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Tips for winter driving to ensure your safety

Tips for winter driving are essential for your safety as well as the safety of others. As Canada heads into the winter season, many places in the country have already had their first snowfall. As beautiful as winter can be in Canada, driving in winter is something totally different.

If you have recently arrived in Canada, get prepared to drive safely with these essential tips.  And, if you’ve already driven through winter in Canada, these tips for winter driving serve as a helpful reminder.

Prepare Your Car for Winter Driving

Winter driving is much different than driving in summer conditions, so you have to prepare your car. With this checklist, you can ensure you and your car are ready for safe winter driving. 

  • Install four winter tires
  • Test your car battery
  • Check your headlights and replace them if necessary
  • Ensure your wiper blades are in good working condition
  • Place a snowbrush and ice scraper in your car
  • Check the fluid levels
  • Buy extra washer fluid to keep in your car
  • Check your tire pressure
  • Keep your gas tank full.

Prepare a Winter Driving Survival Kit

In addition to preparing your car, it’s also wise to prepare for your comfort and safety if your car breaks down.  Consider adding these provisions:

  • First aid kit
  • Extra clothing and footwear
  • A blanket
  • Non-perishables such as granola bars, dried foods, juice, and bottled water
  • Matches
  • Flashlight

Also, these are helpful essentials to have if you are assisting another vehicle that may be having car difficulty.

Check Weather Conditions Before You Head Out

Winter driving can be very unpredictable and you may not be able to avoid a sudden snowstorm. However, if you check weather websites for local and regional forecasts, you’ll be in a better position to delay or change your travel plans. When there is a major snowstorm in the forecast, it’s best to stay off the roads entirely.

The Weather Network provides essential severe weather outlooks and issues warnings and alerts for snowfall and freezing rain risk.

Or, you can also access Traveller Information Service for road closures, road conditions, and driving condition forecasts:

Ontario:  Traveller Information Service 

British Columbia: Traveller Information System

Alberta: 511 Alberta

Clear Snow and Ice from Your Car

Another critical winter driving tip is to make sure you clear your car of snow and ice. That handy snowbrush and ice scraper that you have in your car will help you to see clearly from all windows. 

You also want other cars to see you, so make sure to brush the snow from the:

  • roof of the car
  • front hood
  • trunk
  • windows, and 
  • headlights.
Tips for Winter Driving
Allow time to remove snow and ice

When your car is clear of snow you’ll avoid snow blowing from your car when driving, Blowing snow from your car can impede your vision and that of other drivers on the road. 

Remember to add some extra time to your schedule to allow for proper snow removal.

Leave Space for Winter Driving

While it always makes sense to keep plenty of space between your car and the one in front of you, it can be lifesaving in the winter. A helpful guideline is to keep a minimum of three car lengths between the car that you are driving behind. Or, try to keep eight to ten seconds between you and the car you are following. 

You can measure the seconds by watching the car ahead of you pass a fixed object such as a road sign or fence. Then you count how long it takes for you to pass the same object. If your travel time is less than three or four seconds, it’s time to increase your distance from the car in front of you.

And more space is always better when driving in a snowstorm. The proper amount of space will allow you plenty of time to brake safely.

When you brake quickly, your car can easily lose traction. It’s best to keep your speed down so you can avoid slamming on the brakes. It’s harder to stop your car in snow and icy conditions.

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Watch Out for Black Ice

Black ice is another danger when winter driving or when there is freezing rain. Because the ice is clear and almost the colour of the road (therefore the name for black ice), it is very difficult to see.

This dangerous driving condition happens when the road is wet and the temperature drops below freezing. Black ice is common in locations such as bridges and overpasses where the cold air flows below the surface of the road.

This road sign shows a vehicle with skid marks to indicate that the pavement is slippery when wet. This indicates that there is an increased risk of car accidents.

If you do hit black ice you should:

  • Keep your steering wheel straight to avoid sliding or losing control of your car
  • Avoid braking because it will cause your car to slide 
  • Take your foot off the gas pedal to reduce your speed and let the car stop on its own
  • Know how to use the anti-lock brake system (ABS) if your vehicle has it.

Slow Down and Give Yourself Extra Time

Canadians expect a few big snowstorms each winter. It can be very frustrating when you have to get somewhere during a storm. Traffic slows down, snowplows are busy salting, plowing, and removing snow, and people are impatient.  

The best advice is to give yourself plenty of time if you absolutely must be on the road during a snowstorm or freezing rain. Your patience will help you to stay calm, make smart decisions, and be aware of other drivers on the road. Remember, winter driving is stressful for everyone. And when you follow these tips for winter driving, the roads will be safe for everyone.

For more information, tools, and free webinars about living in Canada visit our Settling in Canada resource page. We’ll help you to settle in Canada successfully!