Lose the Cruise Control in Winter

do not use cruise control in winter

When it comes to winter driving, cruise control can make you lose control, wherever you are in BC.

Snow, ice, slush, deep pools of water and even oil on water are slippery. These winter conditions plus snowfall, fog, rain and longer hours of darkness demand your full attention and quick reactions.

The problem with using cruise control in those circumstances, comes when the car in front of you swerves, wildlife steps onto the road, you skid or something else unexpected happens. You might not have the time to cancel cruise control and respond quickly enough. Braking to release the control – especially on a slick spot – can make a bad situation worse.

Another trouble with using cruise control in winter, is that it can work against you.

Here’s how: you set the cruise control at the desired speed and the vehicle is programmed to maintain that speed. When your vehicle slows below the chosen speed, the control feeds more gas to your engine so you accelerate. Speeding up can happen at the wrong time like:

  • When your front wheels are turning into an icy corner
  • When going uphill and your tires hit a slick patch
  • While driving on slippery bridge decks, where the temperature can be colder than the pavement.

In addition, while travelling downhill you may exceed the control’s set speed. And winter is not the time for speeding up! The latest cruise controls in newer vehicles apply brakes, if you exceed speeds downhill (due to gravity). And, if your car brakes on a slippery section at that time, you could be in big trouble.

“Drive for the conditions” are the buzzwords of the season, and this means reducing your speed below the posted limit, should your route serve up slippery surfaces, poor visibility, or other challenges. Even if you start out on a sunny day someplace where the pavement is bare, in winter the story can soon change. And you don’t know exactly what’s ahead (or beneath) you until you get there. A vivid example is Strathcona Parkway, where within 18 kilometres you can move from sunshine into a blizzard.

You, your passengers and others on the road want a safe drive, not slip, slide, glide or hydroplane. So, when you #ShiftintoWinter leave the cruise control alone.

This vehicle feature can be a treat when driving bare, open, mostly flat roads, in good light, from April to September. But never use cruise control in winter, where the place it takes you, could be out of control.

winter driving

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Page 1 of 22 comments on “Lose the Cruise Control in Winter”

Leave a Reply to Nicholas Thomas Cancel reply

  1. EV drivers, particularly those with an automatic transmission background, should beware of aggressive regen in winter. Regen, or regeneration, occurs when EVs use electro-magnetic fields (ie. not discs or drums) to draw energy from moving wheels to recharge the battery. Even though these brakes are non-contact, the car is braking. EVs drivers control regen braking through the accelerator through ‘one-pedal driving’. Depressing your foot accelerates the car, lifting your foot brakes the car.

    Manual drivers are familiar with one-pedal driving since the connection between engine and wheels is entirely mechanical. Lifting off the accelerator instantly engine-brakes the vehicle. Manual driver’s love this effect (and drop-shifting in general) because it provides both braking power and immediate acceleration with one pedal.

    Automatic transmissions are usually fluid-mechanical and often less direct. Lifting your foot applies almost no engine-braking at all. While engine-braking and drop shifting are possible in automatics in pseudo-manual modes, this is not the default state of automatic transmissions.

    On ice, manual drivers know they must clutch-in and lift their foot, permitting the vehicle to slow through rolling friction limiting the risk of a brake-induced skid or slide. When automatic drivers lift their foot they achieve a similar effect.

    In a normal configuration, EVs act more like manual transmissions than automatics. A sudden lift-off of the accelerator produces immediate engine-braking effect. On ice, this can quickly become a fishtail or slide. However, EV drivers can turn off or turn down their regen to achieve the gentle braking effect of automatic transmissions (e.g. ‘chill mode’ regen on Tesla vehicles) . These modes apply a ‘dead-band’ where braking occurs gradually over a long period.

    Manual drivers familiar with engine braking learn this EV lesson quickly. However, automatic drivers may be surprised by this effect, particularly on ice. As a rule, at the first signs of potential reduced traction (e.g. snow on the ground), reduce regen!

