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Winter Vehicle Safety


Every year, there are consistently more than 100,000 vehicle collisions in Canada, resulting in millions of dollars in property damage and thousands of lost lives. It should not come as a surprise that a greater number of these collisions happen during the winter months. Drivers can help reduce vehicle accidents, and increase their own safety, by realizing that a little bit of caution can go a long way to preventing an accident.


  • Driving defensively, especially in winter conditions. Accidents increase in the winter, as driving conditions deteriorate; it is important to drive defensively and cautiously in these conditions. Extreme driving conditions demand increased driver concentration and preparation.
  • Scanning your surroundings. Walk around the vehicle before you start driving. When driving, do a complete check of your surroundings by scanning andusing mirrors.
    • Turning at Lights: Scanning an intersection is particularly important when turning at lights; ensure that your path to turn is clear before moving across oncoming traffic lanes. Count two seconds before proceeding into an intersection in case the ‘other driver’ does not stop. Look again, left, centre, right, then left again before proceeding. And speaking of lights, make it a habit to always use the full lighting system on your car, headlights and tail lights.
    • Backing Up: One of the most frequent accidents is backing into an object, such as a pole or fire hydrant. Using your rear view and side view mirrors can assist with checking your surroundings prior to backing up. If the surroundings are not familiar, you might want to walk around the vehicle once to see what obstructions exist. Prior to backing, look into the spot you will be entering. Make sure there are no objects which might cause you problems. Remember, it is far safer to first back into a parking position and then drive out when leaving it.
  • Respecting signage, yielding and stopping accordingly. A significant number of accidents occur when a driver fails to obey a stop sign or light, or fails to yield as shown on signage. Time is rarely saved, and safety is jeopardized, by not obeying signs. When roads are wet with snow or rain it can take you up to three times or more the distance to stop. Increase your stopping distance by reducing your speed and be prepared to stop earlier. Not obeying a stop sign or red light can cost you hundreds of dollars in fines and demerit points on your driving record.

Remember to always wear your seat belt! Drive like your life depends upon it!
These precautions are simple, but following them will assist in ensuring you get to your destination safely.

Incident Preparedness

  • Prepare for being stranded – have bag with two blankets, a wool hat, gloves, water bottle, cookies, band-aids, and paperback books.
  • Keep a flashlight in the vehicle with spare batteries.
  • Disposable film camera (no batteries required) or smartphone – to take pictures of collision, damage, etc. for insurance.
  • Limit cell phone use – conserve battery usage in case of delayed rescue.
  • Conserve fuel – leave engine off for one hour intervals and turn on for 15 minutes or less to get warm.
  • Folded card sheet and magic marker – for an emergency sign.
  • Typed list of contact numbers (to tape to dashboard) – in case of concussion.
  • Small shovel and strip of carpet – to dig away obstructions/improve traction out of small problems.


Snow causes reduced traction and limited visibility. Speed reduction and increasing the following distance are extremely important for both visibility and vehicle control purposes. Drivers should accelerate slowly when driving on snow covered roads (imagine you have an egg between your foot and the accelerator or brake and you are not allowed to break it). If the drive wheels spin, the driver should take his/her foot off the accelerator and apply minimum pressure on the pedal. This will help minimize the driver’s chances of skidding or losing control of the vehicle. Installing four good quality snow tires will aid in traction and braking. Consider mounting the snow tires on different rims to ease the changeover from your regular set.

Steering and braking should also be done carefully and smoothly to minimize skids. A driver should also allow for an increased stopping distance and avoid tailgating. Let the type of snow on the road (hard-packed, fresh, etc.) play a part in how you approach maneuvering your vehicle.

Limit the use of cruise control to times when visibility allows you to see the condition of the roadway well in advance. Remember that maintaining control is the key to safe winter driving! It’s best not to use cruise control when there’s any danger of ice on the road.


An icy road can be more dangerous than snow covered roads. All drivers need to watch for changes in a road surface that may affect traction. In cold weather, drivers need to be aware of black ice. What makes black ice dangerous is the fact that most drivers aren’t aware of it until it’s too late. Black ice forms when temperatures drop to around the freezing mark. Any moisture on the road freezes into a smooth, nearly invisible, slippery surface. Be especially cautious on bridges and overpasses as they are known to freeze before any other part of the roadway. On cold days when the road is wet, drivers should keep an eye on the spray thrown from other vehicles. If the spray suddenly stops, black ice may be forming. Studded tires or chains are allowed in some jurisdictions. Check with your local authorities if you can put them on your vehicle.

Driving conditions can deteriorate quickly in the winter due to snow and ice. Anticipate situations that may arise, such as a driver rear ending you. By leaving enough space between you and the vehicle in front, you will have more time to react and drive out of the situation.

Winter driving does not have to be stressful. Prepare yourself, and your vehicle properly, and you can enjoy all that the season has to offer.

Drive smart... drive safe!