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Winter driving safety: 7 aspects that are misunderstood and ignored

TORONTO – Even though winter is still more than a month away, most Canadians have seen significant snow.

That makes drivers in many areas scramble to wear winter tires on their vehicles – but many experts agree that waiting for snow in the forecast before changing tires makes it too late.

From the true benefits of winter tires to whether raising windshield wipers on parked vehicles really makes a difference, looks at some of the most misunderstood and ignored aspects of winter driving.


Some drivers recognize it as a "snow tire," but winter tires actually offer more than protection from stormy roads.

"People think you don't need it because there is no snow – but in reality … winter tires will grip much better than other tires you have," Chris Palmer, regional coach with Young Drivers of Canada, said on the day Wednesday in a telephone interview.

"Rubber is made from a better variety of compounds that attach to cold surfaces. Winter tires will grip the road much more significantly, stopping much faster."

Tire experts say the temperature is 7 C. Once conditions get colder than that, even tires that are advertised as "all seasons" begin to lose control, making the best bet for winter tire riders.

Kaitlynn Furse, communications director for the Canadian Automotive Association of South Central Ontario, told Wednesday that winter tires can reduce the stopping distance of vehicles during cold weather by about two car lengths.

"That makes a pretty big difference when you are on a snowy or cold road," he said.

Drivers seem to get that message. A report released Tuesday by the Canadian Tire and Rubber Association (TRAC) found that 75 percent of the surveyed drivers used winter tires, up from 66 percent in 2017 and 35 percent in 1998. Eighty percent of the drivers said they believed in using winter tires has saved them from a potentially dangerous situation.

Among drivers who said they did not use winter tires, a small percentage said it was because they believed their tires throughout the season were quite good – a position supported by almost no one in the road safety industry.


In most of Canada, drivers are not required to use winter tires.

The only exception is Quebec, which made it mandatory in 2008. The province changed its rules this year, extending the period in which winter tires must be used so that it now covers December 1 to March 15. Drivers caught using non-winter tires can be fined up to $ 300.

Drivers in some parts of BC are required to use certain tires between October 1 and April 30, even though all seasons are in accordance with government regulations. The standard fine is $ 121 for passenger vehicles with improper tires.

Provinces that do not need winter tires are still trying to provide incentives for them to use them. Manitoba Public Insurance offers low-interest loans for winter tire purchases, while insurance companies in Ontario must provide lower premiums to drivers who have four winter tires on their vehicles on November 15.

Alberta's transportation minister recently said that there are no plans to make the use of winter tires mandatory in the province.

The TRAC report found that Quebec had the highest retrieval rate for winter tires – perhaps not surprisingly – with 100 percent of drivers using it, followed by Maritimes with 91 percent. At the other end of the scale, 59 percent of drivers in Manitoba and Saskatchewan report using winter tires.

The number of winter road collisions decreased slightly in Quebec after winter tires were made mandatory, as did the number of injuries and deaths caused by winter collisions.


Palmer said the drive of all wheels is often misunderstood by people who mistakenly believe that it gives them better handling on cold roads, makes them drive "too fast" and puts everyone on the road in danger.

"One of the jokes we have had over the years is … most of the cars that you will see in the moat are those that have all-wheel drive," he said.

"They think because they have this system in their car, that it's like magic … and it's not."

The main benefit of all-wheel drive in winter conditions is that it makes it easier for vehicles to get traction when starting from a stop, Palmer said.

"What it doesn't do is help you stop faster or steer better," he added.


The Greater Toronto area was repeatedly pelted with snow this week, leaving behind a number of cars in the state that made Palmer shake his head.

He said he saw many vehicles with their rear windows, license plates and even headlights covered with snow because the drivers did not bother to scrape them. Furse says this creates a clear problem.

"If you don't clean all the snow and ice from your vehicle, it is possible that it can slip and affect your visibility on the windshield of your own car while you are driving, or it can block the visibility of others behind you," he said.

In addition to the potential danger posed by snow flying from a moving vehicle, not cleaning the car before taking off carries financial costs for the driver, because heating the vehicle sufficient to melt the snow requires additional fuel.

The Canadian Safety Council recommends that "the mirror, all windows, and the top of your vehicle, be free of snow or snow before riding on the road."


Windshield wipers are very useful for removing snow from vehicles while moving.

To get peak performance from the wipers, it's important to replace the blade regularly. Palmer said most wiper blades only last for about six months before they have to be replaced.

Some drivers like to lift the wiper blade from the windshield when they park their car if they expect snow or rain to fall. The others do not, afraid of damage to the wipers.

Palmer said he was taught to lift the wiper blades as he grew up in northern Ontario, and continues to do so today, noting that they make the eraser more effective faster.

"In my experience doing that for 25 years, I have never had a problem," he said.


According to Furse, many drivers ignore certain aspects of winter tire safety, such as checking vehicle batteries and tire pressure.

"People assume that if you wear winter tires, you can do it – but the reality is … you have to keep the tire pressure up to the manufacturer's standards throughout the winter," he said.

Tire pressure decreases when the temperature drops. CAA recommends checking the pressure of each tire once a month.

The Canadian Safety Council said it was important for drivers to have extra windshield washer fluid in their vehicles, along with snow brushes and ice scrapers.

Furse recommends that drivers also carry emergency kits that include items to keep warm, such as blankets and gloves, and items to increase visibility during emergencies, such as flashlights or flares.

A newer addition to the recommended emergency kit is a backup phone charger.

"You can't ask for help if you don't have a telephone," Furse said.


No matter what tires are on the vehicle and what contingency plans have been made, poor driving habits can still rule out the most upbeat preparations.

Palmer spent a day with tire developers on an ice horse track, testing various vehicles, wheels and configurations. One thing is clear: The attitude of the driver makes more difference to safety than the others. He saw the same thing when he came out on the road.

"Some people have winter tires and they drive more aggressively, which defeats the point," he said.

The Canadian Safety Council noted that driving in winter "demands extra caution." It warns drivers to keep their vehicles moving "smoothly and slowly" and be prepared for unexpected maneuvers from other drivers.

The most important of all, Furse said, is that drivers give themselves extra time to reach their destination.

"Many times we assume that we can get out on the road as fast as we did during the summer, but plan ahead and set an alarm early so you have time to clean your car and prepare everything," he said.

"That way you are not in a hurry and you can drive according to the weather conditions."

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