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Winter Driving Guide

Here’s how to survive driving in a winter storm

Published October 24, 2012
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When caught in whiteout conditions caused by winds gusting up to 60 km/h, it’s not the tires or the car that will ultimately help you; it’s the driver and his or her level of preparedness.

With that in mind, here are some key tips from writer Ian Law to help you prepare for the worst of winter weather.

1. Take a peek out the window and decide whether you want to risk driving at all. Check the weather forecast and listen for advisories for blowing snow, whiteouts, and ice on the road. Many times the wisest decision is to simply park the car in the garage and stay home or use public transit. But if you must drive, read on.

2. Make sure you car is equipped to deal with Mother Nature’s onslaught. While you shouldn’t rely on winter tires, having them is absolutely essential in a storm, regardless of whether your vehicle is all-wheel or four-wheel drive, front-wheel or rear-wheel drive.

3. Clean all the snow and ice off your vehicle before hitting the road to ensure you can see and be seen properly. Clean any ice away from your wiper blades and washer nozzles. It is required by law that your windows be free of snow and ice so the driver’s vision is not impaired.

4. Before you get into your vehicle, take off your heavy winter coat and place it in the back seat. Driving with a winter coat on will bulk up your arms and affect your steering inputs and will fatigue you quicker.

5. Wear leather gloves, not wool or cotton, to keep your hands warm until the vehicle warms up. Leather won’t slip on the steering wheel like cotton or wool.

6. Never drive in winter boots as this increases the likelihood of you stepping on both the gas and brake pedal at the same time. Winter boots are bulky and drivers have crashed because their winter boot got caught behind the brake pedal when emergency braking.

7. Read your owner’s manual on the vehicle’s climate controls to help you understand how best to keep your windows clear of fog and frost. Using the air conditioner as a dehumidifier will help you keep your windows clear.

8. It is crucial to keep your vision high to see farther up the road and to always look where you want to go. Adjust your seating to make sure your line of sight is high.

9. With your vision high, your brain can orient itself to the horizon, and this will allow you to notice slight changes in your vehicle’s attitude sooner. The sooner you can make smooth corrections for a skid, the more likely they will be successful.

10. If there is a threat to your safety from another vehicle or object, and if you look at that threat, you will drive toward it. It is imperative that you look to where you want to go.

11. Another important driving technique is to be smooth. The smoother you are with all your controls, the safer you will be. Your steering inputs, braking and accelerating should all be done as smoothly as possible. Drivers tend to overcorrect by doing too much with the steering wheel.

Toronto Police Sgt. Tim Burrows also advises drivers to increase their following distance based on the weather. Under dry road conditions, 2-3 seconds is ideal. Wet conditions: 3-4 seconds. In snowy and whiteout conditions, drivers should stay back by 4-5 seconds.

Burrows also advises it’s safer to just sit in your vehicle if you run into car troubles and wait for assistance.

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