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Jan 12, 2018

Five tips for safe winter driving

How to prepare for the season’s hazardous road conditions

If weather conditions are bad, it’s best to stay off the roads. If you must drive, though, follow these tips from Ian Law, president and chief instructor of ILR Car Control School, which provides driver training at its facilities in Minden and Brampton, Ontario.

1. Practise good driving.

It sounds simplistic, but being a better driver is the best way to improve safety. Nearly all crashes and collisions are due to driver error, says Law (who avoids the term “accidents”).

First, slow down. In winter, tire grip is reduced even on dry roads. “Posted speed limits are maximums set for ideal conditions: good visibility, dry roads, little traffic,” says Law. “When any of those change, those limits don’t apply anymore.”

Second, look beyond the vehicle in front of you. Drivers tend to steer wherever they’re looking, even if that means following another car into a ditch, says Law. Look where you want to go.

Third, reduce distractions. If you’re picking a playlist or chatting, you’re not aware of what’s around you. “Anyone who figures they can have a conversation and process driving information is wrong – your brain will do one or the other,” says Law. “Once people focus on road conditions, they’re much safer drivers.”

2. Get your car winter-ready.

If it’s been ages since your car’s last tune-up, get it checked out. Law also recommends replacing your wiper blades every fall (the rubber degrades over time) and buying the windshield fluid with the lowest freezing point. “Vision is critical to your safety. If you can’t see it, how can you avoid it?” he says. When you remove snow and ice from your car, lift the wipers and clear around the windshield fluid nozzles.

Don’t ignore dashboard warning lights about oil pressure and other problems. Fuel up often. “Don’t go anywhere with less than half a tank of gas,” says Law. If you get stuck somewhere, you can run the engine to keep yourself warm until help arrives. It’s also less likely that your tank and fuel lines will develop condensation and ice, which can affect car performance. Law also suggests switching to synthetic oil, which works better than conventional oil in chilly conditions.

3. Quit waffling about winter tires.

“People think that if they live in the city and the streets are cleared, they don’t need winter tires, but it’s not just about the ice and snow – it’s about temperature,” says Law. “Rubber hardens when it’s cold, so even on dry roads, tires have less grip.”

Winter tires provide better traction than all-season tires. Don’t scrimp – get the full set. “Drivers who have front- or rear-wheel drive should never try to get away with just two winter tires,” says Law. “If you have grip at the front and none at the rear, the back of the car will spin out. If you only have winter tires in the rear, the car won’t steer or stop very well, because the front tires do all the steering and most of the braking.”

Keep up your tire pressure. Gases lose pressure when the temperature drops (that’s Boyle’s Law, which you might remember from physics class), so add air regularly.

If your car has all-wheel drive (AWD), think of it as a performance feature rather than a safety feature, advises Law. “It’s phenomenal technology that helps you accelerate, but the down side is that it can mask how slippery the road is. AWD will not make your car steer better or stop sooner.”

4. Pack emergency supplies.

Keep your cellphone charged, in case you need assistance. If your vehicle doesn’t have electronic locks, carry a lock de-icer (not inside the car, of course). Stock your trunk with jumper cables, an ice scraper, a shovel and a bag of sand or cat litter, a blanket, a first aid kit and non-perishable snacks for energy, such as granola bars.

Rogers Smart DriveTM provides additional peace of mind when your loved ones are out on the road in winter weather: you can track their progress and receive notifications when they arrive safely at their destinations.

5. Dress for safe driving.

Don’t wear your winter coat behind the wheel. Bulky sleeves interfere with steering, and your seatbelt won’t fit properly (the lap portion of the belt should go over your pelvis, not your abdomen, to protect your organs).

Law also advises switching from boots to shoes. “Drivers have crashed because they stepped on both pedals with winter boots and couldn’t feel the difference,” he says. Also shed your wool or cotton mitts or gloves, which can slide on the steering wheel (leather gloves are better). And always choose good sense over style. “We see a lot of younger-generation drivers driving in hoodies, with the hoods up,” says Law. “That’s a big no-no, because when you turn your head, your hood doesn’t turn with it.”

Click here to find out how a connected car can help keep you and your family safe this winter with Rogers Smart Drive.