Every year, Canadians steel themselves for months of winter driving. It’s a time that calls for adeptness at navigating icy road conditions, with reduced visibility and freezing temperatures.
“Black ice” is a term Canadians know all too well and refers to a thin, nearly transparent layer of ice on pavement that’s difficult to see and treacherous to drive on.
“It can occur on a rural country highway, on a nice sunny day, and you see those little snaky snow trails drifting across the road. That’s black ice. All the snow moving across the pavement, the sun melts it, and that can create that thin layer of black ice,” says Brian Hart, a training manager at Young Drivers of Canada. “You really see black ice on overpasses, where the bridge will ice over before the rest of the road will, because it’s elevated, not insulated by the ground underneath. And if you’re in black ice conditions it’s quite easy to lose control of the car.”
Climate change has also been a contributing factor for more severe weather condition, as mentioned by Hart. So it’s important that drivers are aware of these conditions and adapt accordingly.
Don’t Let Your Guard Down
Winter is an annual event and yet every season there are numerous stories of motorists who attempt to brave the icy conditions or ignore weather forecasts, and then get stranded in their cars off the side of a roadway, waiting out the intense winter storm.
Awareness of safe driving is paramount. According to Allstate Canada research from 2017-2022, December (followed by November) is the month with the highest number of collisions. Friday is the day of the week with the highest number of incidents, with more than half of all incidents occurring between 12 p.m. and 6 p.m. Rear-end crashes are the most frequent reason for collision-related claims.
“It seems that every winter we start from scratch,” Hart says. “We forget what happened last winter, the need for slowing down, to maintain more space around your vehicle, the need for more stopping space. We can’t control who comes in behind us, but we can control the amount of space we leave in front of us.”
Ten Tips to Stay Safe
This year, to help you navigate icy road surface, keep these 10 driving safety tips in mind.
- Take your time and reduce your speed. You want to leave plenty of time to react in case you lose control on a slippery road. Overall, you should adjust your driving habits, by being more deliberate and careful when manoeuvring the vehicle, and avoiding hard braking and fast turns.
- Maintain visibility. Make sure you can see and be seen. Always keep your car clear of snow and ice. If visibility on the road is poor, keep the vehicle’s full lighting system active. Pull over and wait if conditions become dangerous.
- Avoid distractions. Keep your focus on the road, which means no emailing or texting – a rule that should be obeyed all year round.
- Use winter tires for better traction on ice or slick conditions. According to a Tire and Rubber Association of Canada study in 2021, 76 per cent of Canadian motorists surveyed use winter tires. That leaves 24 per cent who don’t. There aren’t many areas of the country where winter tires are not needed in the thick of February. As Hart says, a common misconception exists with the term all-season tires. “All-season tires generally speaking are not winter-rated,” he says. “If you check the markings on the side of your all-seasons, if you don’t see a little snowflake on there, it’s not a winter-rated tire.”
- Keep your vehicle maintained. Get the car tuned up for winter, and make sure you have plenty of window washer fluid. Fully charge the battery and check the heater and defroster. Also check the wipers, which typically last a year before they start to wear out, especially with ice and snow on the windshield during the winter. Look at how well they are clearing things off.
- Have an emergency kit. Make sure you have supplies in the car in case of emergency – like in 2010, when drivers on Highway 402 near Sarnia spent more than 24 hours stranded in their vehicles during a severe storm. According to the Canada Safety Council, that kit should include: an ice scraper and snow brush, a spare jug of washer fluid, water, non-perishable food, a flashlight, a blanket and warm clothes, battery jumper cables, a shovel, candles, a lighter and something that can provide traction, such as sand or kitty litter.
- Consider when you should or shouldn’t drive. “Sometimes you put pressure on yourself to go somewhere when you really shouldn’t be going,” Hart says. Check the weather report. Can you put off whatever you’re doing? If you are going, plan extra travel time.
- Keep a distance. If you are on a multi-lane road, try not to drive beside someone else. Hart says you should “stagger” your vehicle, so if something happens you have room to move the car to the side.
- Avoid using cruise control. “Because of differing traction, the vehicle may attempt to accelerate or decelerate at inopportune moments, which reduce your reaction time,” says Lewis Smith, manager, national projects, for the Canada Safety Council.
- Don’t pass snowplows. The reduced sightlines and the extended blades of these vehicles can lead to serious accidents if you try to pass.
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