Winter Driving Tips from the Pros
Get some traction with winter driving tips from AMA Driver Education
It starts with that first frost on the pavement and before you know it we've stumbled into that shiver-inducing, sidewalk-slipping season we like to call Winter. The temperature dips, the days get shorter, and you start having flashbacks to that time you tried to lick a stop sign.
When it comes to being safe on winter roads, it mostly boils down to two things: visibility and traction. At AMA Driver Education, we prepare drivers of all ages to be able to see what’s happening and steer around trouble before it finds you.
Start with a clean slate
Most of the information we use as drivers comes visually. Make sure to clear your entire vehicle of snow and ice, not just the front windshield. Start the engine, turn your air conditioning on, and crank the heat up, making sure the ‘recirculate’ button is deactivated so you get fresh air coming in. Consider using winter wiper blades with larger, sturdier rubber to keep your windshield from icing up – if they leave streaks it’s time to replace them. By the time you’ve scraped all the windows and mirrors, you should be all warmed up and ready to roll.
Each year when that first big snowfall hits, people seem surprised that it's slippery or they have to scrape the windshield. But when it comes to safe winter driving, the two most important things are traction and visibility. Driving to the conditions and giving yourself that extra little bit of time and space in traffic makes all the difference.
Light the way
All new vehicles sold in Canada have daytime running lights that come on automatically when the engine is started. A good practice is to always turn on your headlights during the daytime as well, especially when visibility is reduced by snow, fog or rain. Other drivers will be able to see your vehicle better from all directions with your lights on.
Get a grip
Traction comes down to those four patches of rubber that meet the road surface. Alberta winter roads come in every flavour, from bare dry pavement to snow packed lanes to the dreaded ‘black ice.’ Use the best tires you can afford for the conditions you drive in. Most vehicles come equipped with ‘all-season’ tires that may have a ‘M+S’ symbol to indicate a tread pattern designed to push away mud and snow. But when the temperature drops below 7°C the rubber on all-season tires starts to lose elasticity. You don’t have to be a rink rat to know a hockey puck tends to slide smoothly on the ice.
The right rubber for the road
Winter tires (marked with a winter snowflake logo) are made with different treads and a softer rubber that keeps its grip to around -40°C. Studies have shown that a set of four identical winter tires can improve stopping distances by up to 25%. Newer products like ‘All Weather’ tires work well in most temperatures and road conditions – they cost a little more but save the trouble of having to switch your wheels each season. Check your tire pressure regularly and make sure it matches the numbers on the inside of the driver’s door. Don’t believe the hype about lower tire pressure giving you improved traction and better handling. The only thing under-inflated tires do is wear out the tread faster . Learn all about winter tires on the AMA blog.
Drive to the conditions
When the roads get slippery it isn’t just your own vehicle you have to worry about. Other drivers might not have clear vision or winter tires so give yourself the extra time and space to react quickly when you need to. Think of your three main inputs – accelerating, braking and steering – as things that shouldn’t be mixed together.
When approaching a corner, keep the wheel straight while you slow down, release the brake as you start to turn, then wait until you’ve straightened out before you accelerate again. Leave more space between you and the vehicle in front of you and avoid the heavy braking or acceleration that leads to skidding. Signal lane changes early and slow down earlier when approaching a red light or stop sign.
Remember, the best to stay safe on the roads this winter is to take a few precautions, stay alert and make good decisions in the moment. Leave early, go slow, and try to give other drivers some extra space so that their mistakes don’t become your problem.