6 Driving Habits to Change for the Winter

by Lori Straus

Snow and ice are around the corner in southern Ontario, but it’s already shown its face in parts of Northern Ontario. With the change in weather comes the change in driving habits. Below you’ll find five driving habits you should change for the winter.

Your Winter Driving Kit Checklist

Change from your summer driving kit checklist. A winter driving kit will give you the essentials should you get stuck in sub-zero temperatures. Some items, like jumper cables, you’ll carry with you all year. But winter accessories such as a snow brush and one or two ice scrapers will need to be put in your vehicle.

Get out the Door 10 Minutes Earlier

Driving in the winter requires more time. That’s just the way it is. Depending on how long your commute is, you may only need an extra two or three minutes to drive, but you need time to warm up and clear off your car. You’re liable to come upon more accidents, too.

Properly Clear off Your Vehicle

Do not leave your driveway with only a hole scraped through that thick layer of ice in your windshield. Defrost and defog your car properly, including clearing off all snow. Not only do you need full visibility to drive safely, no one wants the chunks of snow and ice from your car flying into their field of vision.

Drive Slower

Young woman calling for help or assistance inside snow covered car. Engine start in frost. Breakdown services in the winter.

The speed you drive at is another habit to change for the winter. Brake slower and sooner, do not run red lights, don’t take corners too fast, and don’t speed. The tires on your vehicle will dictate just how much slower you have to drive. And yes, winter tires have an advantage over all-season tires.

The Ontario Ministry of Transportation ran some tests at 50 km/h in -20˚C weather, with 3-5 cm of compacted snow and ice on an asphalt surface. Each vehicle had automatic transmission and anti-lock brakes. The sub-compact car needed 39.1 m to stop with winter tires on, compared to 50.7 m with all-seasons. The minivan with winter tires stopped at 38.3 m compared to 51.1 m with all-seasons. The 4WD (tested in AWD mode) stopped at 35.7 m with winter tires on and 42.8 m with all-seasons.

Drive according to your vehicle and the weather.

Keep an Extra Eye out for Pedestrians

Nobody is immune from leaving the house too late and still trying to reach their destination on time, even pedestrians. The slopes leading from the sidewalk to the road at intersections can develop either a good snow pile from snow plows or a dangerous sheet of ice from lots of walkers and/or freeze/thaw weather. As a driver, give pedestrians crossing the road extra room in case they slip.

Keep Another Extra Eye out for Cyclists

Yes, this means you now have four eyes, but in the winter, that is sometimes a necessity. Back in my teens, my grandfather turned a corner and we had a cyclist in front of us. He gave that cyclist a wide berth. The cyclist needed it: for whatever reason, his bike went up a snowbank and he fell, head toward the traffic. Because bike lanes often become snowbanks and sidewalks are often not cleared, more cyclists may end up on the road. Please be extra cautious.

Stay Alert, Slow Down, and Stay in Control

That’s the general advice from the Ministry of Transportation, and it’s just common sense. As much as we hate to admit it, our driving habits change for winter driving. You definitely cannot throw caution to the wind when it comes to safely navigating the roads during the cold season.