In winter, Canadian roads often offer unwelcome surprises which can put our safety on the line. To get her best advice on safe winter driving practices, we sat down for an interview with Marie-Laurence Paquin, Stunt Performer, Driving Instructor and Automotive Journalist.
But before getting all the answers, why not take the quiz to test your winter driving know-how?
Allstate: What’s your best advice for driving in winter?
Marie-Laurence: First, it’s about adapting. You must remember that winter roads can offer surprises like black ice or snow, so you need to slow down accordingly. In winter, braking distance needs to be much longer. Braking time doubles when at 30 to 50 km/hour and almost triples when at 50 to 100 km/hour. Driving should also be adapted for the type of road you’re on. It’s just not the same driving in the city versus a more rural area because these types of roads have different conditions to consider.
Secondly, be vigilant to anticipate. Look at what’s coming up in the distance to have an idea of the roadway conditions and have enough time to react. In winter, it’s best to keep a longer distance from the vehicle in front of you, on the highway and smaller roads, because you just never know if there is black ice out there. I also recommend doing a small braking test when there are no other cars around. This can help you familiarize yourself with the grip your car has on the road which changes constantly with fluctuating temperatures.
Allstate: When exactly should we start being more careful on the road? When snow hits the ground?
M-L: Let’s remember that drivers should always be careful on the road! No matter the time of year or weather. But a lot of people don’t really think about winter driving until they see snow. We need to prepare ahead of time. Starting in November, the temperature gets cooler and darkness comes earlier in the day. Winter tires need to be installed before temperatures drop to 7 degrees Celsius because that’s when summer tires just don’t cut it. They get too rigid and lose their grip making them less efficient at that point.
Allstate: What is the best way to get out of a snowbank?
M-L: The key is to get a grip. Avoid pushing the pedal to the metal and accelerating to the max because this causes the tire(s) to turn fast without getting a grip on the snow and just slide on the ice. Sometimes, it’s better to add some snow under the tire to realign the vehicle and allow it to find enough grip to move.
It could also be useful to deactivate the stability control, but you will have to know how to apply the right amount of pressure on the accelerator.
Use the weight of the vehicle. The goal is to create enough of a swing movement by going backward and forward at the right moment.
Finally, traction aid devices, like sand, can make a huge difference.
And have a shovel handy if you don’t already keep one in the trunk of your car!
Allstate: Why are winter tires so important?
M-L: The rubber on a winter tire is softer and is made of small movable squares that can handle snow and ice whereas summer tires are much smoother. It’s like mountain climbing with gloves or mitts (in this case with summer tires). With gloves on, you can cling to the wall but with mitts, it becomes much more challenging.
It is also paramount to regularly check tire pressure and wear. Don’t forget, tires are very important because they are the only thing holding you and the road together.
Allstate: What is the most common cause of collisions in winter and how can it be avoided?
M-L: Speed is a big cause of collision. In winter, you need more time to drive from point A to point B. If we are in a hurry or drive fast, there is a greater risk of not having enough time to anticipate, react and avoid an accident.
Reduced visibility caused by snow, fog on the windows or a poorly cleared car can also contribute to collisions. That’s why it’s important to fully clear windows and mirrors and wait for the car to be completely defrosted before hitting the road.
Allstate: What do you recommend always keeping in the car in winter?
M-L: Every car should be equipped with a small winter kit kept in the trunk during winter months. An investment of about $120 could help avoid a lot of hassle. It can also make for a nice gift!
Always keep in your car:
- Cellphone charger
- Oil and coolant
- All-purpose adjustable wrench
- Mini compressor and manometer
- Tie wraps and duct tape
- A warning device (flares or reflective triangles)
- First aid kit
To add in wintertime:
- Winter hat or toque
- Booster cables (batteries lose power quicker in cold temperatures)
- Towing strap (to help get out of a snowbank)
For extra security:
- A traction assistance device (like sand)
Allstate: Any final thoughts about winter driving that we should know?
M-L: Understanding the physics behind tire grip will help to better face winter. For example, when the back of the car is sliding, avoid hard braking because the weight transfer to the front during braking could make the back wheels lose even more traction. If the car isn’t turning, braking lightly will help the front wheels find their grip and put you back in control.
A course specifically for winter driving could be an excellent way to build your confidence and feel safer on our Canadian roads.