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Winter Driving Tips for Canadian Roads

Whether you’re driving in snow for the first time or a seasoned driver looking for a quick refresher, we’ve got some useful winter driving tips for everyone. As conditions differ in each Canadian city, we’ve developed a list of winter driving tips to help safely see you through the coldest season of the year.

Winter driving in Canada is just kicking off and most areas in the True North will see lots of snow and ice on the roads for up to six months.

Each province has its own set of winter driving conditions including whether winter tires are required or not, and being behind the wheel during the wintertime is incomparably different than driving in the fall, spring, and summer.

Whether you’re in the blustery Maritimes provinces, frigid Prairies, or temperate GTA or Vancouver areas, these tips can help keep you safe as you navigate through our cold Canadian climate.

Driving on snowy, icy roads during a Canadian winter is all but guaranteed. Yet, many motorists aren’t equipped with the skills or knowledge of how to drive in icy conditions. A few basic skills should be kept in mind in winter, and even rehearsed in controlled conditions, to keep you safe and confident while you’re driving.

Tips for driving in the snow

When there’s a snowstorm outside, it’s best to avoid the roads at all costs. However, if you live in a province where winter weather is constantly covered by snow and ice, staying completely off the roads isn’t realistic.

If you’re planning a drive and it’s windy, snowing, and freezing cold, make sure your car is cleared off to ensure the visibility from the driver’s seat is clear. Brush off all the windows, the hood of your car, and your taillights and headlights.

Failing to clear the roof of snow may result in it falling onto your windshield when you decelerate and is a fineable offence in some provinces.

Freezing weather conditions can result in ice build-up on your vehicle’s surface. De-ice spray is a great way to quickly thaw ice off your windows if it’s difficult to scrape off. And, when you park your vehicle, lift your wipers up to ensure they don’t freeze to your windshield.

READ MORE: 5 Ways To Prepare Your Car For The Winter

Keep a safe distance

A big hazard when driving in a snowstorm is other drivers who are either inexperienced on snowy roads or don’t have the appropriate tires installed. Drive slowly. Distance between vehicles is key when driving in a snowstorm as you need a reasonable amount of space and time to brake safely.

You can easily lose traction if you slam on the brakes, so keep your speed down and if other drivers choose to tailgate or drive faster, let them pass you.

Stay composed and controlled when braking

Never slam on the brakes when it’s snowy or icy. 

If you need to stop quickly, pumping the brakes will help you stop faster without sliding. If your car has a modern braking system, you may have felt or heard its anti-lock braking system engage, helping you stop in slippery conditions by rapidly pumping the brakes for you.

If your car has a standard transmission, downshifting through the gears can help slow your car down instead of the brakes. This comes in handy especially as you make your way down a hill. Just make sure you don’t feather the clutch as you release it, or you could initiate a skid.

While operating a vehicle on snow- and ice-covered roads, never brake hard or accelerate while turning a corner. If you start sliding as you are braking into a corner, ease off the brakes and point your steering wheel in the direction that you want to go.

Correcting a skid

A front-wheel skid—also known as understeer—occurs when your front wheels lose traction. If you do start to skid:

  • Don’t panic, remain calm.
  • Instead of accelerating or turning quickly, let the traction on your tires steer the vehicle without touching the brake or gas pedals.
  • Steer in the direction you want to go.
  • Once you’re off an icy patch, it’s okay to accelerate again.

If you’re on a backroad or a street that hasn’t been sanded or salted, remember that there’s always a potential to skid. Brake lightly and keep your steering wheel as straight as possible.

Controlling a slide

If your back wheels are sliding due to ice and your car starts to spin, it’s known as oversteer. Remember:

  • Turn into the slide with your steering wheel to ensure the entire car is being straightened out. It will alleviate the skid and put you back wheels on track to complete control your vehicle.
  • Over-steering can perpetuate the problem, though, so maintain a cool head to prevent a knee-jerk reaction to a slide.

Driving in freezing rain

In some Canadian cities, driving in the rain with freezing temperatures is inevitable. Canada sees fluctuating temperatures which results in all types of road conditions developing. More often than not, where there is freezing rain, there are slippery roads and black ice.

It’s important for drivers to use extreme caution when driving in this kind of bad weather as the chances of losing control of the vehicle are greater, and it can be more difficult to see.

If you absolutely must drive in freezing rain:

  • Give yourself plenty of time as the commute will most likely take longer.
  • While on the road, keep your space between other vehicles and watch out for snow plows and salt trucks.
  • In freezing rain, road maintenance vehicles are always out salting or sanding the roads. Try to drive behind maintenance vehicles at a safe distance as opposed to beside them.
  • Keep it easy on the brakes and avoid engaging in distracted driving; freezing rain is more dangerous than it looks.

Only you can ensure your driving winter safety

Don’t underestimate how easy is to lose control of your vehicle in poor weather conditions. Here are a few final tips to keep in mind as we head into winter:

  • Stay on main roads

During a snow or ice storm, it’s likely that your town or city will have snow plows and salt trucks maintaining main routes first before back roads and side streets.

If you’re planning to drive in winter conditions, stay on the main roads to avoid unplowed and unsalted road conditions. This will minimize your chances of getting in a vehicle-related accident due to poor road maintenance.

  • See and be seen

One of the best ways to avoid an accident is to ensure you’re seen on the road by all motorists and pedestrians. Make sure your headlights are turned on and cleared of snow, avoid distracted driving at all costs, and—as mentioned—maintain a safe distance between other vehicles.

It can be difficult to see other vehicles in your blind spot, especially during a snowstorm. Keep it slow and keep your eyes peeled for all types of movement on the road.

  • Avoid driving in really bad conditions

If you check the weather and it’s terrible outside, maybe you should avoid getting behind the wheel altogether. The best practice is to wait until a snowstorm has calmed, or until you’re sure that road maintenance vehicles have recently visited the roads.

Nov 5th, 2019