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Winter Driving Guide

How to prepare for winter driving

Published November 1, 2012
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Last winter we got off very easy in the GTA when it came to winter conditions and driving. We hardly saw the snow conditions we have been used to in the past. This was either good news or bad news depending on how you looked at it.

The skiing, snowmobiling and the auto body shop industries took a hit in their pocket books from the lack of winter conditions. On the other hand, cities and regions in Southern Ontario saved money on snow removal.

However, senior climatologist at Environment Canada, David Phillips, has told me this winter will definitely be snowier than last year. “I’d bet my reputation on it,” were his exact words.

Winter always presents us with the most dangerous and challenging road conditions of any season.

It’s time to prepare both driver and vehicle for this most demanding and dangerous of driving seasons. Safety on our roads should never take a back seat to saving a few bucks or complacency. There is no “reset” button when it comes to traffic crashes.

The “Number One” safety feature in any vehicle is the driver. Having a driver that is prepared to deal with the worst roads of the year can be a life saver.

Most motorists have never had formal winter driving instruction. Unfortunately, it is just not part of the driver’s licence requirements. Today there are specialized advanced driving schools that will teach winter driving skills. Much of the technique to be a safe driver is not natural and must be taught and practiced. Take the time to find one of these specialized winter driving schools and learn the skills of skid recognition and recovery on ice. Developing better vision and vehicle control skills will also help motorists with their winter driving confidence.

Learn to say “No, I’m not driving in that mess”. More motorists need to realize that not driving in dangerous weather is a very sensible option. No trip is worth putting your life on the line for. Weather warnings for blowing snow, ice or deep snow, is a sign to wait it out. Staying off the roads will also help road crews with the storm clean up. To know what type of road conditions you may encounter on your drive or whether you should cancel your trip altogether, stay up to date on the weather forecasts.

The Highway Traffic Act requires motorists and truckers to clean all the snow and ice off their vehicles before driving. This also gives the driver a chance to clean ice off all the lights and windshield washer nozzles.

When it’s time to get in and drive, remove your heavy winter coat and boots. A heavy winter coat will bulk up your arms and affect your steering inputs and cause fatigue to set in. A sweater will free up your arm movements, be more comfortable and ensure the seat belt fits you properly. Leather gloves won’t slip on the steering wheel like cotton or wool mitts can.

Driving in shoes rather than winter boots decreases the likelihood of you stepping on both the gas and brake pedal at the same time. Boots are bulkier than shoes and drivers have crashed because their winter boot got caught behind the brake pedal in an emergency braking event. A pair of shoes gives you the best feel of the pedals. Then you can tell exactly how much gas or brake you’re applying.

Todays’ vehicles have excellent climate controls and heated seats and your vehicle will warm up in no time. Learning how your vehicle’s climate controls work will help you keep windows clear of fog and frost. Air conditioners are a good dehumidifier and will help you keep your windows clear. Your passengers should knock any snow or slush off their boots upon entering your vehicle to minimize the amount of humidity in your vehicle.

Distractions are a leading cause of crashes. Being totally aware of your driving situation can save your life. Never allow yourself to get distracted so you can process vital driving information such as weather, road and traffic conditions.

To prepare your vehicle, winter tires are the most effective investment in safety. Every command a driver gives to their vehicle – stopping, steering and accelerating – is all transmitted through four relatively small contact patches of rubber where the tire meets the road. Whether your vehicle is All Wheel Drive (AWD), Front Wheel Drive (FWD) or Rear Wheel Drive (RWD), four winter tires can make the difference between staying on the road and crashing into the ditch. Tires are easily the most underrated safety feature on your vehicle.

Other winter preparations we can make for our vehicles are quality windshield wiper blades for those very messy wintery roads. If you can’t see it, how can you avoid it? Don’t scrimp on windshield washer fluid. For a few extra dollars buy the best windshield washer fluid with the lowest freezing point. If the washer fluid ices up on contact with a cold windshield, it can blind the driver.

Visibility is often limited in winter conditions so be sure all your lights are in proper working condition. It’s just as important to be seen as to see clearly.

Winter is coming and it’s worth your life to be prepared.

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