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Winter Driving Guide

Never forget the ‘Golden Rule’ of winter driving

Published December 31, 2012
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Sadly, too many motorists often forget the Golden Rule of winter driving – when traction is reduced, speeds need to be reduced!

The posted speed limits we all see standing proudly at the side or the roads were determined by traffic engineers and safety experts. There are provincial guidelines set out to determine what speed limit works best for a given segment of roadway. The maximum speed limit on our 400 series highways is set by the province and is below the design criteria for those roads.

Conditions such as traffic density, proximity to schools, vision distance around curves or over hills, the number of driveways, road type including shoulder etc., and more all come into play when the traffic engineers set the speed limit on a given road.

More: This is how fast you can lose control on ice

More: The 8 worst winter driving mistakes

What we all need to remember is these speed limits are for ideal conditions. In other words, a road with a posted speed limit of 80 km/h should be safe at those speeds when the road surface is dry and clean with daytime light conditions and normal traffic density.

Change any one of those conditions and the recommended speed should decrease. Add a wet road surface, poor visibility or heavy traffic and motorists should be thinking about reducing their speed to suit those less than ideal conditions. Just because the sign says 80 km/h doesn’t mean you have to drive at that posted speed no matter what. Common sense comes into play and when conditions warrant it, we all need to slow down.

Throw snow and ice into that scenario and speeds need to be reduced significantly. On a road with snow, your vehicle’s tires will only provide you with around 10 per cent of the grip you could expect on dry pavement. On top of that, this would be if you were using winter tires. With all-season tires, that grip level drops to only around 5 per cent. This includes those “all terrain” tires you may find on pick-up trucks or SUVs. These tires were designed with mud and off-road conditions in mind, not snow and ice. These tires do not have the special winter rubber compound found in dedicated winter tires. Don’t be fooled by the aggressive tread pattern on many of these truck tires. They will help you in mud but not on icy roads.

I was out driving in last week’s snow fall here in Toronto and I was dismayed by the number of motorists and truckers who were not slowing down to adapt to the conditions. There were a few motorists who were actually driving over the speed limit on wet to slushy roads. These are nowhere near ideal conditions and as such, called for speeds below the posted speed limit.

Motorists may be able to get up to “speed” in poor conditions and drive at or near the speed limit, but on wet, slushy or snowy roads, there is no way they will be able to stop or steer as if they were on asphalt.

Motorists with all-wheel drive (AWD) must also slow down. This technology is amazing when it comes to accelerating, but it will not improve your ability to steer or stop. At this time of year it is important to remind those with AWD that this technology is NOT a safety feature. It is a performance feature. It only helps your vehicle to accelerate. Unfortunately, too many motorists with this technology become over-confident in winter conditions as AWD can mask how little grip the road surface really has. Drivers with AWD can accelerate on winter roads easily and not realize how slippery the roads are until they try to stop or steer.

Anyone can drive fast, smart drivers know when not to. Slow down on winter roads.

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