Do Albertans really forget how to drive in the snow?

Every year, it’s the same story. The province sees its first few dumps of snow, traffic grinds to a halt, and Albertans grumble in unison: “It’s like everyone forgot how to drive!” Well, according to the Alberta Motor Association’s road safety experts, that assertion isn’t too far off-base.

“The vast majority of drivers have trouble making the mental shift from summer driving, with good road and weather conditions, to winter driving, with poor road and weather conditions – not to mention reduced visibility, lack of sun, too much sun, and other seasonal issues,” says Rick Lang, Manager of Operations for AMA Driver Education. “It takes two or three weather events for most motorists to adjust their driving to the winter mindset, which means Albertans should expect longer commutes during these first snowfalls.”

As the province copes with the white stuff, AMA Driver Education offers the following advice:

  • Give yourself extra time, allowing you to adjust to the road conditions.
  • Drive to conditions, remembering that the posted speed limit refers to ideal circumstances.
  • Scan the road ahead for hazards. You want to look just over one city block ahead in the city, and double that length on the highway.
  • Adjust your following distance to four-to-six car lengths on snowy roads, and more if conditions are icy.
  • Make a habit of turning on your lights during the day, and never rely solely on daytime running lights in the dark (more info on that topic can be found in our newsroom).
  • Use your brakes correctly, ignoring the misconception of pumping them in slippery conditions. For vehicles with ABS brakes, use a firm, steady pressure on the brake pedal and don’t let up. For non-ABS vehicles, use a threshold braking technique. Brake to the point just before the wheels lock up; if they start to lock up, just ease up on brake slightly and reapply.

“You might think of it as driving ‘muscle memory.’ We lose some ability behind the wheel if we don’t practice on an ongoing basis,” says Lang. “This would include winter driving, for things like increasing following and braking distance, dealing with visibility issues, and maneuvering safely on slick roads.”


For more winter tips, visit our website or schedule an interview with an AMA spokesperson by contacting the AMA Newsroom: 1.888.960.6397 / ama.newsroom@ama.ab.ca