5 Easy Ways to be a Better Winter Driver

How to Drive Better in Winter

Police officers see it all in winter. Consider them experts in what to do (and not to do) to make the “shift into winter” and travel safely through the chilly season.

Staff Sgt. Pat McTiernan is one such officer. He’s the Operations NCO for the North District Traffic Services (a division of the RCMP) out of Prince George. We recently talked to him to get some expert advice on how drivers can get ready for winter driving.

It’s really not that difficult to prepare yourself and your vehicle for the snow, ice, freezing rain, fog (I could go on…) that pounds the province for months every year.

We’ll let the Staff Sgt. take it from here…

1. Install Winter tires, winter tires, winter tires, winter tires (yes, all four of them!)

Pat says: “The key is that people in the north are generally dealing with temperatures and conditions that are below zero degrees Celsius. And we all know that when it’s below 7C, your all-season radial tires become harder and not as compliant with road conditions. At the end of the day, your tires are not giving you the best contact with the roadway.

“I think it’s key that motorists prepare their vehicles for winter in the fall. It is important for motorists to ensure their tires have sufficient tread depth to accommodate the road conditions, which is 3.5 mm. Tires with no traction leave motorists in situations where their vehicle will slide off the road, spin out in adverse weather conditions and affect steering. You need to have traction to have control.

There are those that drive their vehicles around town and feel there’s no necessity for them to go through the expense and preparation. However, in a number of occasions here in Prince George, we’ve had a weather event and people needed to get to work and were driving their vehicles with summer tires with inadequate tire tread. Quite frankly, on those occasions, we actually charge the drivers with driving without reasonable consideration for other people using the road, and we remove them from the road with a tow truck. That is to protect the other people on the road who have prepared their vehicles for the weather and are trying to drive to the weather conditions.”

2. Prepare an emergency kit

Pat says: “At any time, all drivers should be prepared for an event to occur that is going to delay them on the highway. We often see instances where there is an incident and people don’t have enough fuel in their vehicles, and they’re idling at an incident scene for four or five hours and they don’t have blankets, water, or anything to keep them sustained until the highway opens again.

“Look at British Columbia: if you left Vancouver and you’re going to Fort Nelson – we’re talking a couple of days – you should prepare before you leave and know that, anywhere along that route, you could be facing something, whether it’s an incident, a landslide, an avalanche or another event, that’s going to hold you up on the highway. You could be sitting in your car for some time.”

3. Consider where you’re travelling

Pat says: “BC is a very unique province in that we have so many different weather patterns and so many temperate zones.

“We get very nervous around the holiday season, when people start travelling long distances from places where they are not required to have winter tires. People are in a rush and they have a lot on their minds, and they come into areas where we have snow, or ice, or freezing rain, and they aren’t used to that weather and they are not prepared.

“Many people do not put winter tires on their cars in Victoria and Vancouver because they don’t generally see snow. But if you’re going to travel into the northern part of the province, you’ve got to be prepared for the snow and other weather events that will occur. This winter, we had an interesting phenomenon where, in January, we saw temperatures that were varying between -10C and 10C over 24 hours. We had melting snow and water one moment, and then when the sun went behind the mountains, we had freezing rain and black ice. People who didn’t have the proper equipment on their cars, and proper tires on their vehicles, ran into difficulties.

“The weather conditions are there. It’s up to the driver to adjust their driving to the conditions and be prepared for them.”

4. Remove all snow from your vehicle before driving

Pat says: “One thing we see a lot is people not cleaning their car off. When you get 10-15cm of snow, for example, we watch people who only clean part of their windshield so they can see out. They need to understand that it’s an offence in British Columbia not to have your windows clean so you can see approaching traffic.

“We had an incident here where a young fella jumped into his car, pulled out, and was hit by a logging truck because he didn’t see it coming. He didn’t take the time to clean his windows and was looking through a little square in front.

“Driving is a multi-faceted task that requires your attention and the ability to react to anything. If you can’t see it, you can’t react to it.

“We also see vehicles driving with a foot of snow on the roof. The driver stops and snow comes off the roof and onto the windshield. You wouldn’t have to contend with that momentary lapse of vision if you’d cleaned your car off. The same applies to anything that comes off the back of your car and goes into the car behind you. It’s courtesy that your snow is not blowing into the windshield of the car behind you. If you’re following a driver that hasn’t cleaned the vehicle off properly you need to give yourself more space so you can see.

5. Check DriveBC, know before you go!

Pat says: “We use DriveBC and we work directly with the ministry to ensure, if we close the highway for any reason, the supervisor is advised and we post right away. It’s key for the police. And motorists need to understand, we don’t close the highway because we want to close the highway. We understand it affects not only the private vehicles out there, but anybody who has a business and are travelling for work, or the commercial industry. We try to keep DriveBC updated every single time, and we often refer the public to DriveBC to get road and weather conditions and find out when the highway is open or closed.”

Some simple planning and vehicle preparation can make all the difference this winter. And if the weather is severe, ask yourself: do you really need to get in your vehicle? Or, are you better off fixing yourself a hot cup of cocoa and postponing your trip?

Do you have any more tips to add? Please share with us in the comments section below.

Want more winter driving tips? Visit www.ShiftIntoWinter.ca

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Page 1 of 24 comments on “5 Easy Ways to be a Better Winter Driver”

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  1. Everyone, especially commercial truck drivers, should have a look at the photo of the wreck west of Revelstoke that happened on Sunday (on the revelstoke review or revelstoke mountaineer websites). Car wrapped round a post by the transport that crossed the centre line. The driver only survived because witnesses used snow and fire extinguishers to stop him being cremated before the rescue crew could cut him out.

