Driving in a snowstorm

On The Road

Simple Steps for Safe Winter Driving

Many people think of winter as “the most wonderful time of the year” and it’s easy to see why.   There’s so much that happens during the season that gives everyone the warm fuzzies.  Winter brings the holidays, which often means gathering with friends and family to exchange well wishes, warm tidings and gifts. If you’re the outdoorsy type, winter also offers a ton of activities, like ice skating and skiing, or you can even gather a few friends and play a game of hockey.

Winter has its downsides though.  Among them are shorter days, frigid temperatures and of course – the driving conditions.  The roads during the winter can make even the shortest of trips a white-knuckle adventure – and for good reason. According to the 2015 Allstate Canada Safe Driving Study, December, January and February see higher collision frequencies on Canadian roads compared to other months of the year.

The best way to avoid road headaches is to not drive at all during bad weather. But, if you must drive, consider these preventative measures to help ensure everyone enjoys a safe winter season on our roads.

Safety starts before you hit the road

Take your vehicle for a check-up: At the start of the season, get a maintenance inspection and have your mechanic check the engine, brakes, oil, belts, hoses, battery fluid levels, battery posts and cable connectors. Bad connections can prevent your car from starting. Also be sure to check and replace your windshield wipers if they’re worn.

Keep an eye out: Throughout the season ensure your defroster and heater are working properly; keep your washer fluid topped up; and never let the indicator on your fuel gauge fall below the halfway point. If you wind up getting stranded on the road due to the weather, having at least a half tank of gas will be crucial.

Invest in winter tires:  There’s a reason why winter tires are mandatory in some regions of the country: they work.  Winter tires grip the road better in cold and snowy weather, which will help provide more control. Make sure your tires remain properly inflated throughout the season.  Tires lose a pound of pressure for every 5 degrees Celsius the temperature drops. When looking for winter tires, take some time to do your research before you buy.

Plan ahead: Plan your trips and know your route so that you can check road conditions before you head out the door. Be sure to always leave extra time to allow you to prep your vehicle for departure, and account for increased travel times due to weather conditions.

Keep things clear: This is a huge pet peeve of mine and a hazard for drivers on the road. It’s really important that you clear all the snow and ice from your vehicle after a snowfall, and not just what’s on your windows.  Snow on the roof of your car can slide down while you’re driving and cover your rear window or, it can fly off and hit another driver’s windshield, obscuring their visibility. Also, make sure to clear snow from other important areas of your car, like your turn signals and headlights. Drivers should also keep window cleaner and towels handy to keep windows and mirrors clear of slush and debris.

Pack an emergency kit: Be prepared for the unexpected. Put together a winter safety kit and keep it in your trunk. Be sure to include a warm blanket, flashlight and extra batteries, gloves, a hat, warm socks, flares, a shovel, an ice scraper and snow brush, booster cables, some non-perishable food, water in a container that can withstand freezing temperatures, and a first aid kit. Don’t forget to include a bag of traction material like kitty litter or sand.

Be smart behind the wheel

Leave Space: According to Allstate collision data, rear-end collisions are the most common type of collision on Canadian roads. It’s important to increase following distances in the winter. Leave at least eight to 10 seconds between your vehicle and the vehicle in front of you so that you have time to react.  You never know when you may need to brake quickly, and this is even more important on wet, icy or snowy roads and at night when visibility is worse.

Use your mirrors:  Allstate collision data shows the second most common collision occurs when changing lanes! Be diligent about checking your mirrors at regular intervals and use extra care when checking your blind spot when you change lanes.

Take it slow:  It may be tempting to speed up when road conditions seem clear, but you can reduce your chances of being involved in a collision by simply slowing down. If you have to come to a sudden stop, or if you hit unexpected patch of black ice, driving at a slower speed will make hitting another car in front of you less likely.

Stay focused:  Give the road your undivided attention whenever you’re driving. Keep your eyes on the road, your hands on the wheel, and your phone and other distractions stowed away. You should also never, ever, drive while impaired. Unfortunately, according to numbers provided by MADD Canada, thousands of collisions are caused by impaired drivers every year.

Use some courtesy and common sense:  You can never go wrong by showing some courtesy behind the wheel. Obey the rules of the road; be respectful of other drivers and pedestrians; turn on your lights to remain visible; don’t pass snow plows; and keep in mind that bridges, ramps, and overpasses are likely to freeze first.

So, get out and enjoy the winter, just know that a little planning and preparation can make your travels a little less stressful.