Safe Winter Driving in Canada
Blog Driving Tips

6 Tips for Safe Winter Driving

Whether you’re driving in snow for the first time or a seasoned driver looking for a quick refresher, we’ve got some useful winter driving tips for everyone. As conditions differ in each Canadian city, we’ve developed a list of winter driving tips to help safely see you through the coldest season of the year.

Winter driving in Canada is just kicking off and most areas in the True North will see lots of snow and ice on the roads for up to six months.

Each province has its own set of winter driving conditions including whether winter tires are required or not, and being behind the wheel during the wintertime is incomparably different than driving in the fall, spring, and summer.

Whether you’re in the blustery Maritimes provinces, frigid Prairies, or temperate GTA or Vancouver areas, these tips can help keep you safe as you navigate through our cold Canadian climate.

Driving on snowy, icy roads during a Canadian winter is all but guaranteed. Yet, many motorists aren’t equipped with the skills or knowledge of how to drive in icy conditions. But we've got you covered with a few simple but significant winter driving tips, starting with how to control your car when it slides in slippery conditions.

Tips for driving in the snow

When there’s a snowstorm outside, it’s best to avoid the roads at all costs. However, if you live in a province where winter weather is constantly covered by snow and ice, staying completely off the roads isn’t realistic. Here are a few tips to keep you safe and secure on the snow- and ice-covered roads.

1. Stay composed and controlled when it's slippery

Never slam on the brakes when it's snowy or icy.

If you need to stop quickly, pumping the brakes will help you stop faster without sliding. If your car has a modern braking system, you may have felt or heard its anti-lock braking system (ABS) engage, helping you stop in slippery conditions by rapidly pumping the brakes for you.

If your car has a standard transmission, downshifting through the gears can help slow your car down instead of the brakes. This comes in handy especially as you make your way down a hill. Just make sure you don’t feather the clutch as you release it, or you could initiate a skid.

While operating a vehicle on snow- and ice-covered roads, never brake hard or accelerate while turning a corner. If you start sliding as you are braking into a corner, ease off the brakes and point your steering wheel in the direction that you want to go.

How to Correct a Front Wheel Skid in Slippery Driving Conditions

What to do if your car skids in slippery conditions, how to correct a skid

(Click on the infographic to view in full-screen mode)

A front-wheel skid—also known as understeer—occurs when your front wheels lose traction. If you do start to skid: 

  1. Don’t panic, remain calm. Slamming on your brakes (or the gas) will only make things worse.
  2. Instead of accelerating or turning quickly, ease off the gas, and let the traction on your tires steer the vehicle without touching the brake or gas pedals. 
  3. Steer in the direction you want to go. 
  4. Once you’re off an icy patch, it’s okay to accelerate again. 

If you’re on a backroad or a street that hasn’t been sanded or salted, remember that there’s always a potential to skid. Brake lightly, and keep your steering wheel as straight as possible.

How to Control a Rear Wheel Slide While Driving Around a Corner

How to control a slide to avoid crashing in slippery conditions.

(Click on the infographic to view in full-screen mode)

If your back wheels are sliding due to ice and your car starts to spin, it’s known as oversteer. To correct a rear-wheel skid you should:

  1. Ease off the gas.
  2. Turn into the slide with your steering wheel to straighten out your car. It will alleviate the skid and put you back in complete control of your vehicle. 
  3. Remember: over-steering can perpetuate the problem, so always maintain a cool head to prevent a knee-jerk reaction. 

2. Clear your car of ice and snow

If you’re planning a drive and it’s windy, snowing, and freezing cold, make sure your car is cleared off to ensure the visibility from the driver's seat is clear. Brush off all the windows, the hood of your car, and your taillights and headlights.

Failing to clear the roof of snow may result in it falling onto your windshield when you decelerate and is a fineable offence in some provinces

Freezing weather conditions can result in ice build-up on your vehicle’s surface. De-ice spray is a great way to quickly thaw ice off your windows if it’s difficult to scrape off. And when you park your vehicle, lift your wipers up to ensure they don’t freeze to your windshield.

