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Winter driving: From theory to practice

Winter driving: From theory to practice

Winter driving: From theory to practice

For most of us, driving in winter is terribly stressful because road conditions constantly menace the safety of our journey.  We cannot stop the snow from falling and the ground from freezing, but we can adapt our driving to prevent the worst from happening. Yes, there are smarter ways to behave on the road in winter and we invite take stock of the following advice and, most importantly, to move from theory to practice.

Driving on the roads

  • First of all, what is the point of taking risks. Why not postpone a trip when the weather is bad?
  • Always inform someone of your route and planned arrival time. (Do not leave your cell phone in the car as the battery will freeze.)
  • Wear warm and comfortable clothing.  Thus, in case of an accident, it is better to be properly dressed to get out of trouble.
  • Wear sunglasses on sunny days because the reflection of light on ice and snow can hinder your vision.
  • Posted speed limits are for ideal travel conditions. Driving at reduced speeds is the best precautionary measure against any misfortune while driving on slippery roads. “Black ice” is invisible. Warning:  Steel and concrete bridges are likely to be icy even when there is no ice on the ground surface (because bridges over open air cool down faster than roads which tend to be insulated somewhat by solid ground.)
  • Increase the distance between your car and the one ahead. Stopping distances on an icy road are double that of stopping on a dry one.
  • Stay in the right-hand lane except when passing. Whether driving on the highway or on a secondary road, the safest fallback position is on the right. Why? This position allows to quickly get off the road without fear of meeting a vehicle in the opposite direction.
  • Reduce speeds while approaching intersections covered with ice or snow.
  • Be patient and pass other cars only when it is safe to do so.
  • What to do if you start to skid? Above all, don’t panic!   Also look where you want your vehicle to go and steer in this direction. DO NOT BRAKE AND DO NOT ACCELERATE!

Stuck or stranded in the snow

  • When stuck or stranded in the snow, avoid over-exertion and over-exposure to the cold.
  • Stay in the car in blizzard conditions – Do not leave the car for assistance unless help is very close and it is safe to walk.
  • Turn on flashing lights or set up flares. A brightly colored cloth on the radio antenna may make your vehicle more visible in daylight.
  • Run the car engine occasionally (about 10 minutes every hour) to provide heat (and to conserve fuel). Ensure that the tail exhaust pipe is free of snow and keep the window opened slightly (on the side shielded from the wind) to prevent the build up of carbon monoxide when the engine is running.
  • Bundle up in a blanket that is kept in the trunk for such incidents. If there is more than one person in the car, share – two people sharing blankets will be warmer than either person alone in a blanket.
  • Wear a hat and scarf – the head and neck are major sources of heat loss from the body.
  • It is important to monitor for any signs of frostbite and hypothermia. It is important to not fall asleep. If there is more than one person in the car, take turns sleeping.
  • Do not stay in one position too long. Do some exercises to help the circulation – move arms and legs, clap our hands, etc.

The winter driving kit

A well-stocked winter driving kit helps to handle any emergency. It should include:

  • Properly fitting tire chains
  • Bag of sand or salt (or kitty litter)
  • Tow rope
  • Traction mats
  • Snow shovel
  • Snow brush
  • Ice scraper
  • Booster cables
  • Warning devices such as flares or emergency lights
  • Fuel line de-icer (methanol, also called methyl alcohol or methyl hydrate)
  • Extra windshield wiper fluid appropriate for sub-freezing temperatures
  • Roll of paper towels
  • Flashlight and a portable flashing light (and extra batteries)
  • Blanket
  • Extra clothing, including hat and wind-proof pants, and warm footwear
  • First aid kit
  • Snack bars or other “emergency” food and water
  • Matches and emergency candles – only use with a window opened to prevent build-up of carbon monoxide
  • Road maps
  • “Call Police” or other help signs or brightly colored banners

Jackie Beaudoin, Leclerc Insurance and Financial Services
Source:  Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety