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Driving in a ‘Snowpocalypse’ – without winter tires

Published February 1, 2011


Your car is just a normal two-wheel drive and it has all-season tires because, hey, it doesn’t really need winter tires in Toronto any more, right? But you have to drive in a storm. What do you do?

1. Turn on all your lights. Even in the morning with plenty of daylight, you want your vehicle to be seen through swirling snow by others from both front and back. Not everyone on the road is as prepared or capable or focused as you.

2. Drive smoothly and steadily in the tire tracks of other vehicles, so that you’re not pushing too big a path in fresh snow. Stay in the right-hand lane – if there’s a problem, you want to be able to pull over easily to the side. If you have a car with a “Snow” setting that bypasses the power of first gear, switch it to “Snow”.

3. Leave a large “envelope” of space around you while driving – you want as much room as possible to stop on the slippery road before bumping into the car in front. If possible, do not drive beside other cars in case either you or they start to slip out of control. Back off to give yourself more space for this.

If there is a vehicle riding your back bumper, touch your brakes very lightly and repeatedly to flash their lights and send the message that you keep slowing, and chances are that vehicle will fall back. If a tailgater becomes a real problem, slow right down and switch on your hazards.

4. Carry winter clothing with you, including boots, gloves and a hat, just in case you do have a bump and have to continue the journey in a tow truck. But if there’s a problem, DO NOT GET OUT OF YOUR VEHICLE unless directed by an emergency response officer. People are killed every winter doing this.

5. Carry a cell phone, with its battery charged or at least a means of keeping it charged in the car, to call for help or at least advise others of when you expect to arrive.

6. Make sure your car has at least a half-tank of gas. If you’re delayed by a collision – either somebody else’s or your own – you don’t want to be stuck on the highway needing gas.

7. Fill up your washer fluid before you leave, and bang your wipers on the windshield to ensure they press flat against the glass. Clear all the glass with a snow brush and scraper so that your visibility is the best it can be, and don’t forget to brush off your lights, front and back.

8. Put a shovel in your trunk for digging yourself out of a light drift, together with a basic kit that includes a pylon, and flares and matches.

I have a bright yellow plastic “SnoFlex” shovel, pictured at left, made by Garant of Quebec, that costs $11.99 at places like Canadian Tire and Wal-Mart; it folds to double as a warning triangle and fits under my passenger seat. I’ve not yet used it, but I’m glad to have it.

9. Change your driving mindset and be patient. Allow plenty of time – your one-hour commute will be three hours or even more. There’s just no way around that, so relax and make the most of it. Listen to podcasts on your iPod through the car’s speakers – they’re less mind-numbing than music.

10. Check if you really do have to make the drive through the snow – make a call or send an email to see if you’re absolutely needed. A night in a hotel or a day at home is always better than time spent arguing with a tow-truck driver about his friend’s autobody shop.