Winter isn't over yet — here's how to stay safe on the road

A Kitchener driving instructor says single- and multi-vehicle crashes are more common in the winter, and many people often overestimate their ability to drive on icy roads and in bad weather.

Drivers don't get enough training for winter conditions, Kitchener instructor says

Drivers navigate the roundabout at Bridge Street and Lancaster Street in Kitchener on a snowy Feb. 12, 2019. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

Drivers across Ontario have had to contend with severe winter weather over the past week and while the storm has passed, a Kitchener driving instructor says it's never too late to brush up on your winter driving skills.

Mick Sayer is the president of Advanced Road Craft, which offers courses on driving for the season.

He says single- and multi-vehicle crashes are more common in the winter, and many people often overestimate their ability to drive on icy roads and in bad weather.

Sayer has some tips so that drivers can make sure they are ready for the changing conditions.

Give yourself space

The most common mistake people make in the winter is driving too close to each other, Sayer says.

"We tend to feel comfortable around other vehicles, which is actually a mistake when we're driving," he told The Morning Edition host Craig Norris.

"If we've got space, we've got time. Time to think [and] time to react."

Sayers says it can take up to 12 times the normal distance to stop in the winter.

He adds that leaving space also requires drivers to slow down. You should be able to stop within the distance you can see to be clear, he explains.

That means if you're coming around a curve and you aren't able to stop before you lose sight of the road, then you're going too fast, Sayers says.

Winterize your car (if you haven't already)

At this point in the season, most people will already have snow tires on their vehicles.

Sayer says snow tires are important as soon as the temperature drops below 7 Celsius — but that doesn't mean you can drive the same way you do in the summer.

He also recommends taking your vehicle to the dealer or another mechanic to check on things like the coolant and oil and make sure they are suitable for winter.

On a more regular basis, Sayer reminds drivers to always clean the snow and ice entirely off their vehicles.

"If we don't clear the snow off, we don't have peripheral version, which means we're going to have an awful lot of sideswipe incidents and accidents that way," he said, adding that snow and ice flying off a vehicle poses a hazard to everyone else on the road.

Winter tires are better than regular or all-season tires, Sayers says, but that doesn't mean the traction will be just as good as on dry pavement. (Christer Waara/CBC)

Always be prepared

In big winter storms, like much of Ontario saw this past week, Sayer says it's always a good idea to have a full tank of gas and a fully charged cell phone.

You should also keep an emergency kit in your vehicle, with warm clothes or a blanket, water and food.

And if you end up stuck on a slippery road with your tires spinning, Sayer has a few tricks to help you get moving again.

"Washer fluid is something that I carry extra in the trunk," he said. "It doesn't freeze until about –45 C, so if you're actually stuck on ice and you can't get the car moving forward, pour some washer fluid over the tires, leave it a couple minutes and you'll be able to drive off."

A piece of burlap or cat litter will also work in a pinch, he says.

Common sense?

While many people might say Sayer's tips should be common sense, he argues that many people in Ontario don't get enough training when it comes to winter driving.

Unlike some countries in Europe and other parts of the world, Sayer says the province doesn't offer many advanced training courses for drivers who already have a license.

"I'm actually from the UK. I came over in 2004 and I was expecting actually to learn an awful lot when I came to Canada about winter driving," he said.

"In actual fact I've been surprised about just little training there is for winter driving. It should be second nature in a country like this, where we spend four or five months out of the year on ice."

About the Author

Robin De Angelis is a multimedia journalist based in southwestern Ontario. She has previously worked as a reporter covering local news in Sudbury. Get in touch on Twitter @RobinElizabethD or by email


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.