How to Drive Safely During Tail End of Brutal Winter

Angelo DiCicco, GTA manager for Young Drivers of Canada
Angelo DiCicco, GTA manager for Young Drivers of Canada

Winter driving in Canada can be a white-knuckle experience for motorists who don’t know how to safely handle slippery roadways, freeways and parking lots.

While the spring season is not all that far away, winter conditions persist and drivers braving the colder-than-usual weather this year still need to exercise caution.

In order to get some tips to help drivers make it through the tail end of another winter driving season, Carpages.ca recently reached out to Angelo DiCicco, GTA manager for Young Drivers of Canada. DiCicco, as can be seen below, has plenty to say about how to stay safe.

Carpages.ca: What are some of the mistakes that drivers tend to make that could put themselves and others in danger?

DiCicco: Everyone who drives in Canada regularly knows they need to slow down in adverse driving conditions. But they don’t always understand why. It’s the why that’s important. Many people drive at a speed at which they feel they can competently stop within a reasonable distance. The average person thinks they’re an above-average driver. That’s kind of dumb, but that’s the way it is.

What people forget is that they don’t only have to allow space and time for them to stop, but they have to allow space and time for the vehicle behind them to stop and the vehicle behind that one to stop. Being a good citizen on the highway of life, you have to allow room for other people to make a mistake….What you want to do is slow down early enough – activate the brake lights early enough – to get the attention of the vehicle behind, and have them start to slow down early. So both of you can come to a gentle stop.

Carpages.ca: There are people who still believe that all-seasons are fine during the winter driving season. Can you explain the advantages of using winter tires during the cold season?

DiCicco: Anything below 7 °C, you should have winter tires on because the rubber compounds remain more malleable, so people will notice their ability to transfer the weight from one side of the vehicle to the other… is going to be dramatically better with winter tires. That’s another place where the thought process breaks down. Canadians who want to be cheap think that they only need all-season radials because maybe in downtown Toronto we don’t get too much snow.

You can’t save money by using all-season tires throughout the year because it makes more sense to purchase two sets of tires – including a set of all-seasons, and you put those on April 1, on April Fool’s Day. If you keep your [winter] tires on beyond April 1, you’re a fool. They wear out. You put the winter tires on November 11, because that’s Remembrance Day, and while we’re remembering the war heroes, you also remember to put on your winter tires.

If you purchase two sets of tires – one set of winter and one set of all-seasons – they will last you twice as long. So you’re not spending any more money over the life of the two sets of tires of the vehicle. What you’re getting in return is a reduced crash rate, a better degree of control. It’s a safer drive, a more pleasant drive, a less stressful drive. You’re not saving any money by using all-season tires four seasons of the year because you’re going to replace them twice as often than if you had a set of all-season and a set of winter tires. Most Canadians are going to get three seasons out of each set of tires.

Carpages.ca: If drivers lose control of their vehicles and go into a tailspin, what’s the proper way to fix the problem?

DiCicco: That’s a complex question. And the answer is complex depending on whether you’re in a front-wheel drive or a rear-wheel drive and whether it’s what you call an over-steer skid or an under-steer. That’s why you’d go to www.ydwinterdriving.com so you can see those situations on the website and find out how to handle it.

Habit number one is look well ahead. What you have to do is force your eyes way up the roadway where you want to be in 12 to 15 seconds – about a block and a half in the city or a kilometer on the freeway. What that does is force your point of reference way up ahead of the car because, when you’re entering a skid situation, many people start to freak out and lower their chin, and they put their point of reference too close to the car. If that happens, when they go to correct the steering, they end up over-correcting because the point of reference is too close to the car…. Imagine looking straight ahead of you now and all of a sudden take a quarter-turn counter-clockwise to your left. Now you’re looking at your left rather than looking at the 12 o’clock position. You’re looking at 10 o’clock. Well, the road is at 12 o’clock.

If you, habit number one, look well ahead at 12 o’clock, then you have to steer in the direction you’re looking so your hands are going to go hand-over-hand to the right, which will bring the car turning into the skid in the direction you want to go. Let’s say you’re going to over-steer a little bit and now your vehicle is facing 1 o’clock. Look well ahead to 12 o’clock; now you’re turning your head to the left. You’re looking to the left up ahead so you’re going to start to steer to the left. You may over correct a smidgen and now your vehicle is at 11 o’clock. You turn to your right because you’re looking at 12 o’clock and get it back.

Those quick, simple corrections occur instantaneously and should occur habitually if you look well ahead and steer where you look and if you practice this. What’s happening is you’re transferring the weight from one side to another. You’re praying to God that you were smart enough on November 11 to put on a set of proper winter tires.

Soon enough it will be time to put on the all-seasons and to deal with the challenges that come with spring and summer driving. Between now and then, however, there will be some treacherous, slippery roadways to contend with. DiCicco’s tips can definitely help to make winter driving more manageable.