Winter in Canada means one thing: snow. No matter which part of the country you’re in, chances are you’re going to have some white stuff on the ground at some point. Whether you’re a longtime driver or a novice, knowing how to safely navigate snowy conditions can mean the difference between getting in an accident and avoiding one. Here are a few things to keep in mind next time the snow flies and you head out on the road.
Contrary to popular belief, your speed should be determined not by how late you are or what you’re listening to on the radio, but by the conditions on the road. Jokes aside, this is one of the most common mistakes drivers make in winter, and one that puts everyone on the road in danger. The reason is simple: wet, snowy and icy roads provide less traction for your tires (yes, even winter tires) and as a result, you’ll need more distance to come to a stop. Any time roads are wet – and especially when they’re icy or snowy – reduce your speed accordingly, and pay no mind to the tailgater behind you.
On a related note, remember how wet surfaces make your vehicle take longer to stop? That means you’re going to need a little more distance between you and the car in front of you, particularly at highway speeds. Tailgating is never a good idea, and that goes double when there’s snow or ice on the ground.
Change your tires
In addition to offering improved traction on snow and ice via their specialized treads, winter tires are actually made out of different materials than summer tires, which makes them softer and grippier at lower temperatures. This makes winter tires a must, regardless of how much snow your area usually gets. It’s also worth noting that, despite the name, “all-season” tires are not a substitute for winter tires.
Brush it off
No one likes brushing snow and scraping ice from a car before heading out in the morning, but thoroughly clearing your vehicle is important for your safety and the safety of everyone else on the road. In addition to obscuring your vision, snow can also compromise the effectiveness of your headlights, brake lights and turn signals – which are all the more vital this time of year when daylight is limited. And unfortunately, yes, you do also need to clear the snow from your roof as well, which can blow off at high speeds and obscure the vision of drivers behind you.
Easy does it
Slow and steady wins the race, especially in winter. Even with advanced traction control and anti-lock brakes, your vehicle is still only holding onto the road with four small pieces of rubber, and they have to work a lot harder for traction if there’s snow on the ground. Think of it like the difference between running on a snowy street in winter and a dry one in summer, and adjust your acceleration and braking accordingly.
Brake before turning
This is pretty good advice at any time of year, but especially in winter: apply the brakes before you turn the wheel. There are two reasons for this that both come into play when you enter a turn. Firstly, the faster you’re going, the harder your tires need to work to hold onto the road during braking. Secondly, your tires need to work harder to maintain grip in a curve than they do moving straight ahead. These two factors add up to dangerously reduced traction if you hit an icy or snowy patch, which could result in a skid.
Pack a bag
Keeping a few essential emergency supplies in your vehicle can be a lifesaver in the winter, especially if you’re driving outside of densely populated areas where help can be slower to arrive. This should include a blanket or a warm set of clothes, a pair of gloves, emergency flares, energy bars and water, and a flashlight and batteries. If you find yourself stuck by the side of the road in the winter, put on your four-way hazard lights and make sure your exhaust pipe isn’t obstructed by snow (which can cause your car to fill with carbon monoxide when the engine is running). Keep your headlights off (to conserve your car’s battery) and stay in your vehicle until help arrives.
Jeremy Freed is a freelance writer and editor based in Toronto. His writing about fashion, travel, food and design appears in Sharp, Harry and re:Porter magazines, among many others.