Read more: 5 Ways To Prepare Your Car For The Winter

3. Keep a safe distance

A big hazard when driving in a snowstorm is other drivers who are either inexperienced on snowy roads or don’t have the appropriate tires installed. Drive slowly. Distance between vehicles is key when driving in a snowstorm as you need a reasonable amount of space and time to brake safely. 

You can easily lose traction if you slam on the brakes, so keep your speed down and if other drivers choose to tailgate or drive faster, let them pass you.

4. Be very cautious when driving in freezing rain

In some Canadian cities, driving in the rain with freezing temperatures is inevitable. Canada sees fluctuating temperatures which results in all types of road conditions developing. More often than not, where there is freezing rain, there are slippery roads and black ice.

It’s important for drivers to use extreme caution when driving in this kind of bad weather as the chances of losing control of the vehicle are greater, and it can be more difficult to see. 

If you absolutely must drive in freezing rain: 

  • Give yourself plenty of time as the commute will most likely take longer.
  • While on the road, keep your space between other vehicles and watch out for snow plows and salt trucks. 
  • In freezing rain, road maintenance vehicles are always out salting or sanding the roads. Try to drive behind maintenance vehicles at a safe distance as opposed to beside them. 
  • Keep it easy on the brakes and avoid engaging in distracted driving; freezing rain is more dangerous than it looks.

5. Plan ahead to ensure your winter driving safety

Don’t underestimate how easy is to lose control of your vehicle in poor weather conditions. Here are a few final tips to keep in mind as we head into winter: 

    i. Stay on main roads

    During a snow or ice storm, it’s likely that your town or city will have snow plows and salt trucks maintaining main routes first before back roads and side streets. If you’re planning to drive in winter conditions, stay on the main roads to avoid unplowed and unsalted road conditions. This will minimize your chances of getting in a vehicle-related accident due to poor road maintenance.

    ii. See and be seen

    One of the best ways to avoid an accident is to ensure you’re seen on the road by all motorists and pedestrians. Make sure your headlights are turned on and cleared of snow, and—as mentioned—maintain a safe distance between other vehicles. It can be difficult to see other vehicles in your blind spot, especially during a snowstorm. Keep it slow and keep your eyes peeled for all types of movement on the road.

    iii. Avoid driving in very bad conditions

    If you check the weather and it’s terrible outside, maybe you should avoid getting behind the wheel altogether. The best practice is to wait until a snowstorm has calmed, or until you’re sure that road maintenance vehicles have recently visited the roads.

    6. Driving in a blizzard

    You should really try your best to avoid driving in a blizzard at all costs, but if you don’t have a choice or get caught in one, here are a few tips to stay safe out there. 

    1. Pay attention to the road surface

    Black ice is known for being near invisible, especially if you’re driving in a blizzard at night. Luckily, there are some tricks you can use to spot it. Pavement that looks like new asphalt or looks dark and wet could likely be covered in black ice. Black ice is common on bridges, shaded areas, and overpasses, and is more likely to form after low temperatures and recent precipitation, so be extra vigilant. 

    2. Navigating hills

    Hills make it harder to maintain traction on snow. If you’re going down a hill, make sure to leave plenty of space in front of you (at least three car lengths) because you won’t be able to stop as quickly as you would in regular conditions. If you’re going uphill, stopping can cause you to lose traction entirely, as can applying too much gas. Try to get some momentum started before the hill and let it carry you to the top. Once you reach the crest of the hill, you can reduce your speed. 

    3. Avoid cruise control

    If you’re driving in a blizzard, it’s likely that the roads are some combination of wet, snowy, and icy. Using cruise control in those conditions can be dangerous. It can cause your vehicle to accelerate unpredictably, reducing your reaction time and control.

    4. Be patient

    The goal is for everyone to get home safely, not quickly. Expect visibility to be extremely poor for all drivers out there. Others will be driving slower than usual, and that’s okay. Always drive at a reasonable speed and keep a safe distance from the vehicle in front of you. 

    5. Let someone know

    It's a good idea to let someone at your destination know when you expect to arrive. If you don’t arrive, they can send help.

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