Advice for safer driving when roads are snowy and icy

July 28, 2015

It's easy to forget that extra caution is needed to drive when the snow and ice hits: stopping distances are longer, handling is less responsive and cold temperatures can affect the performance of your tires. Here's some simple driving advice to help keep you safer when the road surfaces are bad.

Advice for safer driving when roads are snowy and icy

Pack an emergency kit

Before winter starts you should prepare a winter emergency kit and put it in the trunk of your car. Even if you need to use it just once this winter, you'll be thankful that you did. Must-have items every car emergency kit should have include:

  • Bag of sand or salt
  • Ice scraper
  • Snow shovel
  • Cell phone charger
  • Flashlight
  • Tow ropes
  • Booster cables
  • Candles and matches
  • Warning flares and reflective triangle
  • Sacking to lay under stuck wheels

Be mindful of road conditions

To ensure your journey is as safe as possible, whether you're going across town to the office or across the province for a visit, there are a few things you should do.

  • Give a frosted windscreen time to clear completely. Don't drive off peering through a small "spyhole."
  • Brush ice and snow off the roof so it can't slide down the windshield, or fly off and hit the car behind you on the highway – which can be dangerous.
  • Drive at low speed in as high a gear as possible. Don't brake or accelerate sharply.
  • Before braking, drop into low gear sooner than normal to slow the car if driving a vehicle with a manual transmission.
  • To climb a hill, drop a gear to build momentum on the approach, then take it at a steady pace. Coming down, use a low gear to avoid having to brake.
  • Brake well before a bend, where it's all too easy to lose control, so that you lose the desired speed before you start to turn.
  • Don't wrench the wheel suddenly when turning. Steer smoothly
  • If the car gets bogged down in snow, first straighten the wheels. Then, clear snow from under the wheels. Next, put sacking, an old rug or salt/sand in front of the driving wheels for extra traction. Lastly, accelerate gently.

If you must drive in winter and heavy boots make you clumsy on the pedals (especially if you have big feet), then wear sturdy shoes or low-cut boots that won't slip or get jammed between the pedals. In this case, always pack a pair of heavy boots in the car just in case.

Be extra cautious on ice

Driving cautiously on ice reduces the risk of hazards such as skidding.

  • Gentle manoeuvres and a steady pace are the way forward. To avoid wheelspin don't mash your foot onto the accelerator.
  • If you drive an automatic, learn how to downshift into a lower gear to reduce dependence on the brakes.
  • If you have traction control and an antilock braking system (ABS) on your car, ensure these features are enabled. They help to reduce wheelspin (traction control) and shorten stopping distances (ABS) when road surfaces are perilous.
  • If the steering feels light or the tires on the road surface are eerily silent, suspect black ice and use your gears to reduce speed.
  • If the car skids when you brake and you have a manual gearbox, release the brake and press the clutch.
  • If the wipers can't work hard enough to clear the windshield during a blizzard, abandon your journey and seek shelter.
  • If you're trapped in your car, wrap up in rugs, coats, blankets and even newspaper. Run the engine and heater for 15 minutes per hour, but ensure the window is always open a crack to minimize the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.
  • If other motorists are trapped with you, "car share" to increase warmth, save fuel and keep your spirits up.

Winter driving always requires an extra measure of caution, which includes increasing your following distance from the car in front and going slower. It's better to arrive late than not at all. Stashing an emergency kit in the trunk is also prudent. Perhaps the wisest advice of all is if the roads are slippery, you should only venture out when it's absolutely necessary

The material on this website is provided for entertainment, informational and educational purposes only and should never act as a substitute to the advice of an applicable professional. Use of this website is subject to our terms of use and privacy policy.
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