Severe and even everyday winter weather can prove to be a daunting task for many drivers. Especially in a country like Canada that’s known globally for its harsh winter season, it’s important for all motorists to take steps to equip themselves with both the correct knowledge and the right gear to make winter driving as safe as possible for themselves and others on the road.

Some of these important factors include specialized driving techniques for different weather scenarios, some include the purchase and use of winter tires, performing winter maintenance on your vehicle, and some include good old fashioned common sense. After all, not all new vehicles you want to buy will have all wheel drive!

In this post we’ll break down our top tips for maximizing safe winter driving.


Should I Stay or Should I Go?

Knowing when you shouldn’t attempt to make a pilgrimage across town, or across the region is critical to the safety of your passengers and others using the roads. Check your local up-to-date forecast and road conditions report before making any decisions to head out in a potentially dangerous snow storm or flash freeze. If you’re unprepared – even mentally – the drive can prove treacherous.

Don’t drive when you’re fatigued, angry, upset, or under the influence of alcohol or drugs. The latter is against the law, but many people neglect to realize the potential for altered states of mind and how the affect our safe driving habits. You could make a brash decision that ends up costing you a lifetime of anguish.

Bottom line: if you don’t have to go out in a storm, don’t.


Pack a Roadside Safety Kit

Having access to materials and tools that can help improve your psychological state, your chances of being rescued, or increase your visibility to other drivers are a big part of being prepared for extreme winter driving conditions.

In the event you end up stranded, having a care-package comprised of key components like a fully charged cell phone, a lighter, a good amount of rope, kitty litter or sand for assisting your wheels gain traction, a fully charged flashlight, an emergency blanket, a mobile car battery charger/jumper cables, extra mittens and hats, and even a can or two on non-perishable food are a good start to feeling prepared should you experience a dangerous roadside mishap in a remote area.

You have no idea what you’ll need and when, so it’s a best practice to have a few pieces of useable equipment handy should you run into trouble. Having these things will both allow you to help yourself and others, should you be the one to come across another driver in distress.

Last but not least, stay with your vehicle should you become stuck in a ditch or on a rarely travelled road. Leaving the scene puts you at risk of exposure to the elements and puts you in harms way to potentially be hit by another car that can’t see you in a blizzard. Leave your hazard lights on, and try to draw as much attention to your vehicle as possible to avoid accidental collision.


Winter Driving Tips

  • Accelerate and brake steadily, and with ease. Abrupt braking and acceleration lead to loss of traction, and therefore, control over your vehicle. For example, give yourself double the space as you would normally need to brake for a yellow or red light, or a stop sign, and follow traffic at a greater distance than in dry warm conditions.
  • Drive slowly. There’s just no need to cruise the highway in a snowstorm at 100 km/hr. Give yourself time to maneuver by driving slowly and leave in good time should you have to be at an important event, meeting, etc.
  • Don’t stop when you’re halfway up a hill or any incline. The power and traction required to start a vehicle in motion, rather than the energy required to maintain speed is much greater and as a result means risking the potential to lose traction and spin out – or worse, uncontrollably slide down a hill in the wrong direction,
  • Always keep your gas tank at least half full. Running out of gas in a storm or a cold snap can spell trouble for a stranded driver.
  • Equip your vehicle with 4 good snow tires. Not two. Four. Ensuring that all of your tires are in good condition and have proper tire tread for winter driving is paramount to ensuring you’re doing all you can to stop and drive your vehicle safely.
  • Perform a general winter maintenance on your vehicle in the fall. Include tasks like replacing oil with synthetic oil that performs better in cold weather, ensure that all fluids are topped up, change your summer tires over to winters, and make sure your wipers are operational.
  • Don’t rely on four-wheel-drive. Studies have shown that upwards of 20 km/hr a four-wheel-drive vehicle has no more traction that its two-wheel-drive counterpart. Momentum is momentum. 4WD or AWD acts as a benefit to traction in cornering, acceleration and stopping power at moderate speeds – not highway speeds.