Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Winter Driving - Part I

Well, we made it though November without snow. (As far as I'm concerned that is near perfect...add 20 degrees to the temperature and I'll be much happier.)

Then came December 1st and my drive to work started by clearing the car of snow...yes, the entire car, not just a 6x6 section of windshield...we'll talk later about that.

So, since we won't be escaping winter driving forever we should start talking about it. Thanks to PC Hugh Smith, here is the beginning of our Winter Driving Series.

Winter driving requires one's full attention and concentration.
Proper seating position, including the proper wearing of the seat belt, is a paramount consideration. If the seating position is not correct, all other aspects of safe driving will be compromised.

Smooth inputs on the gas pedal, brake pedal and steering wheel are also a must. "Ease and squeeze" both gas and brake pedal as opposed to jumping on them. A 9 and 3 hand position on the steering wheel invites nice controlled and fluid steering inputs. There is a tendency among drivers to hold the wheel towards the 12 o'clock position and with one hand only. This promotes over steering of the vehicle, which is the last thing you need on a slippery snow covered surface.

A minimum following distance of 3 to 4 seconds is recommended in ideal weather situations. As the weather turns, you require more and more of a following distance. This is where ones, emotional control and good judgement come into play. Driving talent alone is often not enough.

Driving attitude is probably the hardest component to change in winter vehicle operation, as it requires a change in habit. Given a road with a posted speed of 60 km/h, some drivers operate their vehicle up to speeds of 80km/h under good conditions. Add fresh falling snow you may lose as much as 25% in traction or vehicle control requiring your speed to drop in relation to 60 km/h.

Your field of vision and eye lead may now be reduced by as much as 20%, lowering your speed now to about 50km/h.

Incorporating your speed reduction with a greater following distance would be hard for most drivers to maintain due to their resistance to change.

All driving must be planned out. In order to plan, a driver must be able to see far enough ahead and to each side, so one is not suddenly surprised by something. Don't look immediately ahead of the vehicle. Try to get your eyes scanning towards the horizon. Look and steer where you want to go next. Keep the eyes moving, always looking for the space you plan on occupying next.


Ice forms at 3 specific areas and drivers should be mindful of these:

- On bridges caused by the double air surfaces and the lack of ground heating and under bridges in the shaded area of the road on sunny days.

- On the roadway immediately approaching and up to a controlled intersection caused by vehicles sliding to a stop and spinning their wheels under acceleration attempting to move away from the intersection.

- Where roads are super elevated, the ploughed snow often melts during the day and runs in a small river from top to bottom across the entire roadway. This wet surface can freeze overnight and cause an ice patch across the road in the corners.

Many of our own personal vehicles are equipped with anti-lock braking systems (A.B.S.). This is a computerized aid, which eliminates wheel lock-up. It allows for some steering in an emergency stop situation, even on very slippery surfaces. However, few of us have a great understanding of this marvelous piece of equipment.
Contrary to popular belief, A.B.S. will not always stop you in a shorter distance than a conventional braking system. Utilizing the threshold braking technique, which is maximum braking force before wheel lock up, or A.B.S. is activated, may stop you in a shorter distance.
With proper planning by looking far enough ahead of the vehicle, one should next to never have to rely on this system of braking.

Remember, space is your friend. Always drive with a space cushion for yourself as well as for all the other vehicles you encounter along your route. Always drive with an "out" in mind, in other words, let’s try and be a bit more humble in our vehicle operation.


  1. Very decent info. I hope you use some of my material for your other installments. Certainly by now you have checked my recent re-post on SNOW on my blog.(

    It is paramount, as said in this article that ALL OF THE SNOW is removed. Otherwise, you are IMPAIRED by it. I cannot stress this enough, I see it far too often to not stress it. My commute is 60k less and its still bad.

  2. I think you missed the #1 most important winter driving tip: When it's dangerous to drive, DO NOT DRIVE. Find an alternate way to get around, or make different plans. No sense in risking other peoples' lives by making unnecessary trips.

  3. JRH & Vic.
    Thanks for the posts. Great points you have both made!