Driving tips for the first snowfall of the season

Here are some driving tips on how to deal with that first snowfall and all those that will follow

Published: November 22, 2020, 2:25 AM
Updated: November 24, 2021, 8:56 PM

Driving in snow - Be prepared for the first snowfall of winter.

The first snowfall of the season has already arrived in much of Canada and if you haven't experienced it yet, you won't have to wait long. Like death and taxes, it’s inevitable! Also inevitably, it seems, when it comes most of the drivers on the road will behave as if they have never seen the stuff before and have no concept of how to handle it, even though they were driving in it routinely just a few months ago.

Here are some tips to help keep you from being among that number.

Make no sudden movements

Most of us can recall slipping on ice or snow while walking and we have learned to do so cautiously. We place each foot carefully on the ground and transfer weight from one foot to the other carefully and smoothly.

Our walking brain remembers that sudden movements can result in nasty and painful results. Our driving brain needs to do the same.

Adapt to reduced grip

Instinctively, many of us will walk very carefully to our vehicles on the first slippery morning of the season, then drive off seemingly oblivious to the fact the four “shoes” on our vehicles don't have as much grip as they did the day before.

Those tire footprints, the only points where the vehicle touches the road, serve the same function as the footwear at the end of our legs. All the control we have over your vehicle depends on the grip you between those footprints and the road – a point it's good to keep in mind as we adapt to the change of seasons.

Have the right tires

A vehicle that is shod with summer or badly-worn tires, is the equivalent of wearing a leather-soled dress shoes in snow or on ice.

Good quality all-season tires with plenty of tread depth might be more like a pair of all-purpose, high-top walking shoes – not perfect for the job, but acceptable as long as it the conditions aren't too extreme.

But a set of proper winter tires – on all four wheels – are the right “boots” for the season ahead. Even then, they don't provide as much grip as we've grown accustomed to having on warm dry roads.

Recognize the signs and drive appropriately

Whether we're talking about a human body or a vehicle, how it starts, stops and turns on a slippery surface is dependent on the available grip. But in both cases it's the relationship between the human brain and that grip that is the key factor in coping with the conditions. 

When we're walking, failure to recognize the signs of reduced grip and to act appropriately may mean we are quickly, and often painfully, deposited on our butts.

Similarly, when we are at the steering wheel and fail to recognize those ambient conditions, there's a good chance we'll slide off the road or into another vehicle or object.

Don't rely on all-wheel-drive

Having all- or four-wheel-drive may help us accelerate in slippery conditions, because it spreads the driving forces over four footprints instead of two. But when it comes time to turn or stop it offers no advantage whatsoever.

We still have just the same two footprints trying to steer the vehicle and four trying to slow it down, just as with a twopwheel-drive vehicle. Which just might explain why there always seem to be a disproportionate number of SUVs, CUVs and other AWD vehicles in the ditch or on the divider that first slippery morning.

Watch the temperature

Let’s not forget that the temperature only has to change one degree – one tiny little degree – to go from wet to ice; from damp to slippery.

Pay attention to all those factors and you'll substantially improve your chances of coping safely with the season's first snowfall – and those that will inevitably follow.