Winter Driving Tips & Guidelines

During the last month while travelling with my co-worker Jessica for courses, we've talked about winter driving a couple of times because she’s getting prepared to trade in her Irish drivers license for a Canadian one! We discussed ways to get more experience, drivers training courses, horror stories and more. Taking your drivers exam can be hard enough, but doing it in winter can add extra challenges. And now that it has finally started snowing, I started thinking about our conversations and  some of the risks and challenges associated with winter driving. I was surprised to find out that according to Transportation Alberta IN 2014, “Slush, snow or ice was involved in 18.0% of fatal collisions and 23.9% of non-fatal injury collisions” Source: Transportation Alberta

Unfortunately not all incidents can be avoided, but being prepared can reduce the risks. Here are some simple tips and guidelines I’ve learned over the years. Feel free to share with your family, friends, co-workers and employees.

Make sure your vehicle is prepared for winter driving. Your vehicle checklist should include but not be limited to the following:

  • Get your car serviced. Make sure to have them check your battery, cooling system, brakes, lights, window defrosters, for leaks, worn out belts or hoses and other parts that may need repair or replacement.
  • Inspect your tires for sufficient tread and pressure; if you are able to, get winter tires.
  • Fill your windshield washer fluid with ‘no-freeze’ fluid.
  • Check to see if your windshield wipers need replacement.

For more information on how you can get your vehicle winter ready, talk to the technicians at your vehicle’s service centre and/or refer to advice from your roadside assistance provider (CAA, AMA, BCAA, etc).

Prepare an emergency car kit that includes winter safety and emergency equipment in your car. Your kit should include but not be limited to the following:

  • Sunglasses. When it’s sunny, glare from ice or wet roads can be blinding.
  • Fully charged cell phone and charger
  • Snow brush, ice scraper and small snow shovel
  • Extra warm clothing (coat, gloves, hat, boots, etc) and blankets
  • First aid kit
  • Booster cables, an extension cord & tow rope
  • Snacks that won’t spoil and bottles of water
  • Winter windshield washer fluid
  • Survival candles and lighter/matches, wind up flash light & road flares
  • Bag of salt/sand/cat litter for traction

Steps to take before heading out on the road:

  • Ask yourself: “Is the journey absolutely necessary?” The safest strategy is to avoid driving in bad weather conditions. If you must drive, check weather and travel conditions before heading out; plan to leave early if necessary.
  • Let someone know your destination, planned route and expected time of arrival.
  • Clean all snow and ice off of the hood, roof, windows and lights.
  • Keep the gas tank topped up – at least half full. When driving in bad weather plan ahead and make sure you have more than enough fuel.
  • As much as possible use main roads which are generally cleared first and well-maintained.

Tips for Winter Driving:

  • Remember to always wear your seat belt. Ensure that everyone in your vehicle is buckled up as well.
  • Do not text or engage in any other activities that may distract you while driving.
  • Be alert, well rested and sober behind the wheel
  • Slow down; leave plenty of distance between vehicles. Fog, black ice, slush or snow-covered roads can make driving dangerous. Drive for the conditions, not the speed limit.

What to do if you are stuck in the snow and/or breakdown during winter weather:

  • Try to stay calm and try not to go out in the cold. If your vehicle is not at risk of being hit by other drivers, stay in your car: you will avoid getting lost and your car is a safe shelter.
  • If you have to leave your vehicle, wear high-visibility clothing so other road users can see you.
  • Don't tire yourself out. Shovelling or pushing in the bitter cold can kill.
  • Let in fresh air by opening a window on the side sheltered from the wind.
  • Keep the engine off as much as possible. Be aware of carbon monoxide poisoning and make sure the tailpipe is not blocked by snow. If possible, use a survival candle for heat instead of the car heater to warm up.
  • Turn on warning lights or set up road flares to make your car visible. Turn on your dome light; overuse of your headlights will drain the battery.
  • Stay awake; Move your hands, feet and arms to maintain circulation.
  • Keep an eye out for other cars and emergency responders.
  • Try to keep clothing dry since wet clothing can lead to a dangerous loss of body heat. Wear a hat since you can lose up to 60% of your body heat through your head.