According to a 2008 U.S. survey* many drivers are unaware of the proper safety procedures for driving in the winter.


The survey of over 5,000 people aged 16-60 plus found that:

  • 46 per cent did not know their gas tanks should be at least half full in order to keep heat on in case of emergency.
  • 38 per cent were unaware that using cruise control could be dangerous in the winter time, even in clear weather.
  • 24 per cent did not know that if your car is skidding, to turn the wheel in the direction of the skid.

Four-wheel drive

The survey also showed that 70 per cent of drivers may exhibit a false sense of security when driving in snowy weather if their vehicle is equipped with four-wheel drive:

  • 37 per cent feel they are less likely to have an accident.
  • 21 per cent would drive during and right after a snowstorm.
  • 9 per cent would feel superior to cars without four-wheel drive.
  • 3 per cent would drive faster than they would with only two-wheel drive.

Canadians better winter drivers?

Perhaps since most Canadians have to drive in winter weather at least part of the year and deal with blizzards, heavy snow, freezing rain, drizzle and black ice, maybe they would have fared better in the survey. After all, the survey would have polled drivers in states that rarely, if ever, see snow or blizzard conditions. Either way, everyone should follow these general winter driving tips for staying safe in winter weather conditions.

Prepare your car for winter conditions

  • Keep at least half a tank of gas in your car at all times.
  • Switch to winter tires (this may even be required by law in some provinces, Quebec for example) and make sure your tires are properly inflated to the levels recommended in your owner's manual. Do not mix-and-match your winter tires with your summer or all-seasons.

    A good rule of thumb is to put your snow tires on when the temperature drops to 7° Celsius.
  • Always clear the ice and snow from your vehicle; pay special attention to your windows, lights, mirrors, hood and the roof.
  • Replace your windshield wipers. Wipers should be replaced every six months because wipers that do not work are dangerous; you can't drive if you can't see!

Often, there's more to getting your car ready for the winter than you alone can do. That's where a mechanic can help. Read: Winter car tune-up checklist for more information about how you and your mechanic can get your car ready for the winter.

Practice safe driving

The best thing is to avoid driving in bad weather. If you absolutely must, check the weather before you leave and tell people your route so they know where you're going. Give yourself extra time to travel. Also:

  • Buck up.
  • Match your speed to the road and weather conditions.
  • Avoid cruise control. Winter conditions require you to be in full control of the vehicle at all times.
  • It takes longer to stop in the winter on snowy and icey roads, so keep a safe distance between yourself and the vehicle in front of you. What makes a safe distance? Under normal driving conditions, safe spacing can be determined with the two-second rule. In winter however, and especially in bad weather, double the two-second rule. This means, a 4-second interval from the time the car in front of you passes a fixed object until you reach the same object.
  • Turn the wheel into a skid if you're caught in one.

Before you drive anywhere...

Make sure you have a winter car kit in your trunk. To see what your winter kit should include refer to the car safety kit checklist. This will help you gather the essentials you need to make sure you're prepared in the cold winter months.

Looking for more winter tips?

Check out the following resources:

As part of your year end winter car prep and safety check, you may also want to consider doing a check of your insurance rates using to see if you're getting the best rates.

* The survey was administered by TNS, a marketing information resource and provider of custom research and analysis, for GMAC Insurance.

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