Driving impacts us all, at any time of year, in any condition; however, it’s important to be extra vigilant during rough winter conditions because of the multitude of hazards that are present. I consider myself extraordinarily lucky to have never been in a serious motor vehicle accident, and hearing stories from my friends or on the news makes me ache for those that have. Therefore, I’ve decided to compile a list of do’s and don’ts regarding winter driving in the hopes that they may prevent an event of such occurring to anyone in our KARA family!
Stay Home on Really Rough Days
In Alberta, we see some of the roughest winter conditions in Canada. This is because our province is open to the north artic weather systems, allowing weather to change dramatically and suddenly. Alberta is also home to some of the most mindful safety policies, which stem from our economy and energy sector. To live in a province that often values safety above all else is very favourable, especially for families. Therefore, if weather conditions are judged to be too bad to drive, I caution you to only venture out when necessary and to judge the risks accordingly! The province of Alberta has developed a geographical mapping and alert system to allow you to get a good idea of the conditions before venturing out – check it out here or call 511 to get all the details you’ll need to assess the risks. Likewise, social media and your local news station will also provide you with critical information.
Know Your Vehicle
In bad driving conditions, I caution you to only drive a vehicle you are familiar with. Jumping behind the wheel of a large truck when you are only accustomed to a small car is not a great idea during hazardous conditions. The safest mode of transportation will be a vehicle you know and are comfortable with. You will be more accurate in judgements when you’re familiar with the vehicle, including proper braking and where to find window wipers and headlights.
Don’t rely on your daytime running lights as these don’t allow drivers behind you to see your taillights. Use your headlights even during the day.
Match your Speed to the Conditions
A friend of mine recently received a ticket – for driving the speed limit! Privately, I agreed with the law enforcement on this one. It’s true that she was obeying the limit set forth by engineers when designing the road, but those limits are for optimal conditions! When the weather is poor, roads are icy, and visibility reduced, you certainly cannot expect that matching the speed limit is a safe choice, no matter how good a driver you are! Rather, try matching the conditions of the road, and reduce your speed to accommodate the poor conditions. You will certainly be safer and avoid a ticket – haha!
Increase Your Distance
When driving in optimal conditions, the rule is to allow 2 to 3 seconds between you and the vehicle in front of you. This means that when the vehicle in front passes an object on the side of the road, at least 2 seconds should be complete before you pass it. In winter when conditions are icy, increase this time to 5 to 6 seconds. This will allow for more space between the two vehicles and more time for you to stop. This also applies to when you’re changing lanes – allow for extra time by putting your signal on a couple of seconds earlier.
In addition to increasing your distance, there are other tips to avoid icy pitfalls. These are to never use your cruise control, avoid speeding up or stopping on a hill, and avoid accelerating when coming up to a turn. Cruise control is meant for iceless conditions only. This is because your car cannot read the roads like you can. When cruise control is activated, it doesn’t maintain a perfect speed but rather slows and accelerates to maintain an average speed. If your car accelerates at the wrong time, like when on a hill or curve, you could easily spin out. By knowing your braking system and how it reacts to ice, you will be able to react in time to prevent this. Instead of speeding up on a hill, lightly speed up as you approach the hill and then maintain a speed when on it. Avoid stopping as your vehicle has the potential to slide backwards. Slow down when you come to a curve, maintain a speed, and proceed with caution.
Science is pretty neat and fog is no exception. The air all around us contains water in the form of a gas (moisture). Sometimes, the moisture can be released from the air and condense on items. What is needed for this to happen is a very specific temperature, a temperature known as the dew point. When the dew point for the amount of moisture in the air is reached, the moisture condenses – and condenses on anything! The mirror in your bathroom after a hot shower, grassy slopes or your front garden, and even particles in the air (clouds). It’s a wondrous thing!
But in winter conditions, when it’s fog inside your car that makes hazardous driving more hazardous, science can be dangerous. What has happened here is that humid air inside your car (likely from your erratic panting resulting from the disbelief of living in such a place) has come in contact with the cold windows, forming condensate on the glass. How to fix this? You have to remove one of the two conditions. You can reduce the amount of water in the air or heat up your windows. To reduce the moisture, turn on your climate control system (air flow). The dry air from outside will replace the moist air inside, even if doors and windows are closed. Secret vents within your car allow for this. When your climate control system eventually warms up, it will also produce warm air to warm the windows, working doubly in its efforts to keep you safe!
Even for short trips, it’s always advisable to pack extra warm blankets, a first aid kit, a glass scraper, a flashlight, and a cell phone charger. You may also want to heed the advice of many and never travel on less than half a tank of gas. Having extra gas will allow you to run your car for short periods of time to keep you and your family warm while help is on the way. You can also charge your phone to contact emergency services for help. If you don’t have a phone, I’ve also been told that an old deactivated cellphone still has access to 911.
If you do get stuck in the snow, it’s important to remember these three things: stay with your vehicle, make yourself visible, and clear your exhaust pipe. Don’t ever venture away from your vehicle, it is your only source of protection in very cold conditions and it’s easier for emergency services to spot a vehicle than a person. Make the vehicle very visible by tying brightly coloured objects to the antenna. Lastly, and certainly most importantly, clear your exhaust pipe if it too got covered in snow. Deadly carbon monoxide can build up in the cab of the vehicle if the exhaust pipe is not clear.
In conclusion, I do hope this information will help you and your family reduce winter driving risks and prevent serious occurrences. For more solutions to winter driving challenges, check out the Government of Alberta website on winter driving guidance here.
Please be safe and stay warm out there!