13 tips for driving safely in winter whiteouts

Plan ahead and check weather forecasts before setting out on the road

Published: January 9, 2017, 8:25 AM
Updated: November 25, 2021, 10:06 AM

Winter driving - Winter driving

We've been lucky in 2020 in terms of snow in Canada, but we're starting to get into the coldest months. Which means it's just as important as ever to plan ahead and check weather forecasts before setting out on the road, especially on longer drives.

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Look for special notices and storm warnings that may include both snow and wind for the two together can compound an already treacherous situation. Blowing snow creates whiteouts that completely block the driver's view, just as effectively as fog.

Winter driving - Winter driving

If blowing snow conditions are forecast, it makes sense to delay the drive until conditions improve. If you absolutely have to go out when blowing snow is forecast, drive only as far as necessary and with extreme caution.

13 Winter Driving Tips for Dealing With Whiteouts

If you do have to drive or inadvertently find yourself caught in a whiteout here are some tips to help you get safely through the experience.

  1. Gradually slow down, bringing your speed down to what is suitable for the conditions. Not only will visibility be reduced, you will need more time and distance to stop or turn on the slippery roads.
  2. Be smooth. Make all inputs to steering and braking smooth and gentle to maximize the grip available from the four tire contact patches where your vehicle connects with the road. Sudden inputs will quickly overcome that grip and the subsequent loss of traction can result in a spin or slide.
  3. See and be seen. If you can’t see others they can’t see you. Make sure your headlights are on – probably best on low beams where there is less bounce-back from the ice particles in the air. If you have fog lights, try them to see if they improve the situation. They may not for many are more decorative than functional. If you are going slower than surrounding traffic, turn on your four-way flashers.
  4. Constantly check front and rear. Be aware of not only the vehicle in front but the one behind. Increase the distance to the vehicle in front as you will need more room to stop if it does. Maintain a safe distance from the vehicle in front and monitor the proximity of the one to your rear.
  5. Scan right. Continually scan the side of the road to your right, both to know where it is and to be aware of pedestrians or vehicles that have pulled off so you don't run into them.
  6. Keep windows clear. Switch to defrost – front and rear – and ensure the system is not set to recirculate, which will put more moisture in the vehicle causing the windows to fog up more and decreasing the amount of fresh oxygen in the air necessary to keep you alert.
  7. Set your own course. Don’t become hypnotized by the tail lights of the vehicle in front of you. If you Lock onto them, following that vehicle off the road or into trouble becomes a distinct possibility. Keep looking to the sides and ahead as far as possible.
  8. Anticipate. Watch closely for sudden changes in conditions, especially on bridge surfaces, overpasses and in wide-open areas where the wind is likely to be stronger.
  9. Be patient. Patience is a virtue in these circumstances. Avoid passing unless you have a clear road and a long unobstructed field of view. If crossing traffic, remember you will not be able to move quickly, so make sure you have sufficient time to complete the maneuver.
  10. Reduce or eliminate distractions. Your utmost attention is required, so turn off the audio system, put away that cup of coffee and ask passengers to keep their conversation to a minimum and not to expect you to reply.
  11. Breathe and blink. Take a deep breath occasionally and the extra oxygen you take in will sharpen your vision temporarily and help you relax. Blinking keeps the surface of the eye clean and lubricated and works the muscles of the eye
  12. Stop if conditions get too bad. Find a place to pull completely off safely and sit it out. Make sure you are well off the road.
  13. If you become stuck or stranded stay with the vehicle with the four-way flashers on, a window open slightly and the engine running occasionally.

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Winter driving - Winter driving

Driving in snowstorm

Winter driving - Winter driving