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Tips for Safe Winter Driving

Well, it’s happened, our first winter snows have come, and stayed. As conditions differ in each Canadian city, I have found 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 and being behind the wheel during the wintertime is incomparably different than driving in the fall, spring, and summer. 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. I hope some of these tips and tricks will help you drive safely over the coming months.

1. Stay composed and controlled when it's slippery 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 (ABS) 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. 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 keeping your steering wheel as straight as possible.

2. Clear your car of ice and snow 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 causing instant poor visibility for you. Or accelerating and causing hazardous conditions for the vehicle behind you! Freezing weather conditions can result in ice build-up on your vehicle’s surface. Be sure to scrape (or melt) off all ice from all windows and mirrors. Also, when you park your vehicle, lift your wipers up to ensure they don’t freeze to your windshield.

3. Keep a safe distance 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.

4. Be very cautious when 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. Often, 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.

5. Plan to ensure your winter driving 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, 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 very 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. You should really try your best to avoid driving in a blizzard at all costs, but if you don’t have a choice or get caught in one, here are a few tips to stay safe out there.

Pay attention to the road surface Black ice is known for being near invisible, especially if you’re driving in a blizzard at night. Luckily, there are some tricks you can use to spot it. Pavement that looks like new asphalt or looks dark and wet could likely be covered in black ice. Black ice is common on bridges, shaded areas, and overpasses, and is more likely to form after low temperatures and recent precipitation, so be extra vigilant.

Navigating hills Hills make it harder to maintain traction on snow. If you’re going down a hill, make sure to leave plenty of space in front of you (at least three car lengths) because you won’t be able to stop as quickly as you would in regular conditions. If you’re going uphill, stopping can cause you to lose traction entirely, as can applying too much gas. Try to get some momentum started before the hill and let it carry you to the top. Once you reach the crest of the hill, you can reduce your speed. Make sure you are as close to the right as possible but not forgetting there may be stopped vehicles or slow moving vehicles driving on the shoulder – stay alert for any situation.

Be patient The goal is for everyone to get home safely, not quickly. Expect visibility to be extremely poor for all drivers out there. Others will be driving slower than usual, and that’s okay. Always drive at a reasonable speed and keep a safe distance from the vehicle in front of you.

Let someone know It's a good idea to let someone at your destination know when you expect to arrive. If you don’t arrive, they can send help. 6. One Final reminder Don’t drive distracted or impaired. That doesn’t just mean cell phones and alcohol. That means playing with the radio, CD player or iPod. That also means tired, stressed, or eating/drinking. Driving is a privilege. When we drive, in any kind of weather, our attention must be 100% on what we are doing. In Waterloo Region we are blessed to have such a rich and varied culture, which includes communities that use wagons, buggy’s, horses and ponies. These modes of transportation are also vehicles. BE AWARE that the speed of these vehicles and animals are much slower than your motorized vehicle. Be careful, be patient, and most of all, be courteous as a smart and respectful driver. For rural schools and farms, there may also be pedestrians walking along the roadside on the shoulders.

We also have a strong agricultural community in Waterloo region. This includes tractors, farm machinery and slow-moving vehicles. Be on the look out for these (mostly) large and slow vehicles. Not often are these vehicles on the roads in winter, but it can and does happen especially if the inclement weather is unexpected.


Our hope and desire is that everyone is safe this winter. Please always be prepared and practice road and winter safety at all times.

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