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Battling other drivers on the highway and city streets is stressful year-round, but in the winter you have new opponents: snow, ice and sub-zero temperatures. Here's your guide to staying safe on the road.

1. Dress appropriately

You've warmed up your car, brushed off snow and ice and you're inside. The next step? Strip down, says Ian Law, president and chief instructor at ILR Car Control School, who teaches a winter driving course in Minden, Ont.

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It's much safer to just wear a sweater when driving than to operate your vehicle with a down-filled parka on, he says.

"[A jacket]will restrict their arm movements and lead to fatigue," he explains. "It'll make the seatbelt fit improperly."

And any kind of hood will cut off your peripheral vision.

Woollen mittens will slip on the steering wheel, so choose leather driving gloves instead. And, most important of all, Mr. Law suggests you slip on a pair of thin-soled shoes. "A big part of the communication between driver and car is through the pedals."

A clunky pair of Sorels might lead to pressing down on your brake and gas pedals at the same time, he says.



Your winter driving questions answered

Annette Kukemuelle of Accent Driving Training in Bowmanville, Ont., answered your questions on winter driving questions Tuesday January 11

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2. Fill up windshield fluid and gas

Jim Haskins, the executive vice-president of claims at insurance provider Aviva Canada Inc., notes that customer claims jump by an average of 38 per cent during the winter months, due mostly to fender benders and driving into a ditch. A major cause is poor visibility, he says.

"Make sure that [your]windshield-washer fluid is always full, because visibility is the No. 1 risk during inclement weather."

Another reservoir to watch? Your gas tank.

"Never go anywhere with less than half a tank of gas," he says. "If you end up on a road that's closed or end up in a ditch, you'll have enough fuel to keep you warm."

3. Switch to winter tires

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Most Canadians enjoyed an unusually balmy November and December, but you can no longer delay outfitting your vehicle with winter tires.

All-season tires lose their grip as soon as the temperature drops, Mr. Law says, which leaves you with less control on icy and slush-covered roads.

It's one of the top recommendations Mr. Haskins has for drivers, because the tires "increase braking ability by more than one-third over conventional tires."

4. Know where to look

One of the first lessons Mr. Law hammers into his winter driving students is to know where to focus their eyes.

"You do not look at the ditch, you do not look at the snow bank, you do not look at the spinning cars ahead of you. You have to look to your escape route and what's ahead of you," he says.

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Mr. Law focuses on how much spray is coming off of the cars ahead of him; slush means the roads have been salted and are wet, while no spray means the roads are ice-coated - a cue to reduce speed.

In many cases, he recommends driving on the snowy parts of the road rather than where the tire tracks are because they are less icy, which means more traction.

5. Pack an emergency kit

In case you do end up stranded, Mr. Haskins recommends packing an emergency kit. Include a flashlight with an extra set of batteries, a snow shovel, extra windshield-washer fluid and anti-freeze, booster cables, hazard flares, a warm blanket and nutrition bars.

If you can't be bothered to assemble one on your own, you can pick up a pre-packaged kit at a variety of retailers.

"Especially if you get outside of the city, you don't know how long you'll be stranded," he says. "Put it in the trunk and it's there when you need it."

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And don't do this ... brake at the last minute before an intersection. If you have anti-lock brakes, you might not stop in time.

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