15 Winter Driving Tips To Help Keep You Safe On The Road

The Importance Of Driving Safely 

Driving safely is something you can easily begin to take for granted. If you personally have never been in an accident, it’s easy to think it never will happen. This is especially true of more experienced drivers, who often proudly point to their driving history and clean driving record to show their high skill level. While they often are good drivers, even they are prone to minor mistakes. During winter, where a tiny blunder or lack of foresight is more likely to cause a collision due to more threats, it's vital for everyone to keep winter driving tips in mind to lower danger.

The Dangers Of Winter Driving 

With how integral snow can be to beautiful winter landscapes, it's easy to forget how dangerous colder weather can be on the road. Even a layer of ice too thin to see can lead to slippery conditions that can give even experienced drivers a rough time. However, anyone can follow several safe winter driving tips while fighting the winter weather.

Winter Driving Tips 

Regardless of your driving history, everyone can use some solid winter driving tips. Please note that most of these winter driving tips are easy to implement. This means anyone can take these steps to make themselves safer. Some are done before going out, while others are to be kept in mind while braving the slick roads and cold temperatures. 

1. Winterize Your Vehicle Before The Snow Falls

Getting your car ready for winter, also known as winterizing your car, is probably the most forward-thinking winter driving tip here, as it is recommended that you do this in the fall. However, if winter's here, there is still time to get started. While this process might seem intimidating, it's not that complex.

A common first step people take in this process is installing winter tires. This is a fantastic start, as you can take advantage of the winter tire insurance discount by installing winter tires. However, this is only one of many things you can do to make your car safe. Some other steps that you can take to winterize your car include:

  • Have a winter car emergency kit ready
  • Make sure that all fluids (oil, windshield wiper fluid, etc.) are changed and refilled
  • Ensure your battery and engine are in good condition
  • Replace outdated or dirty matts and filters
  • Make sure your windshield wipers and defroster work 

2. Clean All Snow and Ice off Your Vehicle 

This winter driving tip refers to brushing the snow and ice off of your vehicle before you drive around, usually with a snow brush if you have one. Make sure all snow and ice is removed so you can see, and ensure you're using your defroster and defogger as well.

It's also critical that you clean snow and ice off your roof, as that can fall and block a window or get onto the vehicle behind you, temporarily blocking their view.

3. Check The Weather In Advance 

While nobody can predict the weather perfectly, your local meteorologist does a good job of giving you a rough outline of what the worst-case scenario could be. A solid winter driving tip is to know if any bad weather is expected. Suppose there's the possibility of a blizzard, freezing rain, ice storm, or other unpleasant weather conditions in the weather forecast. In that case, a good winter driving tip would be to postpone or cancel a trip that you have planned. Your current groceries should last an extra day or two if you need them, and it may not be worth the risk of venturing out into dangerous conditions in order to get some chicken and hot cocoa.  

4. Wait For The Plows 

If the weather seems a little bit iffy, and you’re not quite sure if you can sneak in a quick trip, simply waiting a few hours can allow your city’s municipal plows to clear the road up. The amount of snow required for the use of plows, as how long it will take for the plows to clear everything will vary based on where you live, but most municipalities will have guidelines written on their website. Also keep in mind that major roads are often the first to be cleared, with more residential roads being left for later due to the number of people impacted. If you want to play it safe, it's best to wait until the plows have completed their work.

On a related note, if you choose to chance it while the plows are still out, it's best to not pass a working plow, due to the fact that doing so is even more dangerous than passing a regular vehicle. This extra danger comes from blowing snow as well as the ridge of snow created by the plow at work, especially if you pass on the right side of the machine. Although a plow might test your patience at points, saving a few minutes isn’t worth the risk, and passing the plow can even lead to reckless driving charges in some areas.

5. Understand The Risks Of Freezing Rain And Black Ice 

These are two of the most dangerous road conditions for drivers, and both of which often blur the line between what is water and what is ice, and it is recommended as part of this winter driving tip to approach both of these with caution.

Freezing rain is common when the temperature is close to zero. It happens when precipitation that begins as snow melts while falling and then enters a thin layer of frozen temperatures at or near ground level. This starts a process called 'supercooling,' and the rain freezes within moments of hitting the ground, resulting in a layer of hazardous ice. This is particularly slippery and can be seen collecting on power lines, trees, and other high-reaching objects, often causing them to collapse.

Black ice, while not being as dangerous to the environment as a whole, is a much more subtle threat. Black ice is a layer of thin ice that's usually almost or entirely invisible. Contrary to its name, black ice is clear. It just appears black due to the black pavement underneath. Black ice usually results from snow melting into water after being on the ground for a while and then freezing again. 

Either of these scenarios provides dangerous icy conditions for you to drive in. There are, however, some winter driving tips to help you when dealing with icy roads. Ensure that you drive with caution and be vigilant. Avoid accelerating or braking hard, maintain distance between yourself and other drivers, and avoid passing others if possible.

6. Know What To Do If You Skid 

Even if you follow every winter driving tip here, icy or snowy road surfaces can start a skid. A skid usually happens when you try to start or stop a turn too quickly, accelerate too soon during a turn, or brake excessively. A good winter driving tip is to reduce your chances of skidding by avoiding sudden accelerating, turning and braking. If a skid happens, remember not to panic. Panicking will only cause you to make poor, impulsive decisions in the heat of the moment. 

