They can last for several hours, bring furious heavy and blowing snow, freezing rain and sleet, plummeting temperatures and strong winds while preventing visibility on the roads.
Check the weather forecast before heading out to your car. If you are a under a winter storm warning, it’s best to stay at home and off the roads. If you are already in your car during a snowstorm, don’t panic. Being a defensive driver is about being prepared for all road conditions, paying attention to your surroundings on all sides and giving yourself extra space from other vehicles. Driving defensively in winter can be tricky but easing on the side of caution, anticipating possible situations and following snowstorm safety tips can help keep yourself and other drivers on the road safe.
One of the most important driving safety tips during any season is to wear a seatbelt. Seat belts can help save lives. Make sure yourself and any passengers in the vehicle are buckled up safely. Any children 12 and under are required to sit in the back seat, strapped securely in a proper car or booster seater.
A snowstorm can generate slippery roads with snow buildup and ice. It’s strongly advised to watch your speed during poor weather conditions. This is crucial if you have to suddenly brake or turn abruptly. Avoid speeding up and passing any other vehicles.
If you find yourself driving through a snowstorm, try not to panic. Panicking can increase anxiety and stress levels, leading you to make sudden movements of the steering wheel. Even the most experienced drivers can experience skidding and sliding on winter roads. If this happens, ease off the accelerator and put the transmission into neutral, if possible. Steer in the direction you’d like to go. When you gain control again, brake delicately. For more information on skidding, read our Icy Roads: What to do if your Vehicle Skids post.
During a snowstorm and whiteout conditions, visibility can potentially become limited and frustrating. While driving, continue to use your windshield wipers to clear snow off and to help prevent buildup. Make yourself visible by using your headlights and turn signals to communicate with other drivers. If you are having difficulty seeing, find a safe place to pull over and wait the storm out. If necessary, take shelter in a building nearby.
Wear warm clothes
Cranking the heat in your car can help warm you up, but also dressing appropriately for the weather can be a big help. Layer, layer and layer. You can also bring extra clothes and a wool blanket for your car trip just in case.
Having a winter emergency kit in your car is an essential. The kit can either be bought at your local hardware store and or can be homemade. Double check that you have the following items in your kit:
- Bottled water
- First aid kit
- Snow shovel, scraper and snowbrush
- Extra pair of gloves
- Change of clothes and boots
- Candle and lighter
- Non-perishable food items
- Spare phone battery and charger
- Road maps
- Road flares
- Jumper cables
Stuck in the snow
If your car breaks down or you get stuck in a snowbank, remain calm and inside the car. You may feel up to the task of shovelling yourself out but it’s advised to save your strength and call for help. Turn your car engine off and be aware of the potential of carbon monoxide poisoning. Check to see if the exhaust pipe is covered by any snow. Leave car warning lights on or set up any road flares if you have any. Watch out for any signs of frostbite (numbness, skin changing colour to red, bluish-white or gray-yellowish), and hypothermia (shivering, fatigue, confusion and slurred speech). For more information on these conditions visit the Ready Campaign website.
Find out the weather forecast before you travel and make sure your vehicle is in a stable enough condition to take on winter roads. Drive slowly and defensively. If possible during a snowstorm, stay off the roads.