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winter in Canada with snow covered roads and cars that are bumping in to each other because of bad road conditions.

Winter in Canada can be a big cause of concern, especially for those who have never driven in snow. And even though winter officially arrives in mid-December, it’s not unlikely to see heavy snowfall, slush, and ice arrive in early November. As beautiful as winter in Canada can be, driving in hazardous winter conditions is totally different. So check out these winter driving tips to increase your safety as well as the safety of others.

Prepare Your Car for Winter in Canada

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.

Install Winter Tires

Winter tires are essential for driving in hazardous conditions. A specialized rubber compound, helps winter tires to adapt to the road surface and dig into snow and ice. This added traction allows the tires to adapt to winter road conditions and grip the road without sliding. Winter tires also improve stability and help you to handle your car with greater control when driving on snow-covered roads or changing lanes in slush or on ice.

A car driving on a snow covered road in winter. Installing winter tires is a good winter driving tip to increase safety.
Winter tires improve control when driving on snow-covered and icy roads.

Check Winter Weather and Road Conditions Before You Driver

During the winter in Canada, driving can be 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 risks.

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

Saskatchewan: Highway Hotline

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Prepare a Driving Survival Kit for Winter in Canada

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 to your vehicle:

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

Also, these are helpful essentials to have to assist another vehicle that may be having difficulty.

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 scrape ice from all windows, and brush the snow from the hood and roof of the car. 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.

A woman brushing snow off of her car to prepare to drive in the winter.
Allow time to remove all snow and ice from your car

Leave Lots of Space When Driving in Winter

While it makes sense to always keep plenty of space between your car and the one in front of you, it can be a lifesaving winter driving tip in Canada. 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.

Watch Out for Black Ice

Black ice is another danger when driving in winter in Canada, or even when there is freezing rain. Because the ice is clear and almost the same colour as 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.

Yellow and black road sign that shows a car with skid marks to indicate the road is slippery.
This road sign indicates slippery pavement

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 When Driving in Winter in Canada

You can expect a few big snowstorms each winter in Canada. And, 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, driving in winter in Canada is stressful for everyone. But, when you follow these smart winter driving tips, the roads will be safer 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!