In Saskatchewan, it is possible that you could be operating your vehicle for at least five months of the year in winter driving conditions. It is in this period, from November to March, that most collisions occur.
Snow, ice and freezing rain reduce traction. Drifting and blowing snow, fog, whiteouts, gas exhaust clouds and frosted windows may severely limit visibility.
The main cause of collisions in winter months is failing to adjust to the changing conditions.
Preparing your vehicle
Winter conditions, plus the effects of extremely low temperatures, demand that a vehicle be in top condition. For this reason, a pre-winter check is a necessity, and in the end is less annoying and less costly than battery boosts, tows and being late. Give special attention to your heater and defroster.
As well as getting a tune-up and adding antifreeze to your radiator, you would be wise to have the following:
- snow tires
- block heater
- snow brush and scraper
- gas line antifreeze
- small snow shovel
- set of traction mats
- booster cables (know how to use them)
For out of town trips, add the following survival equipment:
- extra warm clothes (include footwear, mitts and hats)
- a supply of candles and matches
- tow chain or rope
- nourishing freezable food (raisins, nuts, candy)
- sleeping bags
Preparing to see and to be seen
If you cannot see through your windows, you should not drive. If your lights and signals are to protect you, they must be visible.
Before you drive, do the following:
- Brush the snow off your car.
- Scrape the windshield, rear and side windows.
- Clear your heater air intake (this is usually in front of the windshield).
- Clean your headlights, tail lights and signal lights.
- Be sure to clear your tissue boxes, sunglasses, papers, etc., away from defroster outlets.
- Drive with your headlights on at all times. Even on a clear day, swirling snow makes it difficult to see and to be seen.
Driving on slippery surfaces
Winter traction problems require a number of changes from summer driving techniques. The general rule for driving on slippery conditions is drive slowly.
You should not use cruise control on icy or slippery roads. This is even more important when the road may have black ice formed on it (a thin layer of transparent ice found on the road or other paved surfaces).
Traction varies tremendously with temperature changes. Icy roads will look just the same at -2 C or -22 C, but will be far more slippery at the warmer temperature. Winter driving calls for special driving skills. This means gentle acceleration, gentle braking and small, smooth steering movements.
Reduced traction means the grip between your tires and the slippery surface is fragile.
If you accelerate hard, you go beyond the amount of traction that is available and your wheels spin. If you brake too hard and your wheels lock, you break the traction, which means that when you turn the steering wheel, the vehicle will not turn - it will continue in the direction it was going when the wheels locked.
If this occurs on ice, your stopping distance changes. In most situations, locking four wheels by pushing hard on the brakes will give you the shortest stopping distance. But on ice, especially when it's near the freezing point or if you are driving fast, you are better off to threshold-brake by pushing on the brake up to the point just before it locks. (See Threshold braking.)
If the surface is slippery, flatten the corner or curve by positioning your vehicle in the left side of your lane prior to making your turn.
As you enter the curve, gradually steer across the lane so that as you near the mid-point of the curve the vehicle is near the right side of the lane with its wheels straight. As you exit the curve, gradually steer back across the lane towards the left side. For left curves, reverse the process. This will lessen the sideways force and reduce the chance that you will spin out. Slow entry into the curve is crucial or your vehicle may not make it around the curve.
Because there is reduced traction available for stopping and turning, reduce your speed when conditions are wet or slippery. As well, give yourself a following distance even longer than three seconds.
1. Never use cruise control when roads are wet or slippery.
How to get moving
You can usually start moving on ice or packed snow by accelerating gently. If this does not work, or if you are on a slight downgrade, try moving in second gear.
If you are stuck in deep snow, try rocking your vehicle. To do this, start forward, gently accelerate and you will move forward a little. When your wheels spin, immediately stop accelerating and hold the vehicle with the brake to stop it from rolling back. Shift to reverse, release the brake and accelerate gently. You will move back. When the wheels spin again, stop immediately. Repeat the forward-backward rocking movement, increasing the distance you move each time until you gain sufficient momentum to keep moving ahead. Be sure the wheels have stopped turning before changing gears to avoid damage to your transmission.
Search for traction. Look for sand or grit. Choose snow rather than ice. A small movement to one side will often move you from a low traction icy patch onto snow or sand. This motion can usually be completed in your lane.
How to stop on slippery surfaces
- Shift to neutral (or declutch) before you brake.
- Brake early and gently using the threshold technique. (See Threshold braking.)
- Again, search for the best traction and position your vehicle to take advantage of it.
- Allow extra space for other drivers to stop. They may not be as skilled as you, or their traction may be worse.
Temptations to resist
- Accelerating hard when you are passing.
- Using cruise control on wet or slippery roads.
- Forgetting that other drivers may not be making proper allowances for winter conditions.
- Letting your gas tank drop below half full.
Whiteouts occur when the sky, horizon and ground blend into one, making it very difficult to determine your position on the road. All shadows and distinctions disappear, so that you can barely tell where the road ends and the ditch begins.
The first snowfalls
During the first few snowfalls, drive very slowly and keep a fivesecond following distance. It takes time to change from your summer driving patterns. Exaggerate your gentleness on your brake and accelerator pedals and you will stay out of the line-ups at the body shop.
Lives continue to be lost in Saskatchewan winter blizzards.
Dress warmly for long trips. Do not be deceived by the false comfort of a well-heated car and wear indoor clothes on long journeys.
Before starting a long trip, listen to weather forecasts and pay attention to storm warnings. If storms develop while you are travelling, seriously consider stopping over in a town or village, rather than continuing, when there is a possibility of being stranded.
If you are stranded:
- Always stay with your vehicle.
- Keep calm.
- Lower your downwind-side windows slightly and open the heater air vent to get fresh air into the vehicle.
- Run the engine to get some heat, and to listen to news reports, but do not run out of gas.
- Keep your exhaust pipe clear of ice and snow.
- Get into your emergency clothing before you get cold.
- If necessary, use candles to keep warm. Be careful not to overexert yourself by shovelling or by pushing your vehicle.
Many people die when they leave their vehicles to walk for help in a blizzard. If you stay with your vehicle, you have a better chance of surviving and are more likely to be found.