Every winter, I’m gobsmacked at how many people don’t seem to know how to drive on ice and snow. It’s not like winter is new. If you live here, you should know how to drive this time of year. – Sandra, Red Deer, Alta.
If you think nobody else knows how to drive in the winter, you’re not alone.
“We did a survey and just 19 per cent of people feel confident in other people’s winter driving,” says Ryan Lemont, manager of driver education for the Alberta Motor Association (AMA). “Yet 92 per cent of them had confidence in their own driving, so their mindset is: it’s not me, it’s you.”
But if you think you’re a great winter driver and everyone else is the problem, you’re probably on thin ice.
“When it comes to driving, you don’t want your confidence to outpace your speed or skill,” Lemont says.
If you’re a little blurry on how to drive when there are flurries, Lemont shared a few winter driving tips:
Even if you have winter tires – and you should, Lemont says – you should be driving below the speed limit.
“The posted speed limits are for the maximum speed you can you go under ideal conditions,” Lemont says. “Even if the roads are cleared, the ground is -15C, so you’re still going to have reduced traction, even with winter tires.”
Winter tires improve traction and decrease stopping distance, but “you still will not stick to the ground the same way you would if you were driving with all-seasons in the summer.”
And you need to slow down even if you have all-wheel drive (AWD).
“With AWD, you’ll get going a little faster, but you don’t stop any quicker or maintain control any better,” Lemont says. In fact, cars with AWD tend to be heavier and might actually take longer to stop than FWD versions.
Give other drivers space
In summer weather, you should be keeping at least three seconds between your car and the car in front of you. In winter, you should have even more room.
“Once the car in front of you has passed a fixed object, you start counting: one one thousand, two one thousand,” Lemont says. “In winter, you might want to increase that to four seconds or even up to six.”
Don’t slam on the brakes
You’ll actually stop sooner if you apply firm, steady pressure, Lemont says.
“Push to the point right before the ABS kicks in and, if you don’t have ABS, right before the wheels lock up,” Lemont says. “That’s been shown to have the shortest stopping distance.
If you start sliding, don’t panic
If you start losing control, take your foot off the gas and turn into the direction that you’re skidding, Lemont says. Once you stop sliding, try to turn into the direction you want to be in.
“Look in the direction you want to go,” Lemont says. “Where ever you’re looking, that ’s where the car will go.”
Be able to see (and be seen)
You’ve probably seen – or, actually, not seen – drivers who hit the road with windows covered in snow and frost.
“You need to see when you’re driving – clear the snow and scrape off the frost,” Lemont says. “You also have to turn on your lights – days are getting shorter, you want to be able to see and you want other drivers to see you.”
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