Winter is here, sort of. Not in a “winter solstice” or calendrical sense, but in a “watch that Nissan Altima slide into a ditch and get stuck in two feet of snow” sense. Okay, it wasn’t fair to pick on the Nissan Altima. But the winter conditions in Saskatchewan are anything but fair. And to stay safe on the road, you need to exercise great care and attention. You also need to follow these five winter driving tips.
In Canada, you should factor the price of winter tires into the purchase of a new vehicle. Better yet, force the dealer to sell you a discounted pair when you buy a new vehicle (after you negotiate its price). Winter tires are necessary. They give you a shorter stopping distance than three-season tires at temperatures below 7 oC. They remain soft in extreme cold temperatures when three-season tires become rigid and dangerous. Further, the treads of winter tires are built to claw through fresh snow.
Being a “good driver” doesn’t preclude the need for winter tires. No driver can account for the actions of other drivers, pedestrians, or animals. Situations arise every day that demand sudden braking. And in the cold, three-season tires simply are not good enough, no matter how good you think you are. Not to mention the fact that everybody thinks they’re a “good driver” despite the law of averages.
Drive a vehicle with Electronic Stability Control. Fortunately, ESC has been a mandatory feature in passenger vehicles manufactured after September, 2011. So, if your vehicle has a model year later than 2012, it has ESC. Like ABS, ESC applies braking power to individual wheels based on whether they’re rotating too quickly or too slowly. However, ESC also accounts for yaw (rotation around your vehicle’s fulcrum) and steering. That means it applies braking power to the wheels most likely to help you return the direction
Okay, that sounds great. But how useful is ESC in practice? Well the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety estimates that electronic stability control can reduce the amount of fatal, single-vehicle crashes by more than 50%. Makes winter driving so much easier.
Black ice is just ice. It gets its name from the black pavement you can see beneath it. Naturally, that means it can be difficult to spot while driving at speed. But black ice typically forms in shaded areas like pavement near tall buildings, behind trees, and beneath overpasses. Black ice often forms around the freezing point, and is often the product of freezing rain. Exercise both caution and attention when driving somewhere you’re likely to encounter black ice.
If you get caught off guard, and end up sliding, don’t panic. Assuming that the black ice is pervasive, don’t lock the brakes. ABS and ESC are great in most conditions, but brakes are useless on pure ice. So, if you’re driving on ice, do not press the brakes. Just take your foot off the accelerator and keep the steering wheel straight. No patch of ice tends to be very big, so wait until you pass over it to apply the brakes and resume steering. If you’re driving slowly, you should be able to pass over a few metres of black ice without much problem. Which brings us to our next winter driving tip.
Every driver should keep a winter driving kit in their car with some basic safety supplies. First off, you need warm clothes. If you get stuck and you don’t have heat, you’ll need a parka, ski pants, boots, and gloves. Next, make sure you have a shovel. This can be a lifesaver for those who get stuck in the snow. You can also consider packing food, water, a first-aid kit, road flares, and some sand. Of course, your car should also have solid fluid levels and more than a half tank of gas to help fight frozen fuel lines!
Drive slowly! Just like that Kanye song, but with less swearing and the correct adverbial word form. This is the easiest and most important winter driving tip. Ice and snow make handling and stopping far more difficult. That applies not only to yourself, but also to other drivers. So, in winter, you should double your standard, four-second following distance. And you’ll also need to drive slowly. Unless the pavement is clear and dry, you simply need to slow down.