winter safety ontario roads

Winter Car Safety

Every winter, there are snowstorms that are so bad that people get stuck for hours on the roadways. In 2014, a snowstorm in Buffalo stranded over 150 cars for over 24 hours because the snow came so fast and furiously, thanks to lake effect, that even snow plows couldn’t get through.

This isn’t an everyday occurrence by any means, but being prepared for the rigours of driving in winter weather makes good sense when you live in Canada!

Avoid Driving If You Don’t Absolutely Need To

An ounce of prevention is worth twice the amount of cure, right?

If there are winter storm warnings being announced, and you don’t absolutely have to be on the road, don’t be on the road. It’s that simple.

Rescheduling or cancelling an outing is less inconvenient than a motor vehicle accident that might result in injuries or being stranded in a snowbank for hours.

Preparing To Drive In Bad Weather

If you have no choice and have to drive with bad weather in the forecast, there are ways you can prepare to make sure you don’t get stranded:

  1. Choose a route that will have the greatest chance of being cleared quickly. This isn’t the time to discover the backroads and shortcuts to your destination.
  2. Make sure that you have a full tank of gas. If you get stuck behind a 10 car pileup, moving forward by inches down the one available lane, the last thing you’ll want to worry about is running out of gas.
  3. Make sure your car is equipped with a winter emergency kit (see below for details)
  4. Charge your phone and keep it charging during your trip with a car charger. You’ll be glad of a full charge if you need to call for help
  5. Before the onset of bad weather, if you know you’re going to be out, make sure that your car is properly serviced. That includes:
    • Gas line anti-freeze
    • Appropriate windshield wiper fluid topped up (and extra stored in the trunk)
    • Wipers in good condition and working, as are the lights, brakes and battery
    • Winter tires inflated properly

It should go without saying that winter tires are a must. All season tires simply don’t have the grip to deal with the ever-changing conditions we experience in Southern Ontario, from wind and ice, to slush, sleet and whiteout conditions.

Winter Emergency Kit

The key, if you’re stranded or stuck on a roadway, is to retain as much heat as possible. Exposure to wind and moisture are two ways that you will lose a lot of that heat, so you need to have some equipment to ensure that you can avoid both, when stuck in your car. At a minimum, you should have the following in your trunk or backseat:

  • A shovel, preferably metal
  • An ice scraper to keep your windshield and windows clear
  • Sand, road salt or cat litter, to create traction if you get stuck
  • Blankets – wool is best: unlike cotton and other fibres, it stays warm, even if it gets wet. Sleeping bags are also a great option
  • Extra gloves, hat and socks

If you really want to be prepared for winter driving woes, consider adding these items to your winter emergency kit:

  • Emergency blankets to reflect heat, as well as the regular kind of blankets
  • Hand warmers that work when you shake them up
  • Food and water. Your best bet with food is items that can sit around and not go bad, like granola bars, trail mix, chocolate bars, etc. The body expends a lot of energy keeping warm when exposed to harsh conditions, so you need to replenish it. Have some bottles of water inside the car too (not just in the trunk where it will freeze), and make sure you change them out seasonally as water that heats up in plastic can eventually leach chemicals
  • Jumper cables, in case your battery goes
  • Flashlight with extra batteries
  • Emergency flares
  • First aid kit
  • If you’re travelling a long distance from home, make sure you have an ample supply of medications that you, or any of your passengers, take regularly
  • Paper towels and a garbage bag

If You Do Get Stranded…

If you go off the road into a ditch, one very important step is to make sure that your exhaust pipe didn’t get clogged with snow. Otherwise, if you continue to run your vehicle’s engine while waiting for help, you could end up filling the small space of a vehicle with carbon monoxide. Make sure you turn off the engine before you go and unclog it.

Unless your vehicle is in a dangerous position, halfway on the road for example, it’s best not to leave your vehicle. Also, you want to conserve your cell phone battery, in case you’re stuck for a while. When you do turn on the car to re-warm (10 minutes every hour or so), you can add a little charge: it takes very little battery to do so.

I’ll go back to my original point though: if you don’t have to drive in bad weather, don’t. It’s just not worth the risk unless it is truly an emergency. Stay home and stay safe.


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