Each year when the first snow falls, there are reports of multiple car accidents – as if Alberta drivers are caught off guard. In part, that’s because Alberta weather can be volatile and unpredictable. But it’s also because even though we know winter is coming, we don’t want to acknowledge it sooner than we have to.
Now that the white stuff is flying, it’s a good time to look at some tips to stay safe while driving in it.
According to Sgt. Brian Herrick, Sgt of the RCMP Central Alberta Traffic Services, motorists need to pay attention to the weather forecast and plan their drives accordingly.
Give yourself lots of time for the drive
With winter driving, you never know what you may encounter. Slippery roads make for slow going. The addition of an accident to your route could slow traffic to a crawl.
Be prepared in case you get stuck while driving
If you’re stuck in traffic, you want to make sure your gas tank and your windshield washer fluid tanks are full and your phone is charged. Make sure you have your emergency road kit in the car as well – just in case.
Dress warm for the drive
Dressing warm may seem obvious, but if you think you’re just popping out to go the store and your car won’t start or you end up in a ditch, you’ll be glad you have a warm coat, mitts and boots.
Brush all the snow off your vehicle
In frigid weather, it’s tempting to brush off as little snow as possible from your car. But if you don’t get rid of all of it, the snow from your roof may slide over your front or back windshield and obstruct your view – plus, it could lead to a $115 fine.
Give other drivers extra road space
Use the 10-second rule. Find a fixed object on the roadside ahead. When the car in front of you passes it, count how many seconds it takes before you pass it. If you pass it before you count to 10 seconds (one-one-thousand, two-one-thousand), you are following too closely.
Drive with extra care during a chinook
In Alberta, chinooks are a welcome break in the winter. But they can also wreak havoc on the roads. During the day the warmer weather melts the ice on the roads, but at night colder weather turns the water into black ice and the roads into treacherous skating rinks.
Invest in good winter tires
It isn’t a legal requirement in Alberta, but common sense dictates that you need winter tires on your vehicle to negotiate Alberta’s roads. You’ll notice a big different in traction and the control of your car.
Drive slower to minimize skidding and sliding
The faster you go, the more likely you are to find yourself in a skid. If you do feel the car skidding, resist the urge to slam on the brakes or abruptly turn your wheel in the opposite direction of the skid. Take your feet off the gas and the brake, and gently turn the wheel to straighten the car.
If you try to stop and find your car isn’t responding, but is instead sliding towards the car in front of you, don’t panic. Give your brakes a few pumps so your wheels don’t lock up. Try to change lanes if possible. If there is room on the side of the road, pull off so the snow slows you down and you can stop safely.
Above all, be sure to leave enough room between you and the vehicle in front of you so you have the time and space to react. See ‘Give everyone some space.’
Take a winter driving course
Driving in the summer is vastly different than driving in winter conditions. If you’re new to Canadian winters or are uncomfortable driving on snowy roads, take a winter driving course.
What to do if your vehicle gets stuck in the snow
The Government of Canada website has these tips if you find your car stuck in the snow.
• Try to stay calm and don’t go out in the cold. Stay in your car. You will avoid getting lost and your car is a safe shelter.
• Don’t tire yourself out. Shoveling in the intense cold can be deadly.
• Let in fresh air by opening a window on the side sheltered from the wind.
• Keep the engine off as much as possible. Be aware of carbon monoxide poisoning and make sure the exhaust pipe is not obstructed by snow.
• If possible, use a candle placed inside a deep can instead of the car heater to warm up.
• Turn on warning lights or set up road flares to make your car visible.
• Turn on the ceiling light. Leaving your headlights or hazard lights on for too long will drain the battery.
• Move your hands, feet and arms to maintain circulation. Stay awake.
• Keep an eye out for other cars and emergency responders. Try to keep clothing dry since wet clothing can lead to a dangerous loss of body heat.
It can be tough to be fully prepared for an Alberta winter, but a little knowledge and preparation will go a long way towards making sure you are safe and confident driving on Alberta’s roads.