Although Canadians are used to snow flurries, ice patches and bone-chilling cold temperatures, winters still seem to arrive earlier than anyone expects it every year. And, unfortunately, this unexpected arrival combines with a lack of driver preparation to create a dangerous cocktail of collisions, near misses and, in some cases, fatalities.
December 1-7 is National Safe Driving Week and the Canada Safety Council would like to remind you of the importance of preparing yourself for winter driving. During the non-winter season, bad driving habits can creep into a driver’s repertoire, including aggressive braking and a lack of space around your car. These same habits just don’t work in the wintertime, as snow and slush are much more unforgiving than dry and clear pavement.
Here are a few safety considerations to keep in mind:
The only thing between your vehicle and the road is your tires. Four patches of rubber, each about the width of a sheet of paper. During the winter months, the rubber compound in tires that are intended for the weather stays softer than other tires, improving traction and grip. They can also contribute in reducing braking distances by as much as 25 per cent.
According to a 2016 study done for the Tire and Rubber Association of Canada, 61 per cent of Canadian drivers are using winter tires. (This data does not include Quebec, where it is legally required.)
The 61 per cent represents a nationwide increase since an identical study was performed in 2014, including an 11 per cent increase in British Columbia, Manitoba and Saskatchewan as well as a 10 per cent increase in Alberta, a nine per cent increase in Ontario and an eight per cent increase in Atlantic Canada.
It is also worth mentioning that Atlantic Canada represents the second highest percentage of winter tire users in Canada, behind Quebec.
Winter tires wear out less in the winter weather than in the summer, whereas all-season tires sacrifice pliability and flexibility in the winter months. So, any cost savings of sticking to all-season tires is negligible compared to the cost of your life. Don’t let a price tag deter you from making the smart and safe choice.
Winter tires should be installed when the weather drops below 7 degrees Celsius, as that is when they’re at their most effective. Be sure that your winter tires come with the three-peak-mountain-and-snowflake icon designating that the tires meet standards to be classified as winter tires, and be sure to use four winter tires of the same type. Don’t mix and match.
Adjust your driving habits
When the roads are clear and dry, the conditions are more forgiving of braking more aggressively and leaving less space between yourself and the car in front of you. With ice, slush and snow in play, there’s much less margin for error. A slower pace and more room around your vehicle will only serve you well. Take care to steer gently, avoid cruise control, and steer in the direction you want to go in the event of a skid.
Winter also brings its own set of unique hazards that aren’t present during the summer. Snow banks may encroach on the roadways, providing more restrictive access to some lanes. This makes it more important than ever to share the road. Give yourself enough room to manoeuvre your vehicle. If that means waiting for another driver to pass by, don’t speed up and try to squeeze past them. Be patient.
Leave yourself some time before leaving to check the weather conditions, and consider canceling or delaying your trip if conditions appear to be worsening. Should you be able to leave safely, clear your car of snow and ice before doing so.
Let snowplows do their thing
Always yield the right-of-way to snowplows. Plow drivers know their vehicles and their limitations. They have to drive at slower speeds and stop frequently. As with the above, patience is paramount. The plow driver will pull over and allow you to pass when it is safe to do so.
Don’t ever attempt to pass a working plow, as you risk hitting the blade and causing damage to their vehicle and yours. Or you could get buried under a pile of snow the snowplow is attempting to clear. Sight lines and visibility are reduced, especially during a snowstorm, and it’s a dangerous and reckless risk that could take your life and the snowplow operator’s.
Be patient. Wait. Snowplows are working to make your commute as safe as possible. Give them the time and space they need to do their job.
Lastly, make sure your car is winterized and ready for the season. This includes a fully-charged battery, a topped up windshield washer fluid reservoir, fully functional heater and defroster and windshield wipers that can withstand the ice and snow without leaving large streaks.
It’s also a great idea to keep an ice scraper, a jug of windshield washer fluid that works down to -40 degrees Celsius, and an emergency survival kit including a charged phone, water and non-perishable food, a flashlight, a blanket, warm clothes, jumper cables, a shovel, traction mats or sand, candles and a book of matches or a lighter.
You should also get a maintenance checkup done on your vehicle. An expert will be the best person to help you ensure your vehicle is winterized and ready to roll.
Work together with fellow motorists this winter season to ensure that everyone gets where they need to be safely and in one piece.