There are also some winter driving tips to help you handle a skid if one does happen. Contrary to popular belief, braking is often a poor decision during a skid. Ease off the gas as well to stop acceleration. Both braking and accelerating will worsen the skid, so maintain your current momentum. It's also essential to ensure that you are looking in the direction that you want to go, not the one that you're skidding in. Finally, only steer gently. Minimalist movements are recommended to avoid worsening the skid. 

7. Know What To Do If You Get Stuck

It's almost inevitable that even if you follow all winter driving tips above, at some point in your life, your car will be stuck in heavy snow, unable to move at a time you want to. Being prepared for and aware of this situation is a valuable winter driving tip.

If you end up getting stuck, this is one of the situations where the winter car emergency kit mentioned earlier will come in handy. In that kit you should have a shovel, which will be a big help. Shovel a few feet around your wheels and tires (or as much room as you have, if there are not a few feet around) of your vehicle to give it enough room to move around. Also, ensure the exhaust pipe is cleared up so you don't get carbon monoxide poisoning while inside your car. If you cannot shovel, continue with the next steps, although it will be more difficult.

At this point, you have a few options. You can try slowly going back and forth to get out of your current situation. If you are lucky enough to have someone else with you or get the help of some nearby strangers (be sure to thank them), you can have them push. Be sure that if someone is pushing from behind, your vehicle is moving forward, and vice-versa, if you're backing up. You can also place something like kitty litter or sand over the slippery surface to gain better traction. 

If all of this doesn't work, you should call a professional such as a towing service, roadside assistance or roadside services to get you out.

8. Give Yourself Extra Time

This is likely one of the most straightforward winter driving tips. Driving slower than usual is probably your best defence against getting into a collision, as it gives you more time to react. Although this will make your commute longer, leaving early will give you plenty of time to get to your destination on time.

9. Be Cautious

This is a winter driving tip that anyone can follow, but it will likely require you to temper some of your impulses from your usual driving habits. Wintery conditions mean that simple acceleration and lane changes can lead to a skid, so it is probably not worth overtaking the vehicle ahead of you that's going a few kilometres per hour slower than you would like. If a light turns yellow and you'd usually try to drive through in time, you might want to let it go and wait through the red. Driving with some extra caution might make you a few minutes late. Driving without extra caution might make it so you don't get there at all.

10. Know Your Route And Look Ahead

While taking the same roads you usually do might seem boring, making sure you’re familiar with the road you’re driving  on is a good winter driving tip, since there’s no surprise turns catching you off guard. A yield sign catching you by surprise and getting you to stop can be annoying in the summer but can do actual harm if it causes you to brake hard on winter roadways. 

Another simple winter driving tip is keeping your eyes on the road. While it's always fun to talk with your friends in the backseat, these distractions can take your attention away from the road. Also, avoid looking for missing items, using your phone, or adjusting the radio. Either have one of the passengers do this, pull over, or wait until you reach your destination.

11. Use Your Lights 

Snow doesn't just make the road slippery and dangerous; it can block your view. Although lights were initially designed to be used at night, a good winter driving tip is to know when it's snowy (or even dark enough) to justify their use. It's important to remember that high-beams often reflect off ice particles, so use your low-beams instead.

12. Avoid Tailgating

Let's be honest; nobody likes being tailgated. The dangers it presents are increased on winter roads, as sudden braking is more likely to cause a crash. Keep this winter driving tip in mind and maintain a safe distance between yourself and the vehicle ahead of you.

13. Avoid Cruise Control

Cruise control can be the most exciting or scary thing in the world, depending on your view of self-driving cars. Cruise control allows your car to maintain a relative speed even if you take your foot off the gas. While using cruise control is a solid road trip safety tip that can help prevent fatigue, it's not a good winter driving tip. Winter driving conditions will generally mean that you're going to be stopping and going a lot, making cruise control a poor option. This is because it struggles when in more crowded conditions and is poor at recovering from and avoiding skids.

14. Let Someone Else Know Where You're Going

When you first started driving in your younger years, your parents probably wanted to know where you went every time you used the car. This likely annoyed you then, but when you got older, you probably understood this was done because they worried about your safety. With all the risks that icy road conditions create, a good winter driving tip is temporarily returning to the days when someone who can bail you out knows where you're going.

15. Have A Way To Contact Someone In An Emergency

One of the pulses of letting someone know where you are is that it makes this step a lot smoother. A critical component of this winter driving tip is to have someone in mind that you can call before leaving. Whether you're calling a family member, friend, or 911, make sure that it's someone who you can trust to make the save.

Remember This Is Only Temporary

While all of this might sound like a lot to keep in mind, especially if you’re a new driver who’s already a little overwhelmed by all the rules of the road, keep in mind that winter only lasts a few months. These winter driving tips will help you be more careful and cautious while on the winter roads. Take your time and if you feel uncomfortable driving, be sure to pull over. 

This content is written by our Morison Insurance team. All information posted is merely for educational and informational purposes. It is not intended as a substitute for professional advice. Should you decide to act upon any information in this article, you do so at your own risk. While the information on this website has been verified to the best of our abilities, we cannot guarantee that there are no mistakes or errors.

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