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Tips For Safe Driving In Bad Weather

Whether because of rain, sleet or snow, bad weather changes the game for drivers.

Last month, we spoke of motorcycle riding safety because it was perfect fall weather for that activity. With a new season nearly upon us, we know that weather can wreak havoc on driving in Canada and anyone who has lived through a Canadian winter can attest to that. Most drivers get used to the slip and slide of winter snow, sleet and ice as the season goes on, but the first snowfall of the year tends to be the worst for accidents. Here’s an interesting statistic: “Insurance providers in Canada report a 49% rise in claims related to vehicle collisions from Dec-Jan…” (Source)

Weather accounts for quite a few accidents on our roads every year, so being prepared to drive through most any conditions may save you from being a victim of a motor vehicle accident.

When Your Car Is Parked

If you have a garage, do yourself a favour: declutter it and make space for the car! You’ll be thankful in the morning when you don’t have to scrape off all the snow and ice.

If you don’t—or just can’t part with all those boxes piled in the garage—you can do a few things to make sure your car is in good shape to drive:

  • If an ice storm is forecast, put freezer grade zip lock bags over your side mirrors. You can pop them off easily in the morning and you’ll have those essential mirrors for negotiating the side streets with care. Even the mirrors that heat up can take forever to thaw, so this is a good option.
  • You can follow the same principle for your windshield by placing a sheet over it and holding it down with the windshield wipers and in the front doors. You can peel it off in the morning and it helps avoid your wipers getting stuck to the glass too, which damages them.
  • If you park on the street, try and get an east facing spot. Why? The sunrise in the morning—assuming the storm has settled—will warm your windshield and make it easier to clean off before you get going.

Before You Set Out In Your Car

First off, check the weather forecast. The easiest way to avoid an accident because of the weather is to avoid driving through the worst of it, if you can. You can also use maps on your phone to see which routes may already be blocked with a collision, so that you can choose an alternate before you even leave.

If you can’t stay off the roads, you can do a few other things to make sure your trip a little safer. For example, make sure your headlights work, are properly aligned and are as bright as possible. Reflections off snow and in foggy conditions make the alignment and proper functioning of your headlights even more important than at other times.

Make sure that your windshield wiper fluid is topped up and you have antifreeze in the gas line. You might want to check your tire pressure if you haven’t done it in a while and check your windshield wipers, to make sure they are in good order.

Clear ALL your windows for maximum visibility and PLEASE take the snow off the roof of your car. There is nothing worse than following a vehicle where the roof snow suddenly dislodges, flying into the windshield of the vehicle behind and potentially causing them to swerve, due to lack of visibility.

Being prepared for all situations is even more important in the winter, when multiple accidents and bad road conditions could mean that help isn’t immediately on the way.

  • Have a good first aid / emergency kit in the car, complete with emergency blankets, flares, a flashlight with extra batteries, extra clothes, snacks that won’t go bad like granola bars, a sleeping bag or blankets, jumper cables and a small shovel.
  • Keep either pieces of cardboard or containers of kitty litter in the trunk, in case you get stuck. You can use either to help give you some traction to get out of your spot. If your car is a rear-wheel drive, the containers of kitty litter in the trunk can double up as extra weight to keep you from fishtailing.

Braving The Roads In A Storm

First, and most important: slow down. I don’t care what the guy in the souped up pick up truck with the rack lights behind you is doing!

The biggest risk on highways is high winds, which can create white out conditions and very  slippery surfaces. Your reactions need to be controlled: slamming on the brakes will likely result in skidding, so keep your speed consistent and appropriate to the conditions, put your full headlights on and make sure you have visibility through your windshield, and side mirrors.

As temperatures drop, and black ice forms on shaded side streets as well as bridges and overpasses, you might not see the hazard coming so it’s best to assume that it’s there and slow down.

As always, you need to be aware of emergency vehicles but also snow plows. Their flashing blue lights signal their arrival and you should let them through. Being behind snowplows is ALWAYS better than ahead! Patience is the order of the day, as they’re typically not going the speed limit but if the weather is bad, neither should you!

Rain Can Be Rough Too

With all the talk about snow and ice, it’s also worth remembering that a lot of weather related accidents happen during a rainstorm. That’s because most drivers don’t take rain as seriously as snow and don’t temper their speed or distances, to allow for longer breaking times.

You need to increase your distances between cars, slow down and keep your acceleration and braking smooth, to avoid skidding. Also, take care driving through puddles or any water accumulation, at the risk of losing contact with the road and hydroplaning.

Whatever the weather, it’s important to take a few extra precautions to be sure that you arrive at your destination safely, and without a scratch!

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