4 keys to driving safely in winter

As the first winter storms hit, road conditions and visibility can change radically for the worse. Here are some safe driving reminders from Guelph, Ont. police.

Drivers must change habits and behaviours in winter, police say

The weather in the final week of December, 2015, took the year out with a bang. Or more accurately, the crunching sound of a car fender being bent.

In this first serious storm of the season, hundreds of vehicle collisions were reported to the Ontario Provincial Police on Monday, Dec. 28 and Tuesday, Dec. 29.

Calls came in "all evening and overnight from most of the region," said Sergeant Kerry Schmidt.

"Most were minor in nature, property damaged, single vehicle" incidents, Schmidt said. "And in reality it's because most of the drivers were not driving appropriately according to the conditions." 

On Tuesday, the Guelph Police Service published a list of winter driving tips to help commuters deal with the sudden arrival of winter.

Guelph police Constable Michael Gatto said that safe winter driving actually begins before you've done any driving.

"Number one, as soon as you get out to the car, make sure it's cleaned off," he said, as even small amounts of frost and snow on the windows can strategically block a driver's view.

Here are the four key factors Guelph police say winter drivers should take into account:



  • See and be seen: carefully clear car windows, mirrors, front and rear lights of any ice and snow before leaving home in the morning.
  • Anticipate: Look well ahead to identify hazards. This includes anything from brake lights, to the flashing lights of emergency or snow clearing vehicles, to the status of walk signs to anticipate a change of lights at an intersection.


Not reducing speed on stormy winter roads is a major contributor to collisions, police say. (CBC)
  • Slow down: Keep your foot light on the gas pedal. Don't attempt sharp turns and brake well in advance of where you want to stop in order to maintain control of your vehicle on slippery roadways.
  • Change lanes carefully: Police say cars often create ridges of snow and slush between the lanes during winter storm conditions. Police recommend picking a spot with the least amount of snow and ice, signal in advance, maintain a steady speed and hold the steering wheel firmly to avoid upsetting the vehicle.
  • Test your brakes: Slippery brakes can compromise your traction, according to police. If you're unsure, pick a spot clear of traffic and carefully test your brakes to see how your vehicle reacts. Police say if your brakes lock and your vehicle starts to slide, you know the surface is slippery and you should slow down.

Road conditions

Snow pellets and freezing rain pelted much of southern Ontario, as seen here from the road near Kitchener at about 5 p.m. Dec. 28, 2015. (Mark Robinson/Twitter)

  • Watch for black ice: Cars have very limited control on this surface. Police recommend that if you suspect black ice ahead, you take your foot off the accelerator, straighten the car and let momentum take you through the slippery area. 
  • Starting in slippery conditions: Start slowly with gentle pressure on the accelerator. Police also recommend starting in second gear on slippery surfaces for cars with manual transmission or for some automatic transmission cars  that have the option, to shift into second or third gear to start.


Snow buildup on roads can vary over short distances when the storm is still going on. (Paul Palmeter/CBC)
  • Make room in front: "The biggest cause of accidents on any surface is not having enough time to stop. When driving on dry surfaces, the rule of thumb is two seconds between your car and the car in front of you," Guelph police said. "Many driving experts recommend doubling this to four seconds on slippery surfaces."
  • Make room behind: Check your rear-view mirror frequently and if you feel the car behind you is following too close, move into the lane beside you and let the car pass.
  • Leave extra space when stopped: When stopped behind another car, you should leave enough space to see the rear wheels of the car in front of you, according to police, who recommend leaving even more space between vehicles during winter driving conditions. "If someone is sliding towards you from the rear, you can move into that space and it may make the difference between a collision and a near-miss," according to police. 


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