The Essential Winter Driving Guide for 2018

The flu, freezing temperatures and a flurry of snowflakes aren’t the only things people have to deal with during the winter. Like the mounds of snow that seem to keep piling up, the struggle of the season heightens for those with a driver’s license. Roads become slippery and drivers’ visions are obstructed as Mother Nature wreaks its winter havoc, creating an obstacle course-like commute prone to accidents. For the time of year when you’re most at risk of a collision, here is everything you need to know to stay safe on the roads.


By the numbers

In general, the car accident rate in Canada has been rising in recent years. The Allstate Canada Safe Driving Study found that reported collisions on Canadian roadways had increased by 7.3 per cent from 2013 to 2015. However, the likelihood of people getting into accidents reached its highest levels during the months of December, January, and February. 

Consequently, insurance providers in Canada find that claims related to vehicle collisions rise by 49 per cent during the winter months. With this season seeing a spike in vehicular accidents, safe driving practices and routines become much more crucial and necessary.

Weather conditions to watch out for

During the winter, it should become second nature for drivers to check the weather forecast before hitting the road. Here are some common obstacles brought about by the weather that drivers can expect to run into this season:

  • Snowfall. It is important to clear the snow that lands onto your vehicle’s hood, roof, windows, mirrors, headlights, tail lights, and tailpipe. This ensures that you start your commute with better visibility. In addition to clearing obstruction from your view, other drivers will be spared from snow flying off your vehicle and into their line of sight. 
  • Black ice. The exhaust of vehicles forms a thin layer of ice on roadways during the winter, creating a slippery obstacle for drivers and pedestrians alike. Slow down when approaching these black and shiny patches on the road to reduce the likelihood of an accident.
  • Wind gusts. Strong winds become much more common during this time of the year, blowing in an additional complication while steering on an icy surface. Make sure to slow down and drive gently when the winds pick up, in order to avoid being drawn into a skid.  
  • Colder temperatures. Temperature drops are inevitable in the winter, calling the need for additional layers of clothing. However, bundling up too much can cause a hindrance to a driver’s safety. For one thing, a driver can get distracted from body overheat once the car warms up. Also, heavy boots can prevent a person from feeling the car pedals properly. Furthermore, your movement and ability to check your blind spot can become restricted when wearing too many layers. 

Tips to prepare your vehicle

  • Use winter tires. Besides replacing worn tires, it is important to make sure your tires are compatible with the season. Winter tires possess much better traction than all-season tires, which lose their grip when the temperature drops below 7°C. With winter tires, drivers can handle their vehicles with more ease and shorten their braking distances on slippery roads. As a result, making the switch to winter tires positively impacts roadways, for instance in Quebec. In 2008, when the use of winter tires became mandatory in the province, there was a five per cent drop in collisions. Deaths and serious injuries also declined by three per cent. 
  • Keep your car maintained. Throughout the winter season, make time to regularly check if your fluids are topped up and all the other parts of your vehicle are functioning properly, like the windshield wiper blades. When a crisis occurs on the road, your chances at safety and coming out accident-free will be much higher if your car is in good working order.
  • Keep a full gas tank. This can help reduce moisture in the fuel system, as well as slow your vehicle down by adding extra weight.

Tips for preparing an emergency kit

Your car feels like a safe place, enough so that you might even feel comfortable leaving your jacket at home for a quick trip to the shops. A breakdown or accident can destroy that comfort in a moment. Always dress as though you might have to walk home, and have a full emergency kit in the car at all times. Here’s what to pack.

  • Roadside flares
  • A first-aid kit
  • Work gloves or latex gloves
  • Two quarts of oil
  • Jumper cables
  • One gallon of antifreeze
  • Brake fluid
  • Extra fuses
  • A blanket
  • A flashlight with fresh batteries
  • A Phillips head screwdriver
  • A flat head screwdriver
  • Vise grips
  • An adjustable wrench
  • A pair of pliers
  • A tire inflator
  • A tire pressure gauge
  • Some rags and a funnel
  • A roll of duct tape
  • A roll of paper towels
  • A spray bottle with washer fluid
  • An ice scraper
  • Triangle reflectors and flares.
  • A pocketknife
  • Bottled water
  • Granola or energy bars 

