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Driving in snow: The good, the bad, the ugly

'There were collisions every two minutes," the OPP announced during Southern Ontario's first major blast of winter. Every two minutes. This is Canada; this is winter; what the heck is wrong with our drivers?

Tim Danter, an instructor with Drivewise in Oakville, Ont., shakes his head. "The cars are safer and safer; we have great roads; and yet still the crash rates in a storm come down to the same thing: attitude."

He notes a lack of education in car control and some sorely missing common sense. "We aren't testing in adverse conditions. Drivers need more prep, yet many receive their licence getting little or none." He's right; the Ontario government website lists freezing rain and snow as reasons you may cancel your test.

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So who was represented on the roads during this storm?

The Good

There are some great drivers because they know better. They're at home, watching news reports and while wondering if it's a case of a forecaster crying wolf, they're glancing at their schedule and removing anything that doesn't involve delivering meals to shut-ins or performing a life-saving transplant. The Good stay home. The chances of being involved in a collision are greatly reduced if you don't leave your driveway.

The Bad

This crew doesn't know any better. Perhaps they are technologically impaired and have managed to ignore all warnings of impending snow. Maybe they look out the window, finally, and wonder where their snowbrush is. Once on the road, they realize this might take more effort than first imagined. This is when The Bad really get going, though, unfortunately, it is not to turn around and go back home. No, they will try to make up for lost time and speed up when they see the asphalt, then nervously plug their brakes when they see a car ahead stopping. They will not realize that the car behind them won't even get that much warning. The Bad couldn't find their snowbrush and are sailing down the road in a shroud of snow, muffin on top, lights buried in drifts, windshield cleared in two arcs where the wipers struggle to do a job they were not intended for.

The Ugly

Worse than bad, The Uglies know better. They see forecasts of impending treachery as challenges, not warnings. There is no errand too trivial, no belief that any road condition is beyond their capability. Winter tires are for wusses and AWD is short for "tank." On the day following the storm, I watched car after car spin off the road, a road that had been cleared, had light traffic and good visibility. How have they missed the simple words of police, first responders, driving instructors and mothers everywhere? Slow down. That's it. The big secret. Slow down.

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The Mind-boggling

One car still on the road, somehow, in the storm's aftermath was parting cars like the Red Sea. I saw the mattress first, in my rear-view mirror. It was standing tall like a sail, the car it was strapped to chugging along in the middle lane. In awe, I watched it come abreast of my vehicle, a bicycle strapped to a mattress strapped to the roof of the small wagon. With every gust of wind, the mattress flew upwards. With every passing moment, more and more cars got out of the way. Sometimes you encounter hazards; sometimes you are the hazard. Sometimes you really need to thank the cars around you for saving you from yourself.

We can add the terrified to the oblivious. If you're driving in the passing lane at 20 km/h with your hazards on, you need to go home. Instead, you were on the QEW the day of the storm. OPP Sergeant Pierre Chamberland notes that your hazards are for use by the side of the road. They're not to give yourself an imagined rolling buffer. He also wishes people would put on their full head-lighting system.

"It's aggressive driving and improper tires," says Chamberland. "People say they lost control, but don't take into account their role in that. Cutting lanes, following too closely, not paying attention."

I ask Chamberland if the people he comes across are ever surprised to find themselves in the ditch. "Oh, they're always surprised. Always. It was never going to be them. Ever."

No surprise there.

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