Like most parts of Canada, we get long, difficult winters where I live, and snowstorms and freezing conditions can create havoc on the roads. Every year, when the weather turns cold, I brush up on my winter driving skills by reviewing best practices and tips for dealing with the hazards it poses. Why? I want to avoid accidents and keep my auto insurance costs as low as possible.
Vehicle Maintenance Tips
First, I’d like to start with a few words of advice about winter vehicle maintenance. Having a well-maintained vehicle that’s running strongly and smoothly is one of your best defenses against the hazards of winter driving.
Even though they aren’t required by law in Alberta or Ontario, winter tires are an absolute must. These tires are uniquely engineered to maintain a better grip on the road in snow, ice and slush, using specialized tread patterns and treated rubber for better handling. All-season tires and summer tires have been proven not to perform as well when temperatures dip below 7 degrees Celsius – which accounts for pretty much the entirety of a Canadian winter.
Visibility is key, and in my research, I found expert after expert that stresses the importance of having any chips or cracks in the vehicle’s windshield repaired before winter sets in. Cold weather can cause small cracks to quickly expand into big problems, which in turn can negatively affect the driver’s ability to see through the windshield.
I’ve also put together emergency kits for both of our family’s vehicles to make sure we’re well-prepared in the event of a roadside mishap in a remote area. A well-stocked emergency kit includes, at minimum:
- Warm clothing and blankets
- A jerry can with extra gasoline
- Vehicle fluids (oil, washer fluid, antifreeze)
- Drinking water
- Road salt or sand
- Jumper cables
- Snow brush/ice scraper
Smart Winter Driving Strategies
Planning is one of the most important tools of safer winter driving. I always research routes ahead of time if I’m heading somewhere unfamiliar, and I consult weather reports with hour-by-hour breakdowns of expected conditions. I also check in advance to see if the roads are safe between where I’m at and where I’m going, and I avoid non-essential travel if the weather isn’t cooperating.
When I’m on the road, I increase my following distance to give me extra time to stop, and I reduce my speed. These two common-sense strategies are potential lifesavers, but there are many others:
- Do not attempt to pass snowplows, since this poses risks to you and to oncoming traffic; most snowplow operators will move aside to let drivers get by as soon as it’s safe to do so
- Use extra caution when climbing or descending a steep incline; if the vehicle has a manual transmission, shift into a lower gear in these situations
- Aim to keep the gas tank more than half full at all times, since this safeguards against moisture issues that can plague fuel lines during the winter
- Keep headlights on at all times
- Do not use cruise control
- If the vehicle goes into a skid, remove your foot from the brake pedal and steer the vehicle in the direction you would like to go, then apply firm, even pressure to the brakes once the vehicle stabilizes
- Do not make sudden lane changes or turns; drive predictably
- Signal earlier than you usually would to give other motorists more time to react to what you’re doing
More Dangers to Avoid
One of the lessons I’m trying to impart to my daughter as she learns to drive is that distractions are deadly. Never talk or text while you’re operating a vehicle during the winter (or any other time of year, for that matter). Keep music to reasonable levels and focus your attention on the road at all times.
Driver fatigue is even more deadly during the winter. I never drive if I’m feeling drowsy, and I always precede a long trip with a good night’s sleep.
Finally, older drivers should be extra careful. Reaction times diminish with age, and it’s a good idea to reduce speeds and increase following distances even further if you’re aged 65 and up.
Auto Insurance in Alberta and Ontario: Switch to a Progressive Provider
I’ve switched my family’s auto insurance to InsureMy, a progressive provider working in Ontario and Alberta. They offer outstanding rates and the best customer service I’ve ever received from an insurance company. If you’re in the market for better auto insurance, I recommend giving them a call!