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Winter Driving Guide

8 common winter driving mistakes

Published October 29, 2012
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Each time we experience a snowfall in the GTA, the media is rife with stories of wayward motorists and truckers crashing and careening off each other and any immovable object in their path.

As the saying goes, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.”

More: Don’t try to save by buying only two winter tires

More: Does all-wheel drive actually help in winter driving?

So why do so many motorists and truckers approach winter driving the same way only to experience the same expensive and sometimes tragic results?

This conundrum has led me to compile the following list of the most common mistakes motorists make when the weather turns wintry.

1. Not slowing down when traction is reduced. This seems like such a “no brainer.” It is difficult to believe that motorists and truckers will still try to drive at or near the speed limit when the driving conditions deteriorate to the point that mayhem is just around the next corner. Any fool can drive fast. Smart drivers know when not to.

2. Not assessing road conditions. Another famous saying is “know thy enemy.” There are many ways to get driving information before setting out to drive. Motorists should check with local radio stations, the Weather Network and/or their computer for the latest weather warnings and road conditions. This will give vital information on whether they need to change their route, watch for ice or to even cancel their trip. Many vehicles are now equipped with outside thermometers that will tell the driver when ice could be forming on the road.

Motorists can also look for conditions that could lead to ice forming on the road. Bridges will freeze up before the road way will. Ice will form in well worn tire tracks as vehicles compress snow into ice. If the road surface looks glossy or has a satin sheen to it, this could be ice. If there is no spray coming off of vehicle tires ahead, ice should be expected.

3. Not using good vision techniques. So much of safe driving is all about where the driver is looking. Motorists need to look farther up the road to see unsafe traffic situations or weather conditions sooner. It is also very important for drivers to not stare at the vehicle directly in front. If this vehicle makes a mistake, it is very likely that the driver behind will make the same mistake if they are watching the vehicle in front.

It is a fact that motorists will drive where they are looking. It is so vital for drivers to look where they want to go and not at any threat to their vehicle. This technique is counter intuitive. Motorists need to learn and practice to look where they want to go.

4. Not being smooth with controls. It is very important for all motorists to always use smooth driving techniques to have the best control of their vehicle. This fact is compounded in limited traction conditions. Drivers crash vehicles due to over-correcting and being jerky with their steering. Ice does not crash vehicles. The driver’s reaction to being on ice causes the loss of control. Being smooth takes a lot of practice and knowing how to use proper steering technique takes knowledge.

5. Tensing up. The sheer fear of driving in slippery conditions can cause drivers to tense up. This will result in jerky steering inputs which usually causes loss of control. It can also lead to panic, indecision and inaction, things which are not uncommon for less experienced drivers.

6. Driving in boots, coats etc. Driving is all about communicating with the vehicle. Half of the communication between driver and vehicle is through the steering wheel. Bulking up the driver’s arms with a heavy winter coat will cause more abrupt steering inputs, reduction in the range of motion for the driver’s arms, fatigue and overheating.

The other half of communication between motorist and vehicle is through the pedals. The driver must be able to tell which pedals are being depressed and precisely by how much. With winter boots on, it is not uncommon for drivers to step on both pedals at the same time and to not even feel the pedals. This can lead to loss of control.

Many of today’s vehicles have heated seats and excellent heaters. There is no need to be bundled up when you have your own little micro-climate at your finger tips.

In addition, motorists should never drive with the hood up on their coat or sweater and should use leather gloves instead of wool or cotton to reduce their hands sliding on the steering wheel.

7. Failing to clear snow off the vehicle. Windows and lights must be kept clear so drivers can see and be seen. If they can’t see it, how can they avoid it? If they can’t be seen, how can others avoid them?

8. Failing to prioritize driving. If in doubt, don’t go out. If the trip is not absolutely vital, motorists should be more prepared to stay home in adverse conditions. No trip is worth endangering your life.

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