Sometimes we like to pretend we’re in a Fast and Furious movie, but that time is NOT when we’re on the road, especially in the winter. We need to focus less on how fast we get to our final destination and more on how to get there safely.
30% of Car Accidents in Canada Happen in the Winter
According to these 2010 statistics, 30% of vehicle accidents cited weather as the main reason the accident occurred.
It’s certainly scary to think about, especially in our own city. Just 3 years ago, there was a 20-car pile-up on the 417 due to winter driving.
There’s no question that winter is a dangerous time to drive, which is why it’s important to understand the conditions before you get behind the wheel.
Winter Road Conditions
Winter comes with more than one road condition. You should know what each of them feels like.
Ice can either be visible or invisible (what we call ‘black ice’). Be aware of the weather before driving. If there was frost the night before, or if there are shaded areas on the road, or if the asphalt looks wet and shiny, slow down and be cautious of icy patches.
Be extra careful on curves, or in locations where the road dips – these are locations where water can collect and freeze.
A light snow like we sometimes get in November will generally melt on impact. But the more snow we get, the more we have to deal with it on the road. The problem then becomes; what kind of snow is it?
It can be hard packed or soft, rutted or smooth, or a little bit of everything. Be mindful of how the road feels when you drive, and how it will impact your acceleration, turning, and braking.
Slush and Spray
Slush and spray is most common in the yucky grey months of February and March, but it can happen any time. If you drive too closely to other vehicles, your car may be sprayed with slush, reducing your visibility.
Always have lots of windshield washer fluid, and leave enough distance to minimizing the splatter.
How Do I Prepare for Winter Driving?
Understanding the changing road conditions is good, but the best way to prepare for winter driving is to adjust your driving style accordingly.
To help with that, we’ve put together this list of winter driving techniques Ottawa drivers should know.
1. Don’t Over or Understeer
Over and understeering is one of the biggest problems when it comes to losing control on the winter roads. Oversteering is when your car turns too much; understeering is when it doesn’t turn enough.
Oversteering most often occurs when you enter a corner too fast. When you try to decelerate too quickly, weight is transferred to the front of your car and the back end will swing out.
If this happens, put gentle pressure on the gas while steering in the same direction the back half of your car is sliding. Correct your direction when you feel the car sliding back into place.
Understeering is very similar to oversteering in that it has the same cause; entering a corner too fast, or sometimes braking when entering a turn. In this case, your front tires lose traction first, causing you to not complete your turn.
Avoid understeering by braking slowly on the straightaway before the corner, and not using any controls while you turn. Instead, focus all your attention on where you’re turning.
The best way to make sure you avoid under or oversteering is to approach corners at a slower speed and use deliberate, careful turning motions while looking in the direction you want to go. This article by Tire Rack has more details for Ottawa drivers on how to turn safely.
2. Leave at Least 4 Seconds of Distance Between Cars
One of the best winter driving techniques is to leave more distance between cars. No one likes to be tailgated, but it happens. Unfortunately, this driving habit becomes even more dangerous in the winter.
When figuring out proper spacing between cars, you’ve probably been told about the ‘2 second’ rule. You pick a marker (like a sign or light pole). When the rear of the vehicle in front of you passes that marker, you count for 2 seconds. If your car reaches the marker before the 2 seconds are up, you’re following too closely.
Ottawa drivers need to double this distance in the winter. You should give yourself at least 4 seconds of space between your front bumper and the car in front of you. Cars and drivers react differently to snow and icy conditions; you need the extra space for safe, defensive driving.
3. Accelerate Slowly
Even if your Christmas dinner is waiting for you piping hot on the table, don’t rush to get there. Abrupt acceleration is your enemy in the winter.
Keep the heel of your foot down on the floor, and use gentle but firm pressure to speed up. This will give you the best traction, and help you avoid skidding.
Remember: Cruise control should not be used in the winter. Your car doesn’t know that it’s winter, or that it should slow down around corners. The best way to stay safe is to stay alert and stay in control at all times.
4. Apply Slow, Steady Pressure When Braking
If you can’t accelerate quickly, you definitely can’t brake quickly. A sudden stop on icy roads increases your chances of spinning out and skidding around.
With those 4 seconds of space between you and the other vehicles, you have plenty of time to apply a slow, steady pressure to your brakes, bringing yourself to a full stop.
5. Know How to Get Out of a Skid
The loss of control when your car skids is scary, and it’s especially scary when the driving surface is coated in snow and ice.
A skid is when either your front or back wheels lose traction, causing either the front of the back of your car to swing to either side. This is extremely dangerous, and why one of the most important winter driving techniques is learning how to handle it if it happens to you.
If you aren’t sure how to handle a skid, we recommend taking some defensive winter driving courses.
Correct a Rear Skid
If the back end of your car is skidding out of control, the first thing to do is ease off the brake or gas pedal, depending on which one caused the skidding.
Then put your car in neutral (for an automatic transmission), or push in the clutch on a standard. Look where you want to go, and gently steer in that direction. Once you feel the skid correct itself, put your car back into a driving gear and accelerate slowly.
Correct a Front Skid
When your front wheels lose traction, you can’t control your steering. You should still release the brake or gas pedal, and shift into neutral or push in the clutch when you feel the front of your car drifting from side to side.
The next step is to wait for the the front wheels to grip the road again. Then shift back into a driving gear and accelerate slowly.
If you want more information, Transport Canada has a great guide that includes how to get out of a skid.
6. Make Sure Your Vehicle is Properly Prepped
This isn’t so much a winter driving technique as a winter driving requirement. We can’t stress it enough – Ottawa drivers should have their vehicles properly prepared for winter before winter actually gets here (and stays).
Prepping your vehicle for winter includes:
- Putting on your winter tires – if you need a new set, we have some favourites to recommend.
- Replacing your windshield wipers.
- Making a maintenance appointment.
- Restocking and adding to your emergency car kit.
- Stocking up on winter-appropriate windshield wash.
- Ensuring your battery is working, and you have a block heater if you park outside.
- Double-checking your lights – winter is dark, and your lights are going to need to be on for a lot of the time.
- Having your brakes checked.
- Making sure your heating and cooling system is working.
You’ll be able to drive safely and with confidence knowing your car, truck, or SUV is completely season-ready.
7. If You Don’t Have to Drive, Stay Home
Perhaps the best way to stay safe on the road in bad conditions is to not go on the road. While we know that’s not always an option, if you don’t have to be on the road, stay where you are.
We Can’t Control the Snow, but We Can Prepare Your Car
If we could, we’d make it warm, sunny and sandy, with pina coladas and plus temperatures. But we can’t. What we will do is help get your car ready for whatever Mother Nature is going to throw at Ottawa drivers in 2018.
Call us today or book an appointment online to get winterized from bumper to trunk.