Eight common winter driving mistakes Atlantic Canadians don’t realize they’re making
JENNIFER ANANDANAYAGAM SPECIAL TO SALTWIRE
While we’re enjoying the cool breeze and the occasional rays of sun peeking out from amber-coloured treetops during fall here in Atlantic Canada, there’s another season that’s looming not too far away — winter. With the snowy tree lines and the dreadful shovelling duties that accompany the coldest months of the year comes the added challenge of driving. And yes, it is a challenge. Even if we may not consciously be aware of it, driving in the winter requires a few mental, logistical and behavioural changes if we are to remain safe on the roads. We spoke to a few Atlantic Canadian driving experts to find out what some of the most common mistakes motorists make on the East Coast are and here’s what they shared. MISTAKE NO. 1: ACTING LIKE IT’S NOT WINTER “The biggest winter driving error that most drivers unintentionally do is that they don’t adjust their driving habits to winter conditions,” said Josh Vey of A+ Drivers Ltd. in St. John’s. “In the winter, you have poor visibility and poor traction due to inclement weather. You simply cannot operate your vehicle in a similar fashion to summertime or springtime driving where the weather obviously allows for good traction and good visibility.” MISTAKE NO. 2: NOT EQUIPPING YOUR VEHICLE WITH THE CORRECT WINTER TIRES Skipping winter tire installation because of cost or because of a lack of knowledge about why that matters is more common than you think, added Vey. All-season tires and winter tires have very specific purposes. The former is built for warmer weather and has a finer tread, which is not ideal for snow and slush, while the latter typically contains a blocky tread that grips snow and pushes away slush. It also stays soft in colder temperatures for better grip. “You want a good soft winter tire for the winter months,” explained Vey, who is the owner and chief instructor of A+ Drivers Ltd. And for those who actually do make the tire change, waiting too long to do it could become another problem, said the senior instructor at Halifax Driving School, Noman Zafar. “Waiting to make the change in December could result in workshops being too busy and you not getting any appointment times,” he explained. “Schedule your bookings in November.” Assuming that four-yearold winter tires are still good to go is another mistake, Zafar said. “If you don’t have a big budget for new tires, you could find used tires on Facebook Marketplace that might be in better condition than what you’re using now,” offered Zafar. MISTAKE NO. 3: NOT PLANNING YOUR ROUTE Going to work during the summertime and going to work during winter are two different things. “It’s very important for drivers that they put time and effort into planning their route, especially when they plan on going on a long trip of some kind,” said Vey. “Route planning is a defensive strategy that helps you stay engaged and it helps you identify obstacles such as weather hazards and other traction elements that you might encounter on your drive.” Zafar added that it may not hurt to change your route if the one you were planning to take is particularly hilly or downhill. Consult Google Maps to find alternate routes, he said, which can allow you compare times to your current route. Paying attention to weather forecasts is a good tip, too, said Vey. If you do find yourself on slippery roads, it’s recommended that you avoid using cruise control. MISTAKE NO. 4: NOT GIVING YOURSELF TIME TO GET TO WHERE YOU WANT TO GO Thinking that you can get dressed in a hurry, slip out the door with minutes to spare and grab a coffee quickly — and still make it to work on time during winter — is another common mistake Atlantic Canadian drivers make, per Zafar. Give yourself at least 30 minutes more before you have to be at work, he said. This is crucial during winter. “You have to clean your car and warm up your car. Don’t be in a hurry. Practise slow driving but not too slow, either.” MISTAKE NO. 5: NOT EQUIPPING YOUR VEHICLE WITH A WINTER KIT You can’t predict whether or not you’ll find yourself in a sticky (literally, because of the salt) situation, so it’s always best to be prepared. “Being caught in the storm without a windshield scraper or being caught on a highway which is covered in salt and you get spray on your windshield but you don’t have enough windshield wash in your vehicle” are some situations to think about, according to Vey. “The next thing you know, you’re pulling over trying to clean up the snow.” A winter kit isn’t just for your vehicle, though. Zafar said it doesn’t hurt to pack an extra warm coat, a pair of socks, gloves and anything else you think you might need if the temperature drops lower or if you find yourself stuck somewhere where there’s no service or your vehicle breaks down. The Government of Canada website actually recommends stowing an emergency car kit complete with food, water, a blanket, extra clothes and shoes, first-aid kit, shovel, scraper, snowbrush, candle and matches, crank flashlight, whistle, road maps and a copy of your emergency plan. The checklist for your trunk could also include non-clumping sand or salt, antifreeze/ windshield washer fluid, tow rope, jumper cables, fire extinguisher and road flares. MISTAKE NO. 6: NOT DOING A PRE-TRIP INSPECTION “Another big mistake that people make in the wintertime is actually not taking the time to check their vehicle — doing what we call a pretrip inspection, where you remove all of the snow off of your vehicle,” said Vey. “The most commonly overlooked snow removal place is the roof, the hood and, for pickup trucks, the pan.” Removing anything that can detach from your vehicle is part of proper driving technique. “So if you have snow on your roof and you don’t clear it, one of two things will happen to that snow — it will either slide forward onto your windshield, creating a visibility hazard, or it will fly off your vehicle like a projectile and strike another road user behind you,” explained Vey. MISTAKE NO. 7: NOT PAYING ATTENTION TO FOLLOWING DISTANCE “Defensive driving teaches you to follow the threesecond rule. When you have a road user in front of you, you should have a minimum of three seconds between yourself and that other road user,” explained Vey. “In the wintertime, it doesn’t hurt to add an additional second to the following distance that will allow you to account for a traction condition that you can’t anticipate with black ice, for example.” Added to this same tip is the knowledge of how to apply the brakes during winter. “We often teach our students that during the winter months, you need to apply pressure to the brake pedal twice as early and half as hard,” said Vey. What you should be aiming for is to reduce your speed as early as possible, while also illuminating your tail lights as early as possible to force other drivers behind you to slow down. “So in a sense, what you’re doing is preventing a rearend collision by touching your brake pedal until you are forcing the traffic behind you to slow down,” he explained. “So you accomplish two things: you slow down early yourself and you force the person behind you to also slow down.” MISTAKE NO. 8: BEING OVER-CONFIDENT WITH YOUR VEHICLE OF CHOICE The overestimation of handling ability when it comes to vehicles like all-wheel drive SUVS or four-wheel drives is another major concern, according to Vey. “I just actually finished a driving course where I’ve spent quite a bit of time talking about this,” he said. “Don’t be fooled or lulled into a false sense of security because your vehicle is equipped with all-wheel drive or four-wheel drive. All-wheel drive and fourwheel drive are great for getting you started but they have absolutely no value in helping your vehicle stop.” The idea that large vehicles with all-wheel or four-wheel drives don’t require as much defensive driving technique because the vehicle’s technology would get you out of a jam is simply not true, he added.