    One of three commercial truck wrecks that day on the Trans-Canada, two of which closed the highway. Trouble is the dispatchers at the trucking companies will keep pressuring their inexperienced drivers to keep the schedules that make no allowance for winter conditions.

    Still, the Minister can issue self-congratulatory press releases about completing just over 60 km of 4 laning since 2001 when there are still over 170 km of unimproved 1960s 2 lane death trap and 50 km of three lane on the provincial section of the Trans-Canada. Maybe in 30 years most of the highway will be fit to carry the volume of commercial traffic it has.

    • Hi Nick,

      Thanks for your comment. We are thankful that both drivers escaped without suffering more serious injuries and wanted to assure you that we have shared your comment forward with the local area office for review.

      • The post that the car was wrapped round was one installed for the variable speed limits. I thought that at least one of them would get hit before the winter was out. I didn’t realize that they are so solid that they will completely pretzel a car. Are there no standards for road furniture impact safety?

        • Hi Nick,

          To confirm there are barriers in front of this site. This recent collision had the two vehicles go up a service entrance and engineers are looking at how to best address this while meeting engineering safety standards.

          • Yes there are barriers at THAT site. Most of the variable speed signs and sensor posts have NO BARRIER and are located even closer to the travel lane than the pole that was hit.

  2. The comment that, posted spd limits are for ideal driving conditons, and drivers should adjust as conditions change is of course bang on. Common sense would dictate that we shud slow down when conditions deteriorate, snow rain, reduced vis, night, fog etc.. its a shame that this commodity, common sense, is missing so much these days. We collectively seem to be relying more and more on other authority to do our thinking for us.

    Commercial driver candidates should have to complete a winter, mountain driving course in order to drive any interior roads. There would be an uproar from operators but it seems that statistics support this requirement.

    I drive a 2 wheel drive pickup and during winterconditions throw in 4 to 500 lbs of cement blocks and adjust to the conditions. Cuts into the mileage, but helps to keep the tires on the ground !!

    Another rambling comment,is the discussions on “winter” tires. They are obviously great, but if you drive like an idiot, they wont help.

    Thx H.

  3. The MVA should make it law for all vehicle rental companies operating in British Columbia to ensure all of their rental units are equipped with the appropriate winter tires from October 1st to March 31st.

    • Hi Dennis,

      Thanks for connecting with us here. Most, if not all, rental cars in BC should be equipped with all season tires bearing the M+S logo and a min. 3.5 mm tread. If your trip includes travel over mountain passes, you can request that the rental company install winter tires (with the mountain/snowflake logo) on them. Hope that this helps.

  4. Hi All
    We are tourists. We are coming to ski and ride. Do you know how hard it is to rent a vehicle with snow tyres? And how little knowledge rental company staff have? Quebec’s required “winterisation” may be a good idea everywhere.

    • Hi Donna
      Yep, good advice. Why do rental car companies prevent folk from carrying/using chains? In New Zealand companies allow them. Why not in Canada?

      • Hi John,
        It all depends on the rental company policy around winter tires. We certainly recommend ff you are renting a vehicle and travelling outside the Greater Vancouver or Greater Victoria areas, it’s a good idea to request a vehicle with M+S or mountain/snowflake tires.

  5. Tell that to some of the ‘professional’ drivers who graced Revelstoke with a 6+ hour road closure and multiple other accidents this weekend. Fortunately no one was killed by them although one innocent got a broken ankle and another had a very close shave.

    • It didn’t take long for someone to die. 14 hour road closure last night/this morning because yet another commercial transport lost control traveling too fast for the conditions. Collided with another commercial transport coming the other way. Driver who died wasn’t the one who lost control.

      The Ministry really needs to do something urgently about this. It is an nightmare start to the winter driving season.

      • And the other day the Revelstoke Highway rescue truck was called to accidents both east and west of Revelstoke at the same time. However they couldn’t get to the accident west of Revelstoke because the road was blocked by another wreck.

      • Hi Nicholas,
        We were saddened to hear this too. We continue to remind drivers that winter conditions exist on BC highways, and motorists should drive to those conditions.

  6. First snowfall at Revelstoke – three transports wrecked this morning west of town. One crossed the centerline and took out a pickup coming the other way. Road conditions were not bad – it was the driving that was bad. If you drive the speed limit +10-20 km/h in winter you deserve to wreck – but the poor innocents you hit don’t. If this is how the rest of the winter is going to play out with the new higher speed limits then it isn’t going to be pretty 🙁

    • Hi Nicholas,

      Speed limits are set as the limit to drive during ideal driving conditions. Winter is not ideal driving conditions and drivers should adjust their speed to reflect the conditions.

        • The variable speed limit innovation is not a quick done deal. I hope to see it in time for next winter. . I am sure that the technology segment will take a good 4 months alone. When on the mountain roads and you are stopped by an accident ahead, pull over to the closest side of the road you are on. Single lane, pull to the right, Double lane, right lane pulls right, left lane pulls left. . . . Make room for emergency vehicles. Sense really can become common again 😉

          • I can tell you what is a done deal – death and delays. So far this winter 3 deaths west of Revelstoke, 1 east, all involving commercial transports. Several other road closures for commercial vehicle wrecks and many other commercial vehicle wrecks that didn’t completely close the road. Notice a common factor? The highway is full of commercial vehicles traveling at high speed, driven by inexperienced drivers with no experience of winter mountain driving who are working to schedules with absolutely no allowance for winter driving.

            This has been an awful winter and we haven’t even made it into the new year yet.

          • opening up the center of the hwy would help all emergency vehicles to get to the scene.. on the island it was a huge problem.. even having the traveling public try and block a maintenance vehicles trying to get to the scene to clean up.. but ..what they are see is someone trying to get in front of them..