Tips for safe winter driving
There’s no denying it, Canadian seasons are special – one day it’s t-shirt weather and the next, you’re knee-deep in snow. We all know it’s coming but still, every winter it seems like we’re nowhere near ready for the cold, let alone the ice, snow and slush that await us on the roads.
Making the transition from summer to winter driving can require a bit of preparation. It’s important to plan in advance to get your car winter ready so you’re all set to face more hazardous driving conditions. The way you drive also changes with the arrival of winter weather, and knowing what to look for and how to react can help prevent accidents before they happen. To get you started, we’ve created an unofficial prep course to help you stay safe and confident on the road this winter.
7 winter driving tips for before you hit the road
1 Install your winter tires. With winter tires you can stop up to 40% sooner than with all-season tires, making your vehicle much easier to control on icy roads. Winter tires aren’t required by law (except in Quebec), but they’re strongly recommended. In fact, nearly 7 in 10 drivers in Canada use winter tires . You won’t just be safer if your vehicle has winter tires, you might even save a bit of money for switching since some insurers offer winter tire discounts! And if you live in Ontario, you’re in luck – all insurers do.
Tire tips for safe winter driving
- Change to winter tires before the snowy weather hits. Avoid the peak season rush by booking your appointment well in advance. Some insurers may even require you to have your winter tires on by a certain date ¬– connect with your insurance company if you’re unsure about this.
- Make sure you have the right tires. All winter tires in Canada are marked with a three-peak mountain snowflake symbol. This symbol means it’s been specially designed for snowy driving conditions.
- Don’t mix and match tires. All four of your tires should be winter tires.
- Keep tires pumped up. Check your tire pressure at least once a month in cold weather. Tires lose pressure more quickly in winter, and driving with underinflated tires – especially in icy conditions – is dangerous.
2 Get a seasonal tune-up. Make an autumn tune-up a priority every year to keep your car safe for winter driving, even when your ride seems to be running smoothly. The mechanic will make sure the essentials are working properly and take care of any hidden issues that might cause you trouble in the colder weather. We recommend scheduling a tune-up for the same time as your winter tire appointment to save the extra trip.
3 Understand your insurance policy. You can be the safest driver in the world and still get into an accident in wintry conditions, through no fault of your own. Review your auto policy to make sure you have the protection you need to cover yourself and your vehicle if you get into a winter accident.
4 Stash a winter driving kit. Any winter warrior will know that a roadside emergency kit is a must for winter driving! Having one in your car can keep you safe and warm if you get stuck on the side of the road.
Here’s a list of items we recommend you pack in your kit:
- Food and water. Store food that won’t spoil (like energy bars) and bottles of water in case something happens.
- A first aid kit. This emergency essential should include sterile gauze pads, bandages, adhesive tape, ice packs, disposable non-latex gloves, and antiseptic, among other items. The Canadian Red Cross has a full list This is an external link. of what you should include.
- A snow brush, ice scraper, and small shovel. All the necessary tools to dig you out of a snowbank.
- A blanket and extra clothes. Tuck these items away so you can change and stay warm if your clothing gets wet.
- A flashlight with extra batteries. Save your phone battery by using a flashlight instead.
- Jumper cables. Not only will jumper cables help you get out of a sticky situation if your own car battery dies, but you can also be a hero for another driver needing a boost!
- Salt, sand, or even kitty litter. Use these as traction if you get stuck in snow, or if you need to make a safe walking path from your car to your destination.
A few other things to consider keeping in your car:
- A utility knife. You never know when you might need it!
- Road flares or a warning light. Use these as beacons to alert other drivers to your vehicle if you need help.
- A road map. If you’re stranded in the snow with no cell service, a map will help guide you if you have to head for safety on foot.
- Heat packets. These single-use packets will keep your fingers and toes nice and toasty.
- Emergency phone battery charger. It’s convenient any time you need a charge on the fly, and having an emergency charger on hand can also power up your phone if you can’t do it in the car.
5 Clean all snow and ice off your vehicle. This is essential for both your own safety and the safety of others on the road.
- Windows, mirrors, lights and turn signals. Proper visibility is key for safe winter driving! You need to make sure you can clearly see other vehicles and your surroundings, and that other drivers can see you so they’re always aware of your next move.
