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Winter driving safety tips you need to know

Anyone who’s ever spent a winter in Canada knows how daunting winter driving can be – especially if the roads are covered in snow, ice, or slush. While there’s no way to stop the Canadian winters from coming, there are some winter driving safety tips you can follow to keep you, your vehicle, and your passengers safe this winter. After all, it’s better to prevent an accident than to recover from one.

Install winter tires
Winter tires are well worth the investment. Install four matching winter tires before winter strikes, and the temperature drops below 7°C. Colder than that, and your all-season tires become stiff. Winter tires’ tread compound is engineered to give drivers a better grip on icy roads in sub-zero temperatures. They improve vehicle handling in dangerous road conditions and reduce your braking distance by as much as 25 percent1. You may also qualify for a discount on your insurance if you use winter tires. Check with your insurance broker about any auto safety rebates you could be entitled to.

Pack an emergency kit
Collisions and other emergencies are more likely to occur in the winter due to poor visibility and hazardous road conditions. It’s essential to be prepared in the case of a roadside emergency, especially during times of extreme weather and low temperatures.

The Government of Canada advises that you keep the following items in your vehicle2:

  • Road maps

  • Ice scraper and snow brush

  • Flashlight

  • First aid kit

  • Blanket

It’s also recommended that you keep the following items in your trunk2:

  • Small shovel with a long handle

  • Sand or kitty litter

  • Traction mats

  • Cloth or roll of paper towels

  • Warning lights, reflective safety triangles or road flares

  • Extra socks, gloves, and footwear

  • Emergency food pack (non-perishable, e.g. energy bars)

  • Water bottles

  • Booster cables

  • Hand and foot warmers

  • Fire extinguisher

  • Extra windshield washer fluid

  • Fuel line antifreeze

  • Extra fuses

  • Lock de-icer

  • Small tool kit with a screwdriver, pliers, etc.

Clear snow and ice
Ensure you remove all snow and ice from your vehicle’s hood, roof, windows, lights, and licence plate. Your path from the driveway to the road should also be cleared. Check that no snowbanks are blocking your view of oncoming traffic and pedestrians, and allow all windows to defrost so you have complete visibility before leaving home.

Inspect your vehicle
Did you know that tire pressure decreases in the cold? You should always check your tires outside in the cold rather than in a warm garage so that they are adequately inflated for when you leave. Check the pressure often, especially before highway driving or long trips. Properly inflated, high-quality tires will give you the best traction on slippery roads and increase fuel efficiency. Before driving off, examine your lights, brakes, exhaust system, heating and cooling, and windshield wipers.

Watch the weather
If you must drive, tune in to your local weather reports before you leave home. Environment Canada publishes warnings when they expect blizzards, heavy snow, freezing rain or drizzle, cold snaps, and winds. Give yourself extra time for travel and wait for conditions to improve if the weather is terrible. Always tell someone where you're going, your route, and your expected arrival time. If you don't show up on time and people are worried about your safety, they'll know where to search for you.

Take your time and be cautious
Give yourself ample time for travel to slow down and adjust your speed to the road and weather conditions. Be careful when braking, changing lanes, making turns, and taking curves. Even the most experienced drivers can skid, so be prepared – focus on steering with the brake pedal applied hard. Refrain from using cruise control or other driver assistance technologies during the winter months, as they may accelerate your car when the tires have lost traction, causing you to lose control. Keep your vehicle’s headlights on – even in the daytime – to maximize your visibility. Follow the vehicle in front of you at a safe distance (the three-second rule is good) and stay at least 200 feet behind if it's a snowplow. Avoid the urge to pass a snowplow – they have large blind spots and create snow clouds that can conceal other vehicles or hazards on the road.

Review your insurance policy
Take some time at the beginning of each winter season to review your auto insurance policy. What if your car is left out during a sudden ice storm and sustains physical damage? Knowing what you’re covered for before extreme weather hits is essential. This way, you can drive with peace of mind that you’re protected and won’t be left with unforeseen seasonal driving expenses.

If you have questions about your existing auto insurance policy, call 1-833-494-0089 to speak with an OTIP broker. If you are shopping for auto insurance, call 1-833-615-9326 to get a free quote.

  1. CBC Toronto

  2. Government of Canada

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