We Teach Driving Like Your Life Depends On It

Tips for driving in nasty winter weather

By Steve Wallace
Times Colonist, February 15th 2019

Winter weather brings unique challenges to drivers. If your vehicle isn’t properly prepared, don’t drive, Steve Wallace writes.


The polar vortex is in full play this winter season.
Whatever happened to this kind of weather pattern being described as cold and snowy?
No matter what you want to call it, it makes driving much more difficult.

The first rule is courtesy.
If your vehicle is not properly equipped, don’t drive.
All you’ll be doing is holding up others who have taken the time and effort to be prepared.

If you have no experience in winter conditions, make other travel arrangements.
The heater fan should be in the defrost and foot position. Let the vehicle warm up for a very short time.
There is no need to labour the point, particularly with newer vehicle technology allowing a smaller initial radiator reservoir fluid circulation.

The vehicle will warm up more quickly if driven in moderately cold weather.
In extremely cold weather, working vehicles are seldom turned off overnight.
Block heaters are standard equipment for most passenger vehicles operating in extreme conditions.

Make sure to clear all windows and brush snow off the entire vehicle before driving.
Clean the wipers and light up for travel. If the vehicle is parked outside overnight, it’s a good idea not to engage the parking brake, as it might freeze due to moisture accumulation.
Newer vehicles seem to be free of this kind of paralysis.
All-season tires perform well at temperatures above -10C.

The all-weather options are good substitutes for winter tires, but in my experience, they wear out much sooner than winter tires.
It’s a good idea to have winter tires on all four wheels.
Putting them only on the drive wheels might cause handling problems when you have to avoid a hazard.
Braking distance increases by three times on snow and 10 times on glare ice.

Most drivers do not steer to avoid a crash.
They apply the brakes in a panic move that only makes them more likely to lose control, resulting in a crash.
In winter, it’s best to drive with an escape space in mind.
Knowing where to steer and preparing for it by having a paved shoulder or parallel lane-escape space adjacent to your travel path is paramount to safe driving, especially in winter, when stopping is not an option.
Smooth motions are always the order of the day, but especially in winter conditions.

With smooth braking and acceleration, you will maintain better control of your vehicle and give others a chance to react to any lane changes or turning manoeuvres.
Make all gentle turns into curves closer to the right side of the lane.
That will create more space between your vehicle and those approaching, especially on two-lane roads.

If you lose traction on a right curve, you will appreciate the additional space. The same goes for left curves, since oncoming traffic will have more space to handle the same kind of skid potential.
There are some not-so-obvious things rookie winter drivers can do.
Follow drivers who are the Canadian version of prairie snowbirds — living on the Island parttime to avoid a northern winter. Seek out Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba licence plates and let them lead the way.

If they made it here in one piece, in winter, they must be doing something right. Or better still, get behind a trucker, preferably with dual-wheel traction, and be a follower rather than a leader.

Stay safe and be mindful of the day-thaw and night-freeze weather cycle that is upon us.





© 2023 Joan Wallace Driving School. All Rights Reserved.