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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 that you can follow before leaving home and while on the road to keep you, your vehicle and your passengers safe this winter.

Winter Driving Safety Tips: Before Leaving Home

Install winter tires

Winter tires maintain their flexibility at sub-zero temperatures, unlike all-season tires that harden at 7°C, meaning winter tires will maintain the traction your vehicle needs to operate safely in extremely low temperatures. They also improve handling in dangerous winter road conditions and can shorten your braking distance by as much as 25 per cent.1

Having winter tires installed on your vehicle may also qualify you to receive a discount on your insurance. Check with your insurance broker about any auto safety rebates you may be entitled to.

Pack an emergency kit

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

Public Safety Canada advises that you keep the following safety and emergency equipment stored in your vehicle at all times:2

  • Non-perishable food items, such as energy bars
  • Water – plastic bottles that won’t break if the water freezes
  • Blanket
  • Extra clothing and shoes/boots
  • First aid kit with seatbelt cutter
  • Candle in a deep can and matches
  • Wind-up flashlight
  • Whistle – in case you need to attract attention
  • Roadmaps

It is also recommended that you keep the following items in your trunk:

  • Sand or salt, cat litter will also work
  • Antifreeze and windshield washer fluid
  • Tow rope
  • Jumper cables
  • Fire extinguisher
  • Warning light or road flares

Clear snow and ice

Ensure that you have cleared all snow and ice from your vehicle – including windows, mirrors and lights, as well as your vehicle’s license plates and roof. The path from your driveway to the road should also be cleared.

Make sure that there are no snow banks blocking your view of oncoming traffic and pedestrians, and that all windows have defrosted so you have full visibility before leaving home.

Inspect your vehicle

Did you know that cold weather can decrease tire pressure? Whether you’re about to commute into work, visit family and friends, or embark on a long-distance drive it’s important to inspect your vehicle before setting out. Check that your vehicle’s tire inflation level, fuel system, and brakes are all functioning at an optimal level before driving off.

Check driving conditions

 It’s essential to be prepared and to know what you’re getting into before heading out on a winter drive. Tune in to your local weather channel broadcast or website right before you leave to check for updated weather warnings, road conditions, traffic congestions and other possible delays. Make sure to give yourself plenty of time to arrive at your destination.

Review your insurance policy

You should take the time at the beginning of each winter season to assess and review your auto insurance policy. Do you have coverage if the cold weather causes your tire pressure to drop and you have to be towed to a mechanic? What about if your car is left out during a sudden ice storm and sustains physical damage?

It’s important to review your insurance policy ahead of time and know what you’re covered for before the extreme winter months approach. Then you can drive with the peace of mind that you and your vehicle are protected, and that you won’t be left with unexpected and unforeseen expenses caused by seasonal driving risks.

Winter Driving Safety Tips: On the Road


Take your time

Give yourself ample time to arrive at your destination so that you can slow your vehicle in accordance to road conditions. If you are driving on a street that the snowplows and salt trucks haven’t had the chance to attend to yet, you should drive as slow as possible until you reach an area where the road is clear.

If you find yourself stuck behind a snowplow or salt truck you should maintain a safe distance, as road service vehicle operators may not be able to see your vehicle and snowplows can create clouds of snow that will reduce your visibility.

Avoid the urge to pass road service vehicles. Though snowplows tend to travel at a maximum speed of 60 km/h, the road conditions ahead can be very severe and crossing over different snow levels can put you at risk.

Keep the lights on

Make sure to keep your vehicle’s headlights on to increase your visibility – even during the day.

Drive carefully and cautiously

Ensure that you are keeping a safe distance from other vehicles in order to reduce your risk for collisions.

It’s best practice to use a light foot to apply steady pressure to the gas pedal and to brake gently – this will help to prevent your car from slipping and sliding. Relying on the cruise control setting risks losing control of your vehicle in icy, wet or snowy conditions – meaning you should avoid using cruise control in the winter months altogether.

If you have any questions about your existing auto policy coverage, contact your local OTIP insurance broker at 1-888-892-4935.

  1. CBC Toronto
  2. Public Safety Canada
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