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10 tips to improve your winter driving skills

By Kathryn Dunmore, Canadian Red Cross
I got my driver’s licence in the middle of winter, carefully navigating my instructor’s minivan around in snow and slush to show him how I’ve mastered the skill of driving – even in winter. Oh, so young. As a Canadian, chances are many of us got our licence in winter months but that doesn’t mean we’re all prepared for what winter driving entails.

A car following another car on a wintry, snow-covered roadI find there are two extremes in our own perceptions of our winter driving capabilities: there are those who it barely phases, moving deftly from summer to winter driving with nary a care other than switching to winter tires OR those who are gripped with panic, frozen in fear if you will, at the idea of driving on slippery, icy roads that no longer have discernable markings making you dependent on the car ahead of you for as long as you can see it.

Where do you fall on the spectrum?

Either way, if you prepare for winter driving, you’ll feel better knowing your risks and how you are prepared to address them. Here are some tips to help minimize risks and prepare you for safe winter driving:
  1. When in your car, make sure you can see and be seen by others by clearing your car of all snow and ice, and turning on your lights when visibility is poor; clear all windows, lights, mirrors, roof before you head out.
  2. Invest in a full set of winter tires and keep them on your car for the duration of the season. Winter tires are not just for snow, they are designed to perform better and give you improved traction in cold temperatures.
  3. Check tire air pressure frequently, as it decreases in cold weather.
  4. Ensure you have an emergency kit for your vehicle and keep essential supplies in your vehicle, such as first aid kit, flashlight, blanket, small shovel, sand/kitty litter (for traction), booster cables, extra windshield fluid, a snow brush/ice scraper, an extra set of mittens or gloves, warm hat and boots.
  5. Always keep your gas tank at least half-full throughout winter.
  6. Carry a fully charged cell phone and use it only when safe. Definitely do not use while driving unless your device is hands-free.
To better prepare, often knowledge can help counteract our natural instincts in winter driving so keep in mind these tips for poor road conditions. Defensive driving and adjusting driving to the road conditions are key. It’s important to recognize hazards on the road and leave plenty of time to react and respond so you remain in control of your vehicle.
  1. It takes longer to stop on snow-covered or icy roads - reduce your speed and leave ample distance between your vehicle and the one in front of you.
  2. Allow extra travel time to your destination and extra time and space to change lanes and turn safely.
  3. Slow down enough to avoid any abrupt turns or stops, which can result in a skid.
  4. In a skid, drivers need to act contrary to their instincts, steer into the skid and accelerate to regain control of their vehicle.
Remember if you get stuck or stranded, don’t panic. Stay with your vehicle for safety and warmth, and call for help.

See more of these tips for Safe Winter Driving and download Red Cross’ free First Aid app to have resources for emergencies at your fingertips!
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