Navigating winter roads poses distinct challenges that require drivers to be more attentive, cautious, and well-prepared. Snow, ice, reduced visibility, and cold temperatures can instantly turn the roads into treacherous paths. To promote safe winter driving, it is crucial to be equipped with the right knowledge, skills, and mindset.
Extreme Weather Conditions
Blizzards: These are the most hazardous of winter storms, characterized by the simultaneous occurrence of falling, blowing, and drifting snow, along with wind speeds of at least 40 km/h. As a result, visibility reduced to less than one kilometre, and temperatures dipping below -10°C. They can persist for a few hours to several days.
Winds: These give rise to conditions associated with blizzards, contributing to blowing and drifting snow. This reduces visibility and results in wind chill.
Heavy snowfall: Heavy snowfall pertains to snow accumulations of at least 10 centimetres within a 12-hour period or a minimum of 15 centimetres within 24 hours.
Freezing rain or drizzle: This can result in ice storms, where ice coats various surfaces, including roads, trees, and power lines.
Cold snap: A cold snap is a sudden, rapid drop in temperature over a very brief span of time, leading to icy conditions.
Black ice: Black ice is a thin, nearly invisible layer of ice on the road, often giving the appearance of a black, shiny surface. Road surfaces freeze more rapidly in shaded areas, on bridges, and overpasses when temperatures are low. These locations tend to remain frozen long after sunrise.
Slush: Wet snow can create slushy road conditions, where heavy slush may accumulate in your vehicle's wheel wells, potentially affecting steering.
Increase your visibility to other drivers by turning on your lights.
Avoid making sudden turns or stops while driving. It can lead to loss of control and skidding.
Winter collisions are primarily caused by excessive speed. It's important to drive slowly and cautiously on snowy and icy roads.
If the road conditions are snowy, icy, or wet, avoid using cruise control. Using cruise control in these conditions can lead to hydroplaning and loss of control.
Gradually reduce your speed by applying the brakes gently before entering a turn. You can then accelerate after safely navigating the corner.
When your vehicle starts to skid, counterintuitively, turn into the skid and accelerate. This action shifts the vehicle's weight from the front to the rear and often helps regain control.
If your vehicle is equipped with an anti-lock braking system (ABS), refrain from "pumping" the brakes. Instead, maintain constant pressure and allow the system to function as intended.
Equip Your Vehicles
When dealing with winter driving conditions, the type of tires you use becomes crucial. Winter roads can be highly unpredictable, ranging from heavy snowfall to treacherous black ice.
Winter tires offer an added layer of safety thanks to their distinctive tread rubber, tread depth, patterns, and biting edges. These features collectively enable winter tires to maintain flexibility while navigating through severe weather conditions like snow and ice, providing the necessary traction to grip the road effectively.
If you encounter only occasional snow flurries and encounter icy roads infrequently, all-season tires might suffice. However, if you experience a regular period of icy road conditions, using winter tires is not an excessive precaution but rather an essential safety measure that could potentially save lives.
When you decide to install winter tires for the season, it's important to equip your vehicle with a complete set. Simply changing the front tires increases the risk of the rear tires skidding. Similarly, using snow tires only on the rear wheels can lead to a loss of traction in the front, making it difficult to steer your vehicle.
As a friendly reminder, don't forget to re-install your all-season tires when spring arrives. While winter tires excel in extreme winter conditions, they tend to wear down more quickly on warm, dry pavement.
Always have winter safety and emergency equipment in your car. Having essential items on hand can be a lifesaver in the event of an emergency or getting stranded in the cold.
Here is a list of items we recommend including in your emergency kit:
Flashlight (Preferably crank-type)
Reflective safety triangles or flares
Handy first-aid kit
Whistle (In case you need to attract attention)
Snow brush and scraper
Small shovel with long handle
Bag of abrasive material: sand, kitty litter (Avoid road salt, which can cause your vehicle to rust)
Plenty of windshield washer fluid
Lock de-icer (Note: in extreme cold, keep it with you, rather than in your vehicle!)
Small tool kit
Extra fuses (for the vehicle’s electrical system)
Extra socks, boots and gloves
Hand and foot warmers
Bottles of water
Granola bars (Food items that won't spoil)
Whistle—in case you need to attract attention
Candle in a deep can and matches
Copy of your emergency plan
If You are Stuck in Snow
Maintain your composure and avoid venturing out in the cold. Staying inside your car is a wise choice as it prevents you from getting disoriented, and your vehicle serves as a secure shelter.
Refrain from exhausting yourself, as shoveling in extreme cold can have fatal consequences.
Allow fresh air to circulate by opening a window on the side shielded from the wind.
Minimize engine use to reduce the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning, ensuring the exhaust pipe remains clear of snow.
If feasible, utilize a candle safely positioned inside a deep container for warmth rather than relying solely on the car's heater.
Activate warning lights or set up road flares to enhance the visibility of your vehicle.
Turn on the ceiling light inside the car; excessive use of headlights or hazard lights can drain the battery.
Periodically move your hands, feet, and arms to maintain circulation and remain alert.
Be watchful for other vehicles and emergency responders, and make an effort to keep your clothing dry, as wet attire can lead to dangerous loss of body heat.