Tips for driving in severe winter conditions

It pays to prepare in advance for the worst the worst conditions you may encounter

Published: January 29, 2019, 9:25 PM
Updated: November 25, 2021, 10:06 AM

Winter driving

Extreme cold, wind and snow can combine to create blizzard-like conditions that are some of the most challenging of all driving environments. Before starting off, whether on a long trip or a short commute, it makes sense to check on the weather forecasts and plan your drive to avoid the worst conditions if possible.

When the weather is severe, it’s best to stay off the roads altogether if you don't have to drive. Take alternative transportation if available or reschedule your travel for an earlier or later time when conditions are better, if possible.

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

  • Make sure your cell phone is fully charged and carry it with you so you can call for help if you need it.
  • Keep your fuel tank at least half full at all times so you keep the engine running if you get delayed or stranded.

  • Be sure you have a sturdy snow brush and scraper in the vehicle and easily accessible, as well as a safety kit and a portable shovel.
  • Always carry clothing suitable for spending time outside in whatever conditions you might encounter, even if you don’t wear it in the vehicle.

  • Before starting out, take 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 and the windows are fully defrosted so you have clear visibility before starting out.

  • Always turn your headlights and taillights on. Daytime Running Lights, which are mandatory on new vehicles sold in Canada, may not be bright enough to ensure that you can be seen. And, they don’t necessarily turn on the tail lights!
  • Once on the road, leave additional space between your vehicle and those around you so you have extra 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.

  • Focus on being smooth when accelerating, braking and steering, to avoid losing traction. And never use cruise control in potentially slippery conditions.
  • Try not to drive directly in front of a heavy truck, as it will take the truck much further to stop in the event of an emergency.

  • If 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.

Safe driving!