November 14, 2018

As the first snowflakes of the season fall, many Canadian motorists all have the same question running through our heads: Do people forget how to drive in the winter?

As the roads become more congested and filled with snow, drivers in the Waterloo Region need to become more aware of their surroundings, as the roads can very quickly become a death trap. The spike in collisions every fall enough proof that people do, in fact, forget how to drive in the wintry months.

Waterloo Region is one of the largest and fastest growing regions in Ontario, with the tenth-largest population in Canada and the fourth largest in Ontario. With such a booming population, there are bound to be more and more drivers on the road every year, which raises concerns for road safety. Driving on the roads in the winter can be very dangerous and can result in many car crashes. Inclement weather conditions such as snowfall, ice, wind, fog, and freezing rain are all factors in the upcoming months, which, in turn, can affect driver behaviour, vehicle handling, and road conditions.

According to a report from Waterdown Collision, insurance providers in Canada report a 49-per-cent rise in claims related to vehicle collisions from December to January. On an average, this is a rise from 3.1 per cent to 4.7 per cent over the winter months.

Even though Canadians experience snowfall every year, many drivers fail to follow the basic rules of winter driving. The first snowfall of the year can pose extreme challenges and a driver’s crash risk doubles during the snowy season compared to the summer.

Preparing for winter driving can seem like a daunting task to many, but it is quite simple. Here are some tips and tricks to staying safe of the roads during the winter season.

Car maintenance

  • Topping up your windshield washer fluid – this allows you to keep your wipers moving to defrost ice from your windshield
  • Installing adequate wiper blades – this keeps your visibility clear at all times
  • Checking all of your lighting systems on your vehicle for signalling and braking – this goes a long way, not just for you, but for drivers around you. Making sure your lights work is important for other drivers to know and understand what your vehicle is doing.
  • Installing winter tires – You can’t drive safely on the roads without them. It’s no coincidence that both Quebec and Germany require winter tires on all vehicles during the winter months.

Driving tips

  • Clear off all the snow from your car before you leave – This is important so you can see and other vehicles can see you. No one wants tons of snow flying off your car onto theirs on a major highway.
  • Drive slowly on the roads – Any action you make with a car is going to take longer to take effect.
  • Leave more space in between cars – This allows you and your car to have an adequate reaction time to stop in case of an emergency or hazardous situation. Leave about twice your normal following distance as many accidents occur due to people following to close to other cars.
  • Leave earlier – This gives you time to get to your destination safely.
  • Know what parts of the road freeze first – Bridges and overpasses freeze first because the freezing wind strikes the bridge above, below and on both sides. Bridges have no way to trap any heat, so they will freeze shortly after temperatures in the atmosphere hit the freezing point.
  • Intersections –  Be aware of the changing lights. Cars need to start braking early and creep up to where you need to stop. There is usually ice at or near an intersection and you do not want to be sliding into the middle of that.
  • Let someone know where you are going – Inform someone of the route that you are taking and your estimated time of arrival. That way if you do not arrive, they will know where to start looking.
Auto safety kit at Walmart in Kitchener Ont. (Jessica Towriss/Spoke News)

What to have in your car

  • Emergency car kit – This should include a flashlight, batteries, blanket, extra clothing, snacks, water, gloves, boots and a first-aid kit.
  • Winter travel gear – tire chains, ice scraper/snow brush, shovel, jumper cables, windshield washer fluid, and road flares.
  • A full tank of gas – not only will this help you if you are stuck and need to stay warm, but a full tank of gas will keep your fuel line from freezing.
  • A phone charger – Do not use your phone while driving, but if you end up in an accident or in the middle of nowhere, it will allow you to charge a dead phone to call emergency services.

What to do if you are in an accident

  • Remember to stay calm.
  • Pull to the side of the road when it is safe to do so.
  • If anyone is injured, call 911 immediately.
  • Report your accident to the nearest collision reporting centre.
  • Get the contact information of all of the drivers involved, including name, address, insurance information, phone number, drivers licence, and their licence plate number.
  • Get contact information from witnesses (if there is any), including their name, address and telephone number.
  • Report the accident to your insurance company or broker.
  • Use legitimate tow truck operators to remove your vehicle safely.

Unfortunately, we as Canadians cannot simply hibernate during the winter season like animals do and avoid the winter roads. However, there are a number of ways for drivers in the Waterloo Region to arrive at their destinations safe and sound.

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