Road Safety

Winter Driving

Overview

Sometimes winter comes faster than we expect and we have a difficult time changing our driving habits to suit the conditions of snow and sleet. Imagine this: You are driving at 50 km/h. Suddenly, you see someone in front of you – a small child running across a crosswalk ... and you hit a patch of ice just before the intersection. Could you stop in time?

Inappropriate speed, reduced visibility, following too closely, sudden acceleration or braking, and poor vehicle maintenance can spell disaster. All are reasons why Manitobans report more crashes (67 per cent more) in winter months than in other months. About 45 per cent of annual reportable collisions and 43 per cent of injuries take place in the four months from November to February.

Top Ten Tips for Winter Driving

10. Avoid using cruise control. On wet and slippery roads, a skid while using cruise control will cause the vehicle to accelerate.

9. Stay sharp - be a defensive driver. Beware of icy spots – bridges, overpasses, just before intersections and shady spots. Watch for other drivers who may be sliding. Slow down near vehicles stopped by the side of the road.

8. Stay well back of snow plows. Never pass on the right.

7. Prepare for severe conditions. Check road and weather conditions. Avoid driving altogether in severe weather. Keep a cold-weather survival kit. Let friends/family know of your travel plans and estimated time of arrival. If stranded, call 911 and remain in the vehicle until help arrives. Turn on four-way flashers.

6. Learn how to recover from different types of skidding. In all cases, look in the direction where you want to go; take your foot off the gas and off the brake.

5. See and be seen. Before leaving, clear snow and ice off your vehicle and wait for foggy windows to clear up. Turn headlights on during heavy snow or sleet. On sunny days, use the visor and/or polarized sunglasses. Advance cautiously at snow banks.

4. Maintain your vehicle and switch to winter tires. Check the condition of your tires and windshield wipers for excessive wear. Get regular tune-ups, check your fluid levels.

3. Drive smoothly. Accelerate, brake and make turns gradually, gently. Brake sooner.

2. Keep plenty of following distance between you and the vehicle ahead. In ideal conditions, leave four seconds on city streets and six seconds on highways. In winter, leave considerably more.

1. When there’s ice or snow, drive well below the posted speed limit, which is for ideal conditions only. Give yourself extra time for your trip – leave earlier.

More information on winter driving

Speed and Slippery Roads

In winter, traction is reduced affecting your ability to get out of snow, make a turn or stop. As a general rule, stopping distance is doubled on wet pavement, tripled on packed snow, and up to 10 times longer on an icy road. Ice on roads at -1C is twice as slippery as ice at -18C.

Slowing down will maintain traction and decrease your total stopping distance. Posted speed limits are not a target; they are the maximum recommended speed for ideal conditions only. On ice or snow, drive to conditions – drive well below the speed limit.

Leave earlier. Avoid the temptation to drive too fast for conditions by giving yourself extra travel time.

Drive smoothly. Go very easy on the accelerator from a starting position to avoid slipping in the wrong direction, or spinning your tires and getting stuck. Brake gently to prevent loss of traction. When turning, steer the wheel just enough to follow the path you intend. Don’t brake and turn the wheel simultaneously – this can cause you to lose traction.

Brake sooner than you normally would to allow more space to stop. Risk of injury is high at intersections where ice tends to build up, and where there may be pedestrians or other vehicles sliding into your path.

Leave plenty of following distance between you and the vehicle in front. The recommended safe distance in ideal conditions is four seconds; on highways six seconds. In poor conditions, leave more time. See how to determine a safe following distance.

Know how to recover from a skid. If your wheels start to slide, look and steer in the direction you want to go. Take your foot off the accelerator and off the brake. Gently steer and counter-steer until your vehicle lines up with where you want to go. As you begin to regain control, gently apply the brakes (for rear wheel skid) or the accelerator (for front wheel skid).

Winter is no time to use cruise control. If your vehicle loses traction, cruise control will cause the wheels to rapidly spin and accelerate at the worst possible time.

Reduced Visibility

Visibility is greatly reduced in winter. Falling snow, white outs, exhaust from other vehicles, interior fog and snow banks all make it more difficult to scan the road and see everything around us.

Turn your headlights on to help others to see you better in poor conditions. On bright sunny days use your visor or polarized sunglasses to reduce glare.

Clear snow and ice off from your vehicle before you drive so you can see through your windshield, windows and mirrors. Make sure your light covers are clear, and remember to clear snow off the hood to prevent snow flying onto vehicles behind you. Kick snow off the bottom of your shoes before getting in so your foot won’t slip off the brake pedal when you need to stop, and to avoid interior condensation. Wait for foggy windows to clear up before you leave. Wear outer clothing that won’t obstruct your view.

Take your time around snow banks. Advance cautiously and lean forward to improve your view (‘creep and peep’). Expect the unexpected. Stay well behind snow plows, and never pass on the right – debris can easily crack your windshield. Slow down near vehicles stopped by the side of the road, and be extremely cautious around emergency vehicles.

Vehicle Maintenance

A vehicle that is not properly maintained can leave you stranded on the side of the road.

Keep your vehicle in good working condition. Follow the maintenance schedule in your owner manual. Get a winter tune-up. Check fluid levels, windshield wipers, battery.

Check the condition of your tires. (Check your spare tire too!) Tires that are too worn have far less grip, which can lead to loss of control in slippery conditions. Although by law the minimum required tire tread depth is 1.6 mm (2/32 in), a depth above 4.8 mm (6/32 in) increases your safety in rain or snow. Ensure tires are properly inflated for optimal traction.

Switch to winter tires. Winter tires outperform all other tires at or below 7C. Use of winter tires increases traction, making it easier to get out of the snow and can cut stopping distance by 25 per cent or more, studies show. MPI’s Winter Tire Program provides low-interest financing on winter tires.

Severe Conditions

Conditions on Manitoba highways during winter can quickly turn dangerous. Planning ahead may save your life.

Check for weather forecasts and road condition alerts. Visit Manitoba511.ca for road information. When conditions are bad, avoid driving altogether or leave later once conditions improve. Fill up on gas, anti-freeze and windshield washer fluid. Travel with a fully-charged cell phone. Inform friends and family where you are going, and your estimated time of arrival.

Keep a cold-weather survival kit in your vehicle. Include a candle and matches, water, non-perishable food, a first aid kit, flares or reflectors, booster cables and a shovel, an ice scraper, warm clothes, boots and blankets.

If stranded, immediately contact 911 for assistance, turn on the vehicle’s four-way flashers, and remain in the vehicle until help arrives. Ensure that your tail-pipe is not getting covered or blocked with snow to reduce risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Video Tips

Visit our YouTube channel for videos on driving to winter conditions, figuring out your following distance, vehicle maintenance, winter tires, pre-drive preparation, snow banks, getting unstuck, snow plows, snowmobiles, tire inflation, defensive driving, and other topics.