Depending on where you live, you may expect to see snowfall soon, or you may already have snow on the ground. Cold temperatures, varying precipitation (such as snow and freezing rain), and fewer daylight hours create unique winter driving challenges. Follow these tips to keep you and your loved ones safe and warm as you drive this winter.

Use winter tires

No matter what kind of vehicle you drive, winter tires make a significant difference in keeping you safe during the winter months. Not only do they provide greater traction and control as you drive, but they also offer greater stability, making it less likely that you will get stuck in the snow.

Plan ahead and get your winter tires put on as early in the season as you can so that you’re prepared for early snowfalls. Remember that, depending on your region of residence, snowfalls and ice storms can happen well into April or May in Canada.

Avoid driving in dangerous winter conditions

In extreme winter weather conditions, the safest option is to avoid driving as much as possible and make only essential trips. If driving in dangerous conditions is unavoidable, drivers should be extremely cautious.

The Government of Canada outlines the following winter driving conditions that motorists should be prepared for, as they present extra hazards such as decreased visibility and slippery road conditions.

  • Blizzards can last for up to several days, with high winds and a dangerous combination of falling, blowing, and drifting snow
  • Heavy snowfalls frequently occur in Canada and involve snowfall of at least 10 centimetres in 12 hours or at least 15 centimetres in 24 hours. Often, the snow falls too quickly for snowplows to keep up with it, particularly in rural areas
  • Freezing rain or drizzle can lead to ice storms, creating slippery road conditions and covering roads and powerlines with ice
  • A cold snap is a rapid drop in temperature over a short period, creating potentially deadly conditions for people who are exposed to the cold for too long
  • High winds can cause blowing and drifting snow and can also contribute to cold temperatures through windchill
  • Black ice is a layer of ice on the road that can be difficult to detect, making it especially dangerous. It is prevalent in shaded areas of road, as well as on bridges, that are slower to melt
  • Slush is wet snow that can increase your likelihood of getting stuck in the snow; heavy slush can also build up in the wheel wells of your car, impacting the steering

Drive with extra caution

If driving is unavoidable, consider the following safe driving tips.

  • Due to the slippery nature of black ice, snow, and slush, take extra care when turning corners or making lane changes
  • As you approach intersections, brake early and slow down to avoid collisions or losing control of your vehicle, as these areas of the road can become messier with snow, slush, and ice
  • Avoid using cruise control as you drive so that you can always be in full control of your vehicle
  • Become familiar with areas near your home, workplace, and other frequent destinations that present additional hazards (e.g., roads that are plowed less frequently). If possible, create a route that avoids these hazards
  • Ensure that you are fully alert when driving and avoid distractions, such as adjusting your sound system controls

Remember, weather conditions can change rapidly in the winter. Be prepared for sudden weather shifts and leave early for your destination, even if the weather appears clear, so that you have plenty of time.

Keep an emergency kit with you

Even a short trip can present hazards or unexpected emergencies in weather with cold temperatures and heavy snowfall. Being prepared can help prevent winter-related emergencies from becoming worse. Always keep an emergency kit in your car, even when driving short distances, and replenish it regularly.

Consider keeping the following items in your emergency kit:

  • Blankets
  • Extra clothes, including shoes or boots
  • A first aid kit
  • Non-perishable food items, such as protein bars
  • Water bottles made of material that won’t crack or break in cold temperatures, like plastic
  • Road maps of the areas where you regularly drive
  • A whistle
  • A wind-up flashlight
  • A shovel, scraper, and snow brush
  • Matches

Additionally, keeping a bag of sand, gravel, or non-clumping cat litter in your trunk can help should your car get stuck in the snow or slush. If you get stuck, sprinkle some of the sand, gravel, or cat litter on the snow where your wheel will be spinning to provide traction.

Keeping a tow rope, jumper cables, and road flares in your trunk is also recommended in case you face battery issues or become stranded.

Proper vehicle maintenance

Experiencing car trouble can have greater consequences in the winter months of cold temperatures. To avoid being stranded in a parking lot or on the side of the road due to car trouble, be sure that your vehicle has everything required to keep it running optimally. Consider the following:

  • Topping up your fluids: Your vehicle requires the right amount of fluids to keep it running smoothly, including windshield wiper fluid, transmission fluid, brake fluid, and motor oil. Be sure you have enough before heading out in the winter weather
  • Checking or replacing your battery: When was the last time you replaced your battery? If it’s been four or five years, consider getting a new one this winter, so you’re not facing a dead battery in the cold temperatures
  • Getting a car wash: Washing your car may seem pointless in the winter, but getting a car wash can help clear out slush that may stick in your wheel wells, provide your mirrors and windshield with a deep clean to improve visibility, and remove salt that can cause rusting and degradation over time

Driving in winter weather is something that most Canadians face every year, and despite our best efforts to stay safe, it can be a stressful experience. Cowan Insurance Group can help provide peace of mind with commercial and personal auto insurance solutions. Contact us today to learn more.