  2. Your article is misleading. It is certainly risky to use cruise control if you set the speed too high for road conditions. For example, complacent motorists may set the cruise control at high speeds that are inappropriate for curves in the road. And using cruise control on slippery surfaces can be dangerous in cars without electronic stability control. However, ESC has been available for decades and has been mandatory in all new passenger vehicles (cars and trucks up to 10,000 pounds weight) in North America since September 1, 2011 and became mandatory on heavy vehicles in August, 2016. ESC detects and corrects skids. When ESC detects skidding on water and ice, it turns off cruise control in 1/25th of a second and applies selective brakes to keep the car under control.

    • Glen,
      Thanks for sharing your views about the use of cruise control in winter. Electronic stability control (ESC) does not address the delay when having to release the cruise control and brake suddenly for wildlife or other unexpected happenings on the road. It also does not make up for the car exceeding the control’s set speed, while travelling downhill. There are many vehicles operating on the road which do not yet have ESC. Our recommendation remains for motorists not to use cruise control in winter conditions. Hope that this helps!

    • Hello again and thank you for your continued interest in BC highways. Three Valley Gap has been the centre of extensive research and study in an effort to better understand ways in which we can improve avalanche control capabilities. Currently, avalanche control at this location is performed by deploying explosives from a helicopter during periods of instability. Each control mission requires a highway closure of approximately 2-4 hours. Over the course of a winter season, we typically see closure times at this location of 35 hours. Regardless of the control methods, there will always be occasions where preventive closures are required in order to ensure safety. Our avalanche crews monitor snowpack and weather conditions continually throughout the winter to ensure safety for all. As soon as conditions allow for safe passage of vehicles, whether it is immediately after an avalanche control mission, or after a preventive closure, the highway will be open. While we would like to confirm funding for the avalanche program as a part of the four laning of the Trans-Canada highway, we are unable to do so at this time. Here is some more information on our program for your reference: http://www.th.gov.bc.ca/avalanche_weather/

      • It seems you are saying that the typical winter sees a TOTAL of 35 hours of closures due to avalanche hazard and control at Three Valley. I suspect you are going back a long while for that data. It certainly doesn’t give an accurate impression of the current impact on travelers. I work as a flagger and have worked far too many closures and avalanche control missions west of Revelstoke. This winter has been a quiet one for avalanche control work. But we had one closure that alone lasted well over 24 hours. In the last 7 winters I can remember many closures that started during the middle of the night and ran on until at least midday, often until late afternoon. A couple of years ago we had another one that was more than 24 hours (I remember it well because I was stuck the wrong side of it). On another memorable occasion we had another prolonged closure and just over an hour after the road reopened we had to shut it AGAIN because an avalanche had come down (I remember the first transport driver I stopped swearing in frustration for a good 15 minutes).

        It really does seem that the Ministry headquarters in Victoria don’t have a clue what life is really like on the Trans-Canada in the mountains.

        • Thanks for your feedback Nicholas,
          The safety of BC travelers is paramount so unfortunately the closure of highways during an avalanche hazard is necessary, and can take a prolonged amount of time based on those safety concerns. Our Kootenay District staff and avalanche team located/stationed in the area know Three Valley well and will continue to monitor and work to keep the highway open during winter and avalanche conditions.

  3. I’m sure you have an idea how much of the Trans-Canada can be upgraded for Christy Clarke’s $650m. Why don’t you tell us? Will it complete Phase 4 of the Kicking Horse Canyon Project? Three Valley (frequent avalanche and accident closures)? The Albert Canyon hill (semi spin outs every heavy snowfall)? How about the other frequent accident locations like the 19 mile S curves?

  4. Clanwilliam and Donald bridge are old news and have been completed for over a year. And 4 km of 4 lanes doesn’t fix the highway. At the rate of 4 laning at the moment I will be dead and buried before the highway is 4 laned from Kamloops to the Alberta border (I am the same age as the Trans-Canada).

  5. Well I did finally receive an acknowledgement for my latest e-mail. However I despair of getting a reply from the Minister or his representative.

    I guess I am going to have to look up his schedule of public meetings and doorstep him.

