (which you shouldn’t do anyways) and increasing the distance between you and other vehicles on the road – especially during active weather.
  • Slow down. This is probably the most important winter driving advice. By reducing your speed, you give yourself more time to react and reduce the risk of sliding, slipping, and skidding.
  • Always use your signals. Again, this is something you should practice no matter the circumstances, but it is that much more important during adverse weather conditions. By using your signals, other drivers on the road know your intent and can adjust their driving as needed.
  • Pay attention. Manoeuvring in the snow is much more difficult – anticipate what your next move is going to be to give yourself lots of room for turns and stopping.

5. Know Your Breaks

First of all, never slam on your breaks when it’s snowy or icy. Instead you should ease off the gas and break slowly.

  • If your vehicle is equipped with an anti-lock braking system (ABS), many newer models are, do not “pump” the brakes. An ABS system is designed to help you restore traction to your tires, allowing you to steer safely. The pedal may vibrate or push back – that’s normal.
  • If you drive a standard transmission vehicle, down gearing can help you slowdown instead of the breaks.

6. Do Not Use Cruise Control

Do not use cruise control if conditions are snowy, icy, or wet. If your car hydroplanes while on cruise control, it will try to accelerate, and you may lose control of your vehicle. On the other hand, if your foot is on the pedal, you can react when you feel the wheels slip and the skid begin.

Which leads us into our final winter driving safety tip.

7. Learn How To Control Skids

By learning how to control skids, you can avoid the panic, enabling you to stay controlled and composed on the road when it’s slippery. There are two types – Front Wheel Skids occur when your front wheels lose traction and Rear Wheel Skids which occur when your back wheels slide.

Correcting A Front Wheel Skid

1. Ease off the gas. Let the traction on your tires steer the vehicle without touching the brake or gas pedals.

2. Steer in the direction you want to go.

3. Once traction is maintained, you can accelerate again (with caution).

Controlling A Rear Wheel Skid

1. Ease off the gas.

2. Turn into the skid to straighten out your vehicle, but don’t over-steer, this can perpetuate the problem.

3. Once traction is maintained, you can accelerate again (with caution).

And that’s it! Following these winter driving tips you can greatly reduce your risks on snowy roads, and in the event that anything goes wrong, you will be prepared with the right tools and tricks for getting back on the road safely.

Stay safe everybody!

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