Take extra care when driving in winter conditions. (Photo credit: ICBC)

Take extra care when driving in winter conditions. (Photo credit: ICBC)

Nervous about driving in snow and ice? You’re not alone

A lot of drivers don’t like to drive in inclement weather, but many aren’t taking steps to stay safe

Many people are probably planning on hitting the province’s highways in the next few days as they get ready for Christmas with family and friends, but make sure you’re prepared and confident in the face of winter weather.

A recent winter driving survey carried out for BCAA shows that while many British Columbians are nervous about driving in ice and snow, many are not taking steps to prepare their vehicles for winter driving conditions. ICBC confirms that casualty crashes—in which at least one person is injured or killed—due to driving too fast for conditions increase by 87 per cent across B.C. in December compared to October.

The BCAA survey, which was conducted by Insights West, reveals that 43 per cent of the drivers surveyed admitted to being nervous behind the wheel when confronted with bad weather. However, almost one-third of the drivers said they take a “wait and see” approach when it comes to getting their vehicle ready for winter, and 21 per cent either wait until the last minute or don’t plan to prepare their vehicle for winter at all.

Not surprisingly, the drivers who are least prepared for winter weather typically live in parts of the province which traditionally don’t get much snow, such as the Metro Vancouver region and parts of Vancouver Island. No matter where you live, however, drivers should not put their heads in the sand (or the snow) when it comes to dealing with winter weather.

“Chances are, no matter where you are in the province, at some point you’re going to hit bad weather,” says BCAA Automotive Manager Josh Smythe. It’s not just snow and ice that can lead to suddenly treacherous driving situations; darkness, fog, freezing rain, and other conditions can cause things to go badly for unprepared drivers.

“There are newer weather patterns to consider, including windstorms, which some of B.C. has already experienced this season,” says Smythe.

The unpredictability of today’s weather has more drivers taking notice, with 66 per cent of the survey respondents saying that strange, unpredictable weather has made them “more vigilant” about getting their vehicles serviced for winter.

Smythe sees this as positive news, but things aren’t as rosy when it comes to how British Columbians rate their winter driving overall. Seventy-one per cent rate B.C. motorists as “poor” winter drivers and half (49 per cent) go so far as calling B.C. drivers “probably the worst winter drivers in Canada.”

Here are a few tips for winter preparation and driving:

1. Prepare your car to perform in winter so you can drive more safely. Get a complete vehicle check-up and have winter tires installed. Make sure your tires are rated for the conditions you’re driving in, and check your tire pressure regularly, as pressure drops in cold weather and overinflated tires can reduce gripping.

2. Adjust your driving to match the weather conditions. Before you drive, check the road and weather conditions for your route, clear snow and ice from your vehicle—including headlights, taillights, and external sensors—and defog all the windows. Plan your route so you avoid trickier areas, such as hills or narrow, unplowed streets, and as you drive make sure to slow down, leave more room between you and the car ahead, and use turn signals well in advance.

3. Put safety first. Be honest about your driving skills and comfort levels: don’t drive in conditions when you don’t have the necessary skills or if you’re nervous. Avoid the temptation to drive when you shouldn’t by planning other transport options: carpool with a confident driver whose vehicle is equipped for the conditions, use public transit, work from home, or at least wait until the road crews have cleared major roads. Sometimes the best option is to leave the car at home.

4. Carry a winter driving emergency kit and chains in your car. The emergency kit should contain highly visible winter outerwear, safety cones, battery jumper cables, a shovel, windshield scraper, and brush, flashlight and batteries, warm clothes and boots, gloves, a blanket, a supply of non-perishable food and water, and a spare container of winter-grade washer fluid.

5. Use your headlights and taillights whenever weather is poor and visibility is reduced—not just at night—to help you see ahead and be seen by other drivers. Keep in mind that daytime running lights usually don’t activate your taillights.

6. Be aware of black ice when temperatures near freezing. If you notice ice build-up on your windshield, there’s likely black ice on the road. Black ice is commonly found in shaded areas, bridges, overpasses, and intersections. Slow down and increase your following distance.

7. In poor weather, use extreme caution around snow plows. Maintain a safe following distance and don’t pass them — it’s not safe. These vehicles may be equipped with a wing blade on either of its sides, which may not be visible due to the snow it sprays.

A good set of winter tires is a key ingredient when it comes to getting you safely where you need to go in winter, and a new Leger survey commissioned by the Tire and Rubber Association of Canada finds that 80 per cent of winter tire owners believe that driving a vehicle equipped with winter tires has saved them from loss of control or a collision in snowy, icy conditions.

The same survey found that 75 per cent of Canadian motorists now use winter tires. Outside Quebec, where winter tires are mandated by law, winter tire usage stands at 69 per cent, up from 51 per cent from what a similar survey found in 2014.

Regionally, the 2019 study found that 68 per cent of British Columbia drivers use winter tires. Alberta is at 63 per cent, Manitoba and Saskatchewan are at 59 per cent, Ontario is at 69 per cent, and 91 per cent of Atlantic Canada drivers use winter tires.

The most common reasons why many drivers still resist winter tires are the belief that all-season tires are good enough (51 per cent), reduced driving time in winter (18 per cent), and cost (17 per cent).

The superior performance of winter tires is the result of advanced tread designs and rubber compounds. Winter tires feature softer tread compounds that retain flexibility even in extremely cold conditions.

At temperatures at or below 7° C., the traction capabilities of winter tires provide greater grip on all cold-weather road surfaces and significantly shorter a vehicle’s stopping distance.

The Quebec experience shows that universal winter tire use results in a five per cent reduction in wintertime road collision injuries and a three per cent reduction in serious injuries and deaths.


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