    • Hi Nicholas
      Glad to hear you received confirmation of your latest email. In regards to the two concerns you raised in your earlier comments,Trans Canada Highway safety and winter maintenance, we can share a few things.

      The ministry is investing in longer-term improvements for the TCH that will really increase safety. As you mentioned, we’re adding four-lane sections and replacing aging infrastructure along the Trans-Canada Highway between Kamloops and the Alberta border, including at the Clanwilliam and Donald Bridges near Revelstoke. Replacement of the Malakwa Bridge is also currently underway, replacing the previous Malakwa Bridge with a four-lane bridge and approaches that provide set passing and improved safety. And, we’ve dedicated $650M to four-laning the Trans-Canada Highway over the next 10 years.

      Also, we’ll be piloting a variable speed limit system on the Trans-Canada Highway between Malakwa’s Perry River Bridge, and the Highway 23 junction in Revelstoke. It’s in development right now but we’re hoping to have it in place before next winter.

      As to winter maintenance, our southern interior received an unusually heavy amount of snowfall this winter and the closures and conditions between Sicamous and Golden on the Trans-Canada Highway this winter have been a public concern. Safety is our No.1 priority, and we’re taking steps to make this area safer for drivers, including increasing the presence of our Commercial Vehicle Safety and Enforcement team to provide speed, driver distraction/behaviour and chain-up enforcement for the commercial vehicles using the highway.

      We’ll continue to work with and monitor the performance of our maintenance contractors to ensure their meeting our strict standards, and quickly address any issues that arise.

      Thanks again for sharing your concerns.

  6. But then this is nothing you don’t know. People have been complaining about this lousy highway for years. Since Christmas I have sent 6 e-mails to the Minister and have had no response.

      • I’m still waiting for a response to my e-mails. Indeed, I have now stopped even getting the automated reply saying that my e-mail has been received. Perhaps I have been banned/put on the spam list for asking too many awkward questions?

  7. I guess that in Victoria you aren’t painfully aware of the 5 deaths in a week around Revelstoke and the total chaos caused by the many closures. You might like to look at http://www.revelstoketimesreview.com/news/289311541.html. However, since this is all happening east of the Island, the Lower Mainland, Kamloops-South Thompson and Westside-Kelowna we aren’t a priority, despite the Trans-Canada being the main transport link to the rest of Canada.

    • Hi Nicholas, thanks for your feedback and comments.
      I should clarify that the ministry isn’t just in Victoria, we’re all over the province. Specifically, we have district offices in Cranbrook and Revelstoke. I’m sorry for your frustration but safety in all 11 districts is important and a priority for us. Thank you for sharing your concerns and suggestions. I’ll share them with the regional director and the local district manager (contact info here: http://www.th.gov.bc.ca/contacts-regions.htm#SouthernInterior). As to your emails to the Minister, I’ll see if there’s anything I can find out.

  8. The Ministry is the one operating on cruise control. Deafening silence in response to the rising concern about the carnage and chaos on the Trans-Canada ‘Highway’.

    • Hi Nicholas,
      Is there somewhere specifically you are concerned about? Safety is our number one priority and any issues or concerns you have, we’d like to hear.

      • And here is a suggestion of something you could do. Crack down on the commercial transport industry that employs far too many inexperienced drivers, who haven’t a clue how to drive safely in the mountains in winter conditions, and pressures them to keep to schedule come what may. Most of the deaths here were in accidents involving heavy transport trucks.

        Next you could look into whether the recent increase in speed limits has contributed to the accidents.

        Then I guess we will just have to wait for the next new set of Kamloops to Alberta 4 laning signs to appear just before the provincial election (as they did before the last two) while we get a couple of km of worn out, narrow, winding, 1960’s highway upgraded every few years.

      • And since it is going to take at least another couple of decades to upgrade the highway and eliminate the worst accident black spots you need to improve winter maintenance because of the high volume of heavy transport traffic. The federally maintained section of the highway in Glacier National Park is noticeably better maintained than the provincial section.