Canadian winters are littered with inclement weather, making an easy commute to work or an enjoyable weekend country drive more like a challenge from Mother Nature. If you and your vehicle aren’t prepared for winter driving, you might find yourself sidelined on the roads or caught in sticky situations.
Winter doesn’t only mean snow either - winter in British Columbia can easily equate to rain, fog, slush, reduced visibility, black ice, drifting snow, clippers, chinooks, and blizzards - sometimes all in one day. Having the skills, knowledge, and confidence to deal with whatever type of weather comes your way is your first line of defense against Old Man Winter.
In this post, we’ll discuss several ways you can help prepare yourself and your vehicle for winter driving, contributing to safer roadways in your neighbourhood and all over the province.
Defensive Driving Techniques
Defensive driving is all about mastering the intricate rules of the road. It’s a way to further integrate your knowledge of the mechanical function of driving with the vehicle’s presence, understanding how and why the vehicle will react with specific actions, and in specific conditions.
One of the most popular defensive driving technique is the two-second rule, wherein your vehicle can effectively reduce the chances of a collision when you are able to count slowly to at least two as you observe the vehicle in front of you pass a chosen landmark, like a hydro pole, or a signpost. To adapt this rule to winter driving - when sliding and effective braking concerns are elevated, to slippery and frozen circumstances - count to a minimum of three seconds.
Another well known general principle of defensive driving is controlling your speed. This means obeying all posted speed limits, adjusting your speed when entering a corner, and understanding vehicle dynamics, like how the vehicle would react to sudden shifts in braking, steering, or throttle responses. Depending on the current weather conditions, drivers should seek to reduce their speed appropriately to give themselves enough reaction time to address the actions of other drivers and pedestrians. Winter also means a prolonged period of darkness, as the sun sets earlier in Canada during the colder months. This means that visibility is inevitably reduced and drivers should, again, reduce speed to account for this change in environment.
Finally, perhaps one of the more important defensive driving techniques of the modern day - avoid any and all distractions while you are driving. This means no cell phones, no fiddling with the stereo, no reaching into the backseat for something, and keeping your music at a volume that still allows you to stay connected to the road and alert to your surroundings. This is particularly important in winter driving situations, as distractions can spell disaster.
Tires connect you and the road, and are arguably the most important aspect to safe and enjoyable winter driving. Winter tires are made of different rubber compounds than their summer counterparts, allowing them to grip better in cold and freezing conditions. They are also designed differently in that their tread design, width, and are optimized for better grip and responsiveness.
Hankook Tires tell us that outfitting your vehicle with designated winter tires can give you the power to stop up to three times faster when compared to the performance of summer tires in ice and snow. Further, a new study from the Traffic Injury Research Foundation found that winter tires improve a vehicle’s acceleration and handling response, despite the fact that nearly 50% of all drivers neglect to invest the time and effort into putting on winter tires.
A particularly advantageous winter driving tip; don’t cheap out and only buy two winter tires for the drive wheels - invest in all four corners so you can confidently and predictably corner, handle, and accelerate on all roads. Choosing the right tires for your vehicle is essential for winter driving safety.
Tire chains are like the proverbial feather in the cap of winter tire equipped vehicles. They’re not a necessity, but can help drivers in situations where they’ve lost all traction and require some extra grip and grunt.
Tire chains, also known as snow chains, have been used on mechanized equipment since their inception in 1904. They are well known for their adaptiveness, their inexpensiveness, and their effectiveness - but they are not a substitute for winter tires.
Snow chains work by adding bite to a snow tires optimized tread pattern, digging in to the ice and snow deeper than the tire itself. Think of them as bulky metallic tire studs that can be removed when you get yourself out of trouble.
Which brings us to our next point: tire chains are designed to be easy to install, but most snow chain installations will inevitably occur when the vehicle is already requiring serious help. Take the time to readily assess your driving conditions and make the call to install your snow chains before you become stuck. This will make the process easier, and will hopefully eliminate the likelihood of getting stuck or in trouble in the first place.
On some roads in British Columbia, carrying tire chains with you in the car is mandatory - usually centralized around mountainous terrain or passes. You can consult the province’s website for designated winter tire and chain-up routes.
Defrosting/Clearing All Snow
We’ll leave this one relatively short and sweet. Always, always - clear your vehicle of any/all ice and snow before you set off to work, school, or play. Taking the time to warm up the car and defrost windows, scrape ice, and clear away snow is good for visibility and basic driving practicality, but also allows the engine to warm up and over time could prevent pricey repairs.
Don’t stop at clearing a small window of visible windshield - clear the entire vehicle so you can see all your surroundings, who’s around you, and what is coming in different directions. Further, it can actually be illegal depending on where you live. Speaking of windows and visibility, always be sure to maintain a full reservoir of windshield wiper fluid to help you defrost and melt away road grime, ice, and sleet from the windshield.
Winter Safety Kit
To round out our list of comprehensive winter driving tips - we recommend putting together a small winter driving safety kit that you can store in your trunk or hatch in the event of a roadside emergency. These safety kits are fantastic ways to ensure that you’ve got what you need to help yourself out of a bind - without having to think about packing every time you hit the road.
In a standard winter safety kit for BC, you can include:
- Extra windshield wiper fluid
- Ice scraper, lock de-icer
- Road flares/reflective pylons
- Booster cables
- Kitty litter or sand (to apply to icy sections of road)
- Matches, a lighter, or a survival candle
- Extra gloves, hats, and a blanket
- Tow straps
- Small collapsible shovel
- Tire chains
- Emergency food kit (include some non-perishable canned soup, beans, or fruit)
These items can easily be put together - they’re common household items that can help you, and others you may come across - out of a jam.
When we take the time to assess and flesh out our driving strategy, it’s easy to realize that winter driving doesn’t have to be an intimidating or daunting task. Being prepared and aware of your surroundings, and considering how road-worthy your vehicle is when winter driving in British Columbia and Canada, can be a walk in the park. For safe winter driving, reduce your speed, use snow tires, and bring along all of the things you may need to help yourself out. Stay safe and happy driving!