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Winter driving: improve skills, ease anxiety

For Canadians, winter driving anxiety is more normal than you might think: according to Driving.ca. 44 percent of survey respondents admitted to “feeling nervous or anxious when driving in colder conditions.” In BC, the number of car accidents increases during the winter months, and our weather doesn’t help matters: rain, fog, ice, and snow all add to the challenge of driving during inclement weather.

With many snowbirds staying home this winter, there will potentially be more anxious drivers on the roads. We are also seeing more “gig drivers” behind the wheel than we’ve ever seen before since Uber and Lyft launched locally less than a year ago. And thanks to Covid-19, legions of delivery app drivers have also taken to the streets.

Fortunately, there are some useful tips available to help ease anxiety, and boost confidence for all drivers, either uncomfortable and/or unfamiliar with driving during inclement weather. A little preparation, information gathering, and improved skills go a long way for safe winter driving.

Preparedness: Tires and top-ups

As of October 1st, 2020, winter tires/carrying chains are now mandatory on BC highways between October 1st and April 30th for vehicles under 11,794 kg; this includes local highways like the Sea to Sky Highway, the Malahat Highway, Highway 4, Highway 14, and Highway 28. For BC’s south coast, our winters seem to get colder every year making all-season tires not as desirable, especially in temperatures below 7 Celsius when they become less accommodating to winter road conditions. Winter tires have deeper treads and provide much better traction in the snow. Four, good winter tires aren’t the only confidence booster for BC drivers. Giving your vehicle a winter check-up is also a boost: fluids top-up, oil change, winter wiper blades, fluid leak check, and packing a winter roadside emergency kit will prepare you and your vehicle for inclement weather.

Increase visibility

During snow conditions, remember to clear the snow (including windows, the roof, lights, signal lights) from your vehicle before setting out. When you have maximum visibility, you have more control while driving. Snow-free front and rear lights make your vehicle more visible to other drivers, too. Remember, the police will flag down and ticket a vehicle with a windshield partially covered in snow.

Know before you go

Check the weather forecast first so you’ll know what you might be in for. The Weather Network’s website and app offer hour by hour weather conditions for all local areas. For road conditions and route planning, visit drivebc.ca. Once you have the forecast down, plan your route accordingly. Avoiding hilly areas in snowy and/or icy conditions will help calm your nerves. Understand the terrain along the route you will be traveling. Popularmechanics.com offers a really good tip for where to anticipate ice on the roads; driving on roads next to mountains or tall sections of trees usually means shade; and where’s there’s shade on the road, you can expect icy or slick pavement. Slow down and drive with caution in these areas.

Knock you winter driving skills up a notch

Even professional drivers share driving tips for inclement weather that any driver can use in order to decrease anxiety and increase skill.

Get a better feel for the road conditions and how your vehicle will react; while driving, gently apply the brakes, or try a little acceleration, then adjust to a speed that will better manage the road conditions. When the outside temperature rises, traction on ice and snow reduces.

Always brake before going into a curve for better control over the vehicle’s power, steering, and speed. What you want is a smooth turn into the curve with consistent speed, especially if an unseen hazard lies ahead around the bend. If you need to slow down or stop, carefully pump the brakes.

Be comfortable with pumping your brakes when having to stop on icy, slippery roads. Pumping the brakes provide short intervals of braking and rolling, allowing you to maintain steering while coming to a stop. Pumping the breaks will keep your wheels from locking.

If your vehicle is skidding, ease off the brake or accelerator while smoothly steering in the direction you want to go, without over-steering. For skidding on ice, shift to neutral or, if you have a clutch, step on it.

Be extra cautious on approach to any intersections, particularly after a heavy snowfall; large snow banks will limit visibility.

Reliance Insurance sponsors fleet clients a defensive driving course. This can be very beneficial to learn driving skills on a safe track. It allows drivers to safely test their skill sets.

Driving on flooded roads

There are a few things to keep in mind regarding flooded roads:

  • A standard car is capable of driving through a maximum of ten centimetres of water.
  • At 15 centimetres, water will be at the bottom of most cars, which may cause it to stall and you could lose control.
  • Water will do serious damage to your car: electrical components are installed in a variety of places in the lower portion of newer vehicles.
  • At 30 centimetres (one foot), water will float many vehicles. Floodwater is both unpredictable and capable of washing out bridges, roads, and taking you and your vehicle along with it.

With that said, ICBC recommends stopping and turning around as soon as you find yourself approaching a flooded road. If you are not able to retreat, and conditions appear dangerous, abandon your vehicle, and quickly get to higher ground. However, if you have decided to forge ahead, remember:

  • There might be perils under the water: potholes, tree branches, downed power lines.
  • Estimate the depth of the water and anticipate damaging under-water obstacles.
  • Watch any other vehicles attempting to navigate these conditions first before proceeding.
  • Proceed at about ten km/per hour. At this speed, you won’t create waves that will interfere with other drivers, and you’ll help keep your tires remain in contact with the road.
  • If your tires lose contact, don’t brake, take your foot off the accelerator, and keep steering straight until traction returns.

Slow down

Did you know that speed limits are based on ideal conditions for driving? One of the most important winter driving tips is simply slowing down. It is safer to drive below the posted speed limit, especially during inclement weather. All too often, serious and fatal car crashes can be attributed to driving too fast for the conditions of the road. Also, remember to keep a safe distance back from the vehicle in front of yours at all times; it takes longer to stop on slippery pavement.

Driving during inclement weather requires our undivided attention. That, along with a winter-ready car, a well-planned route, and improved driving skills, you’ll quell that winter driving anxiety in no time.

Resources:

Reliance Insurance: Tips for driving and electric car in winter
ICBC: Driving on flooded roads
Driving.ca: Almost half of Canadians feel anxious about winter driving
Daily Hive: Winter tire regulations
Shift into Winter: Winter driving can be dangerous
The Weather Network
Drivebc.ca
Easy ways to be a better winter driver
Winter tips from the pro drivers
Popular Mechanics winter driving hacks

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