Icicle on Car Bumper

Vancouver experienced its first major snowfall (it’s all relative) last night. In the city, most of that has already melted from the rain that ensued, but there is still some slush on the ground. Depending on where you are, that rain may have been more snow. I heard on the radio that SFU (Burnaby Mountain) got some big flakes this morning, so I imagine it’d the same in other higher elevation areas.

Just as I provided some common sense tips for pedestrian safety, I thought now would be a great time to provide some common sense tips for winter driving too. Granted that “winter driving” is going to be different from region to region, so I’m going to focus primarily on the kinds of winters we get in Vancouver. At the same time, a colder and snowier winter is being predicted this year, so proceed cautiously.

If You Can’t See, Don’t Go

Last night when the snow was at its heaviest, I was walking through an outdoor mall parking lot. Suddenly, one of the cars starting back out of its spot while I was directly behind it. The driver didn’t see me. Even when I waved my arms and hollered, he proceeded to reverse out of his parking spot. He didn’t see me at all, yet he continued to move his car.

Don’t do that.

The entire back portion of his car was covered in the snow, since he didn’t bother brushing it off or waiting for his defogger to do the job. This is just one example. If you’re facing conditions where your visibility is severely compromised, don’t keep driving based on faith and intuition alone. Lives are at stake.

Avoid Sudden Acceleration and Braking

One thing that I’ve learned very quickly is that Vancouver drivers can oftentimes be over-confident. We don’t get a lot of snow around here, so people drive around the same way they would on a bright sunny day. That simply does not work.

Winter driving means making slower, but more deliberate movements. This means that you should avoid any sudden acceleration, sudden braking, or sudden turns. It is largely because of this faster movements that people lose control of their cars. This is also why you should keep extra distance between you and the vehicle in front of you.

They’re Winter Tires, Not Just Snow Tires

“Oh, it’s not that much snow. I don’t need snow tires.”

You can get away with your all season tires to a certain extent, but don’t confuse “winter” tires for “snow” tires. Just because there isn’t snow on the ground doesn’t mean that you don’t need winter tires. These tires are specially designed to handle snowy and icy conditions, but they also use a compound that is better suited for the colder temperatures. Likewise, be sure to check your tire pressure periodically, as the drop in temperature can have a dramatic effect.

Look and Steer If You Skid

Even the best of drivers can find themselves in a skid while driving in the winter. The key is knowing how to manage that skid so that you can regain control of your car. Again, it goes back to avoiding sudden movements. Ease off the gas (and don’t slam on the brakes either). As obvious as it may sound, you should then look and steer in the direction that you want to go, but make sure you don’t oversteer either.

Transport Canada has some nice diagrams for how to get out of a skid for a front-wheel drive, rear-wheel drive, and an all-wheel drive vehicle.

Clear Snow and Ice From Car

Going back to the first point about visibility, it’s important to clear off as much of the snow and ice from your vehicle before you even start moving. Far too many people only bother brushing the snow off the windshield, but you have to consider all the other areas of your car too.

Get the snow off all the windows, all the exterior lights, the top of your bumper, the roof of your car, and just about everywhere else. See and be seen. Leaving a cloud of snow in your wake is not doing your fellow drivers any favors.

Allot A Lot of Time

Driving in the winter, particularly under more adverse conditions, isn’t the same as driving on a sunny summer day. It’s going to be slower. Expect to face more gridlock and delays. This isn’t Fast and Furious, so expect that you’re going to take more time getting from point A to point B. If you give yourself that extra time, you won’t feel as rushed and you’re less likely to make a stupid mistake.

And that’s all the advice in a nutshell: don’t be stupid. Everyone can thank you later.