9 Tips for Driving in Winter Conditions

Tips for driving in winter

Every Albertan knows that winter driving can be an ordeal. Snow, ice, and extreme cold are inevitable parts of this long season. Thus, keeping yourself and other motorists safe regardless of the weather requires both knowledge and skill.

Whether you’re a veteran of Alberta winters or a new driver, it’s a good idea to refresh your memory on how to drive in these unique conditions. Here are 9 tips to help you safely navigate driving this winter season.

1. Plan ahead

Winter conditions can be unpredictable and hazardous. Preparedness will help to keep you and other drivers safe. Here are some things you can do before even getting into the driver’s seat:

  • Create a “survival kit” and keep it in your vehicle.

    No one ever plans on getting stuck in their vehicle, but preparing for this possibility can make all the difference. Gloves, booster cables, a small shovel, windshield wiper fluid, first aid kit, torch, snow brush, candles, safety vest, water bottles, and non-perishable energy foods should be gathered into a “survival kit” that stays in the trunk of your vehicle at all times.

  • Keep your cell phone fully charged and have emergency numbers readily available.
  • Wear clothing that doesn’t restrict your movements.
  • As necessary as it is to layer up during winter, if you’re wearing too many clothes, it can make it harder to check your blindspots while driving. 

2. Check weather and road conditions

Stay up to date on current weather and road conditions, ensuring that you’re checking for updates often. You don’t want to be surprised when you hit the road. Choose your route ahead of time, and if the weather is too severe, don’t go. When there’s an ongoing snowstorm or freezing rain, it’s best practice to wait until conditions improve.

If you must drive in a snowstorm, stay on the main roads where your route is more likely to have been ploughed and salted. Snow ploughs and salt trucks clear main routes before back roads and side streets.

Extreme caution must be taken if you choose to drive in freezing rain. Slippery roads and black ice are typical with this kind of weather, and it’s much easier to lose control of your vehicle. If you do find yourself out in freezing rain, maintain a safe distance from other vehicles and use your brakes gently.

3. Prepare your car

  • Winter tires are absolutely necessary.

    Safe winter driving requires winter tires. They have superior traction and better handling on snowy or icy roads. Winter tires can also reduce your braking distance by 25%, which can make all the difference in unsavoury conditions. All-season tires do not have these abilities and most lose their grip when temperatures drop below 7 degrees Celsius.

  • Clear your car of all snow and ice.

    All windows, mirrors, lights, and the roof should be completely cleared of snow before you begin driving. Failing to do so can decrease your visibility. Any snow left on your car’s roof can fall onto your windshield when you brake, and is a hazard to both yourself and other drivers. A snow scraper or brush should be kept in your car at all times.

  • Keep your gas tank full.

    Not only do you not want to run out of gas when your winter commute takes longer than expected, but a full gas tank can also help your vehicle stick to the road and slow it down.

  • Turn your lights on.

    See and be seen. Keeping your lights on, even during the day, means that other motorists and pedestrians can see you, and you can see them.

4. Slow down

The main cause of all winter collisions is simply going too fast. Winter driving requires everyone to slow down and take extra caution. After you budget extra time into your total commute (don’t rely on your GPS), drive smoothly and slowly. Don’t abruptly turn or stop, as this can make your vehicle lose control and skid. Remember that stopping takes much longer on snowy and icy roads.

5. Pay attention

Focus on driving and pay attention to the road, keeping an eye out for changing road conditions, sudden movements, other vehicles, and pedestrians. Anticipating your next move and those of other motorists will help keep you safe. Ordinary manoeuvres that are easy in summer can become more difficult in winter, so you should give yourself extra time and room for turns and stops.

6. Keep a safe distance

While tailgating is always unsafe, it is even more dangerous in winter when braking takes longer and slamming on the brakes can cause you to lose traction. You should give yourself extra space from other motorists in snowstorms or icy conditions. It is especially important to maintain this safe distance between you and snow ploughs, as visibility is often reduced due to the clouds of snow.

7. No cruise control

Do not use cruise control on snowy, icy, or wet road roads. If a vehicle hydroplanes while on cruise control, it will try to accelerate and you can lose control.

8. Brake correctly

On snow and ice-covered roads, always brake slowly before you enter the turn. Only accelerate once you have rounded the corner. Slamming on your brakes in winter road conditions can easily result in a slide.

If your vehicle has an anti-lock braking system (ABS), never “pump” the brakes. ABS automatically pumps the brakes for you. All you need to do is apply constant pressure and ABS will do the rest.

Vehicles with a standard transmission can also be slowed by downshifting, but don’t feather the clutch upon release or you could skid.

9. Control skids and slides

  • When your front wheels lose traction, it’s called a front-wheel skid or an understeer. If this happens, ease off the gas and don’t brake. Steer in the direction you want to go and don’t accelerate until you’re off the icy patch.
  • An oversteer or slide is when your back wheels slide and the car begins to spin. To correct this, ease off the gas and turn into the steer. This will help your car to straighten and help you regain control. Do not oversteer.

Stay Safe This Winter Season!

Winter can be a long and hazardous season. Navigating snowy and icy roads requires knowing how to adjust your driving habits based on the current conditions and what to do if something goes wrong. No matter your driving experience, you can help keep yourself and others safe by keeping these winter driving tips top-of-mind. 

This winter season, be extra cautious, remain alert, stay aware of changing weather conditions, let the state of the road dictate how you drive, and look out for motorists and pedestrians. Slow down and stay safe!

To protect yourself this winter driving season and to learn more about auto insurance in Alberta, call Bow Valley Insurance at 403-297-9405 or 1-800-332-1308 or contact us here.

Coverage is subject to policy wording, terms, conditions, and deductibles. Protection is limited to the perils, coverage, exclusions, and limits shown on the policy.