Tips for driving in extreme winter weather

It pays to know what kind of weather is coming and prepare in advance

Published: March 10, 2017, 10:00 PM
Updated: November 30, 2021, 11:58 AM

Winter driving

Freezing rain, snow, and blizzard-like conditions are among the most challenging of all driving environments. Before setting out on the road, it makes sense to keep a close check on the weather forecasts and plan your driving to avoid the worst conditions if it's possible to do so.

When the weather is extreme, you're well advised to stay off the roads if you don't absolutely have to drive. Or perhaps you can travel earlier or later to avoid the most severe conditions.

Sometimes you don't have that choice, but there are still things you can do to help ensure that you get to your destination safely.

    • Keep at least half a tank of fuel in your vehicle at all times so you'll have enough to keep the engine running if you get delayed or stranded. And carry a cell phone so you can call for help if you need it.
    • Be sure you've got a robust snow brush and scraper in the vehicle and easily accessible and that you have clothing suitable for spending time outside in whatever conditions you might encounter.
    • Before starting out, take the time to clear snow and ice from all windows and brush snow from the whole vehicle so it doesn't blow onto your windshield, the windshields of other drivers, or the air intake for your heating system (which can cause frost buildup on the inside of your windshield). Make sure your mirrors and lights are clean.
    • Make sure the windows are fully defrosted and that you have clear visibility before starting out.
    • Turn your headlights and taillights on. Daytime Running Lights, which have been mandatory equipment on new vehicles sold in Canada since 1990, may not be bright enough to ensure that you can be seen, nor do they necessarily turn on the tail lights.
    • Leave additional space between your vehicle and those around you to allow additional time and distance to take evasive action in slippery conditions.
    • Look far ahead in traffic and pay attention to the actions of other drivers, which can alert you to problems and give you extra time to respond.
    • Keep your accelerating, braking and steering actions smooth to avoid losing traction. And don't use cruise control in potentially slippery conditions.
    • If possible, don't drive directly in front of a heavy truck, as it will take much further to stop in the event of an emergency.
    • In the event that you should become stranded, in spite of those best efforts, it is usually best to stay with the vehicle and call for help, unless it's in a highly dangerous position.