This year, we got a beautiful white Christmas. The snow formed an eye-pleasing blanket on the ground and branches. It’s lovely to look at, but, the snow should serve as a reminder we have to adapt our driving habits to weather conditions.
Here are 10 tips to help you become a smarter, safer winter driver.
These are MY 10 tips that work for me, not just a random list. I used to work in sales and routinely drove long distances to sales appointments – even through whiteout conditions on the New York State Thruway. (I used to live in Rochester, NY) I always got to my destination in one piece – perhaps not always on time – but I arrived.
1. Plan Your Trip
Whether it’s around town or driving between towns, it helps to plan your trip before you get into your car.
I use Google maps to check out routes to get an estimate of how long to expect the trip to take. That helps me decide when I need to leave to arrive at my destination on time. Google maps usually gives you alternate routes as well.
Check the traffic reports on the radio (680 News has traffic reports every 10 minutes) before you leave to see if your preferred or normal route is affected by accidents or other delays. If there are likely to be delays on your route, plan to leave earlier to ensure you get to your destination on time.
One popular app for navigation is Wayz. It functions as a GPS, but also gets real-time input from real Wayz users about accidents, road closures, construction and detours to be able to suggest alternate routes to get you to your destination.
2. Check the Weather
It’s always a good idea to check what the weather will be for the day to have some idea of how your driving might be affected. Even more so in winter when snow and/or ice play havoc with driving conditions.
Watch for weather forecast that call for a mild day in the morning and cooling down below freezing over the afternoon. These are the conditions that enable black ice to form. It’s hard enough to see in the daytime, but even harder at night.
3. Turn on your Headlights
You’ve probably heard people recommend you turn on your headlights when you’re driving in rain or fog to make your vehicle easier for other drivers to see.
The same principle holds true in winter. Here’s why.
When you turn on your headlights, the brightness cuts through fog or snow to make your car more visible to oncoming motorists. But turning them on also turns on your tail lights making your vehicle easier for motorists coming up behind you to see you.
While most modern vehicles have daytime running lights (DRL) that automatically come on when you start your car, the DRL does not activate your tail lights so, in fog, snow or especially at night, your car becomes a “phantom car” – invisible to anyone coming up behind you.
So, when the weather forecast suggests poor visibility, turn on your headlights. But only use low beam. High beam tends to reflect light back to you from moisture droplets in fog or snow and can actually reduce your ability to see the road ahead. Low beams will allow you to see enough of the roadway ahead of you without blinding oncoming motorists.
4. Equip Your Car With Winter Tires
Once the temperature has dropped below 7° C, if you can do only one thing, it should be to put on winter tires.
Winter tires have a softer rubber compound and different tread pattern compared with summer or all-season tires to give them better traction in snow and on ice.
With All-Season tires on a dry road, a passenger sedan will require 35 meters to stop (about the width of 3 residential lots) from 50 kph. On packed snow, at the same speed, it takes 55 meters to stop. On ice, this jumps to 87 meters – almost the same distance as 7 houses.
Winter tires decrease stopping distances by about 33% to about 38 meters on snow and 58 meters on ice. This means that winter tires can allow you to brake in the same distance on snow as all-season tires on dry pavement.
When Spring comes around, replace your winter tires with summer or all-season tires. The softer compound used to give winter tires better grip also make them much more prone to wear in warmer weather.
5. Leave More Space
Just accept that it takes more distance to stop on winter roads than on dry pavement.
Increase the distance you leave between your car and the vehicle in front of you to compensate for this increased stopping distance.
Also, when passing, allow more space between your car and other vehicles. Winter roads can present unexpected problems like black ice or ridges of unplowed snow or slush on the roadway. These can cause your car or others to unexpectedly veer from their intended course.
6. Easy does It
A smart winter driver avoids making sudden moves when he or she is driving. This includes braking, steering, lane changes.
If you feel you are losing control, DO. NOT. BRAKE. Let off the accelerator. Gently. Do not apply any braking force as you start to skid or you’ll make the situation much worse by locking your wheels. Only when the car is back in a straight line should you use the brakes. Or when you’re already so far gone that you’re absolutely, positively going to hit something. At that point, braking won’t prevent the collision, but it’ll help you in the first few milliseconds after the impact.
7. Don’t Crowd Plows
While it is legal to pass a snowplow or a sanding/salting truck, always give the operators of these vehicles plenty of room to work to prevent collisions and to get roads cleared faster.
The operators are also trained to move over to allow traffic behind them to get past, so just be patient.
It may be frustrating to be following a slow-moving plow, but at least you will be travelling on a roadway that is relatively clear of ice and snow.
It’s tempting to just pass the plow, but the roadway in the passing lane may not be cleared of snow and you risk losing control and possibly colliding with the plow while passing. If you’re going to pass, make certain the passing lane is relatively clear.
8. Slow Down
Don’t drive so fast during the winter. Slow down.
Stopping distances are a function of four things: 1, your reaction time, 2, your speed, 3, the curb weight of your vehicle and 4, road conditions. Even if you have snow tires, at any given speed, it will take longer to stop than on warm, dry pavement.
The chart below compares stopping distance on dry pavement vs, on wet or snowy roads. The blue bar represents the distance you would travel while you react to something you see on the road. The red bar represents how far your car will travel from the time you step on the brake until you come to a complete stop.
The weight of your vehicle affects stopping distance because your vehicle’s momentum is a combination of speed and weight. So, if you’re used to driving a small sedan, when driving an SUV or pickup, it will take longer to stop than you’re used to.
By planning your route and making allowances for bad weather, it’s a lot easier to feel you can drive at a slower speed.
9. All Wheel Drive Is Not A Cure
All Wheel Drive gives drivers a false sense of security. Most drivers with AWD think their vehicles can handle any kind of conditions because all it needs is one wheel to get traction to be able to maneuver the car.
Unfortunately, on ice for example, if you’re not equipped with snow tires, you’ll end up in an all wheel skid. Your AWD vehicle still needs tires that can get traction on road surfaces to maintain control.
If your vehicle is a pickup or SUV, don’t be tempted to drive faster because your vehicle has AWD. The centre of gravity on SUVs and pickups is higher than for sedans, and you can roll your vehicle over more easily than if you were driving a sedan.
10. Arrive Alive. It’s Important.
If you pull out all the stops when you’re driving just to be able to make your destination on time, you’re probably taking unnecessary risks for you and your passengers.
I’ve seen cars skid off the road because drivers were going too fast for conditions or braked suddenly and went into a spin.
By taking my time, I managed to get through areas where cars, trucks and buses had gone off the road. I never had a customer complain that I was late for an appointment during a snowstorm. They always appreciated that I arrive, and arrived safely.