- The roof of your car. It’s very important to take the time to chip away any ice that has accumulated on the roof of your car. Once your vehicle warms up, rooftop snow and ice will start to melt and could fly off, possibly causing damage to the car behind you or even an accident. If you know there’s going to be an overnight snowfall or freezing rain, set your alarm a few minutes earlier so you have time to clear your car completely.
6 Keep your gas tank (and other fluids) full. You don’t want to get stranded with no gas, and you’ll need to keep a de-iced windshield for a full range of vision.
- Gas. You never know when you’ll be able to stop for gas, especially on long rides. If you’re running low when you set out for the day, your first stop should be the gas station. Additionally, if your tank is low, condensation can build up and freeze your fuel line – this could cause additional engine problems you definitely want to avoid.
- Windshield washer fluid. Always keep an extra gallon of windshield washer fluid in the trunk. Make sure the reservoir stays full, and that the fluid you buy is rated at the -40℃ temperature range.
7 Always remember your mobile phone! And make sure it’s fully charged when you leave, just in case you have to make an emergency call.
7 winter driving tips for when you’re on the road
1 Pay attention and drive slowly. As soon as your hands are on the wheel, stay alert for any potential obstacles and dangers on the surface of the road and around you. Getting tired? Pull over at a service station to re-energize or switch drivers if you’re travelling with someone else. Turn off your mobile device – we recommend tossing it in the back seat to keep it out of reach and avoid the temptation to text. And most importantly, reduce your speed! The easiest way to avoid accidents in winter is to just slow down. This will give you more time and space to react.
2 Chill out on the cruise control. Sure, cruise control helps prevent “lead foot” (and the subsequent speeding ticket), but don’t ever use it in the winter or you could wind up in a ditch. Why? It’s all about the mechanics. This handy feature exists to maintain one steady speed while your foot is off the gas pedal, but if you lose traction on an icy road cruise control could actually cause you to accelerate and skid out of control.
3 Learn how to get out of a skid. First rule of thumb: don’t panic! There are a few braking techniques that will help you straighten your course or stop safely. Which one you should use will depend on what type of brakes you have. Whether you have rear-, front-, or all-wheel drive, research the best way to get out of a skid. Transport Canada has created an excellent step-by-step guide This is an external link. on types of skids and how to recover from them.
4 Tailgating – just don’t do it. Tailgating is unsafe even in the best weather, and it’s extra dangerous in snowy, slippery conditions. You need enough distance between your car and the car in front of you if the other vehicle brakes suddenly. Always stay a safe distance behind other cars. Under normal driving conditions, you should follow the general rule of staying two to three seconds behind the car in front of you. If the weather’s bad, you’ll need extra space on top of that.
5 Never pass a snowplow. Be patient! Snowplows and salting or sanding trucks need time to get the job done. Passing a snowplow is extremely dangerous for yourself and your passengers, not to mention the snowplow driver and other motorists. Staying a safe distance of around 10 car lengths behind this type of vehicle is what’s recommended.
6 Take extra care when travelling in rural areas. Heading up north for your annual ski trip means you’ll be facing more treacherous country roads, with additional hazards.
Here are a few things to watch out for on rural roads:
- Soft shoulders. It’s easy to mistake a ditch full of snow for a soft shoulder, so be cautious when turning corners or pulling over.
- Fewer road lights. Rural roads generally aren’t as well-lit as busier highways (if they’re lit at all), and snow makes it even more difficult to see in the dark. If it’s dark and snowy, drive slowly.
- Snowmobiles. On some public roads, snowmobiles are legally permitted. Keep your eyes open for riders on the shoulder.
- Wildlife. A collision with an animal can be extremely dangerous. Always obey the yellow diamond-shaped wildlife warning signs by slowing down and driving defensively.
- Open fields and high winds. Blowing snow across an open field is the perfect environment for black ice.
7 Pull over or postpone your trip. If there’s a snowstorm blowing in or they’re calling for freezing rain, sometimes your safest move is to stop driving or just stay home. Even if it means missing an important event, it’s not worth risking your own safety and the safety of others.
Yes, winter driving can be daunting. But if you’re prepared, know what to expect, and drive safely, chances are you’ll get through this winter incident free. And remember, an accident-free history may help keep your insurance premium lower, so it pays to stay safe in winter!