Tips while driving on the road

  • Adjust your speed to fit road conditions. According to the Canada Safety Council, the main cause of winter collisions is driving too quickly. Slow down when driving over slippery roads to avoid losing control and sliding. Also, try to refrain from making abrupt stops or turns. Before entering a turn, brake slowly and accelerate again only once you have rounded the corner.
  • Hold the steering wheel in a 9-and-3 position. When driving in the winter, try using the clock-face analogy and keep your hands at the 9-and-3 positions on the steering wheel. Driving instructor Ian Law says that, “the farther apart your hands are, the more precise your inputs are going to be.” When your hands are too close, they can work against each other when making emergency turns.
  • Avoid using cruise control. Cruise control increases the chances of losing control of your vehicle when the weather is bad and roads are slippery.
  • Don’t tailgate. It takes much longer to stop your vehicle on snowy and icy roads. Thus it is important to leave enough room between your car and the one in front of you to avoid rear-ending another driver.
  • Turn your lights on. This increases both your line of sight and your visibility to other drivers and pedestrians.
  • Keep a safe distance behind snow plows. Snow plow drivers are prone to reduced visibility, and can also create clouds of snow that will obstruct your vision as well.
  • Turn your wipers on high before passing a truck. Driving instructor Oren Preisler advises this to prevent large amounts of snow on top of trucks from flying onto your vehicle and obstructing your vision.
  • When dealing with slides, skids, or spins, don’t panic! Preisler suggests the following:
    • If your car slides or skids while turning, let it go and ease off the brake pedal because the car will eventually regain traction. Concentrate on steering into the direction of the skid until you feel traction again. Then, gently steer back on track.
    • If your car spins and rolls backwards going uphill, don’t floor the gas to avoid continuous spinning. Instead, press the gas lightly until you regain traction and then accelerate back to normal.
    • For more information on how to deal with rear-wheel, front-wheel or four-wheel skids, read these detailed instructions by the Canadian Automobile Association.  

What to watch out for in your car

  • Dead battery: Batteries have a limited lifespan (typically about four or five years), but even a new battery can be foiled by a defective alternator, or a cabin light left on overnight. Get your car checked over before the snow sets in.
  • Flooded engine: While newer engines with independent ignition coils on each spark plug aren’t as prone to cold weather failure, there are still lots of vehicles that experience this problem every winter. If ignition seems to take longer and longer over time, have it looked at by a mechanic to make sure it won’t fail you.
  • Flat tires: Alloy and steel rims alike can develop slow leaks due to corrosion along the contact point between rubber and metal. Monitor for slow leaks during year-round, and don’t push your tires past their useable lifespan.
  • Ineffective wipers: Your wipers maintain your visibility in a blizzard, but they aren’t snowplows. Always clear off your windshield with a brush or scraper before starting your car. If you park outside, consider putting socks over your wiper blades instead of leaving them in the upright position.

What to do if an accident occurs

Sometimes, the worst happens. Accidents are most common not just in the winter months, but particularly on the first major snowfall each year. Many drivers waited too long to switch to snow tires, while many others are simply caught off-guard and forget their winter driving skills.

Who’s at fault?

Before you so much as get into your car, remember: the road conditions are not an excuse. You might feel that the icy roads are what caused you to slide into the intersection, but the insurance company sees it as your responsibility to be in control at all times, no matter the weather. No one expects you to control the weather, but if you aren’t certain of your ability to keep control of your vehicle in the present conditions, you’re better off finding another method of transportation (or pulling over, if the weather sets in while you’re on the road).

In some cases, 50-50 fault may be determined due to equal failure by both drivers (e.g. both drivers lost control due to road conditions), but the insurance company is left to make the final decision. Any police records of the crash, such as tickets for careless driving, will play into the insurance company’s verdict. 

What to do and what not to do

Don’t admit fault. Even if you think the accident was of your own making, you may be wrong. Your brain is frazzled and full of adrenaline after an accident, and thinking clearly falls from your list of abilities. Bring the police in, and get in touch with your insurance company. Make sure to tell the truth as plainly as possible – no embellishments. You can be penalized, possibly with jail time, for misleading the police or insurers.

Never jump to other conclusions about the accident, even those that seem obvious. The police or other parties may ask you if you’re hurt, and you shouldn’t say “no.” The post-crash adrenaline can mask many injuries that can become severe in the following weeks, so if an issue does arise, see a doctor immediately. You’ll need the medical records if you want to make an injury claim.

Finally, don’t sign anything unless you or your lawyer is sure it’s above board. Releasing medical records for your injury claim is standard, but what’s not standard is being asked to sign releases stating you’re not hurt, or that the accident was your fault. When in doubt, contact a personal injury lawyer for guidance.

What about out-of-province accidents?

An accident in another province can be the most traumatizing of all. You’re far from home, with no safety net, and a potentially different set of laws and regulations surrounding the incident. The good news is that much of the same process applies post-accident. Gather as much information as you can, including police report numbers, officer name and badge numbers, names of those involved, and licence plate numbers. Record the date, time and location, and the extent of the damage to both vehicles. Photo and video evidence of the scene may come in handy here as well. 

Once all the information is collected and reported to the insurance companies, it’s in their hands as always to determine fault. If you’re unsure how the process in your province differs from the province of the accident, get in touch with a personal injury lawyer to help you get what the compensation you really deserve.

Winter weather can be unpredictable and lead to equally unpredictable circumstances. Thus, the most important step to stay safe on the roads this season is to pay attention and stay alert. If you have been injured this winter season, either in your vehicle or as a pedestrian, contact us today to learn about how we can help you receive the compensation you deserve.