Driving with Jens: Preparing yourself and your vehicle for winter driving

Getting yourself and your vehicle ready for what’s coming

Winter driving conditions have already begun and we will soon see snow. It’s important to be ready both in terms of your vehicle and your driving behaviours. Let’s revisit some tips to help with this.

Preparing yourself

Road conditions are much worse in the winter and so you need to adapt your driving habits. If you are new to winter driving and you follow the following steps it will help keep you and your passengers safe and crash-free during the winter season. If you are an experienced winter driver these will just be reminders.

Before you depart, make sure that your mirrors, all windows, the hood and top of your vehicle, are free of snow and ice. This will ensure you have proper visibility and keep snow from blowing across your windshield.

Drive smoothly and slow. Know in advance that it is going to take longer to get where you are going. Leave a little earlier and avoid having to be stressed out and rushing. Speed is still the main cause of crashes in the winter.

Avoid quick acceleration and stops. They can cause you to loss control and then trouble starts. Slow and steady wins the race in winter driving.

Don’t make any abrupt turns or stops when driving. Doing so will often cause your vehicle to lose control and skid. If you do start skidding, you actually need to go against all your natural instincts and turn into the skid. Doing this transfers your vehicle’s weight from the front to the rear and often helps vehicles to regain control.

You could practice braking and handling skids in a large open area like an empty parking lot to get a feel for your vehicle and how it reacts to braking and skidding.

Don’t tailgate other drivers. In the summer the rule is follow three to four seconds behind other drivers. In the winter, on snowy roads, this needs to be increased to about 10 seconds. Stopping takes much longer so you want to be sure you have enough room between you and the car in front of you to stop safely.

You want to brake gently before making turns to reduce your speed before entering the turn. Only after you have rounded the corner should you begin to gently accelerate again.

While driving up hills, always continue until you reach the top if it’s safe to do so. Stopping in the middle of a slippery hill can be disastrous if you start to slide backwards and can’t stop your vehicle.

Never use cruise control during winter driving for the same reason you don’t use it on wet slippery roads. If your car hydroplanes it will try to accelerate and cause you to loss control.

Do not “pump” your brakes. Unless you have an older vehicle it will be equipped with an anti-lock braking system (ABS). Applying a constant slow pressure will allow the system to do the job much safer.

Pay extra attention to the road. Distracted driving is dangerous during perfect road conditions. During the winter, on snowy, slippery roads, it gets even worse. Driving 10 seconds behind the vehicle in front of you offers no benefit if you don’t have your eyes on the road and only recognize an issue two seconds before it happens.

Preparing your vehicle

Make sure that your vehicle is winter ready. Have it serviced. Have your snow tires on and in a safe condition. Top up your windshield washer anti-freeze and have an extra supply in your vehicle.

Make sure you have warm clothes and footwear in your vehicle in case of breakdown in a remote spot. A shovel and some sand or salt may be a life saver if you were to get stuck outside of cell range. Snow brush and ice scrapper, jumper cables, emergency kit, and maybe some food are all good ideas.

Always make sure that your gas tank is at least half full during the winter months. This will help prevent gas line freeze up. You may also want to consider gas line anti-freeze if you’re concerned about it.

Be sure that your lights are on even during the day during winter driving. This will help ensure other drivers can see you and you can see them.

My last point would be to please have patience and empathy with other drivers. If another vehicle is creeping along slow and holding up traffic, understand that the person driving is likely scared and trying to drive safe. They need your acceptance and patience not your horn. Driving erratically to get around them only agitates them further and can lead them to drive unexpectedly.

Being properly prepared, driving defensively, and respecting your fellow drivers should allow you to enjoy a safe and crash-free winter.

Catch Driving, with Jens on CHON FM Thursdays at 8:15. If you have any questions or comments you can reach out to Jens Nielsen at drivingwithjens@gmail.com, Facebook or Twitter: @drivingwithjens.

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