How to Make Winter Driving Less Horrible

Happy Thursday, Winnipeg!

The snow has finally come! As excited as I am that it’s starting to look more like Christmas, I am also feeling a familiar sense of dread at the thought of driving through the treacherous weather conditions. Also, my baby sister will be on the road for her first winter driving solo, which inspired me to write this for all the “novice” drivers out there, in addition to being a gentle reminder for those who are more experienced. Here are a few things that I’ve learned over the years to stay safe and ease the stress of winter driving in Winnipeg.

Plan Ahead

Leave early. If that means you have to wake up earlier, so be it. It’s so important to give yourself a buffer when commuting because you never know what may happen, and rushing can increase the potential for accidents. Eventually, the increased stress of running late on a regular basis can also have negative effects on your well-being.

Know your route. If you are aware of commonly congested areas, construction or road-closures ahead of time, you can plan a new route and avoid the hold-up altogether.

Listen to the radio. Being aware of traffic conditions and updates before leaving the house lets you adjust your route accordingly before even getting in the car and can save a great deal of time.

Drive Smart

Decrease your speed. This includes not only driving speed, but the speed at which you accelerate, brake and steer. My Grandpa once said to me, “Driving on ice is perfectly safe until you want to change speed or direction.” I’ve probably never heard anything more true in my life. Driving on ice is the easy part; it’s when you decide to brake or turn that it gets really tricky. Losing traction on ice is difficult to avoid, but accelerating more gently, braking more slowly and taking less sharp turns can help to maintain control of your vehicle.

You should never feel pressured to match the speed of drivers around you. Drive the speed at which you feel safe, but stay in the right lane wherever possible to allow faster moving traffic to pass. My biggest pet peeve in regards to driving is when traffic becomes congested because slow-moving cars refuse to stay to one side. This can also increase the risk of accidents because other drivers become impatient and begin to swerve around the slower cars.

Increase your following distance. I’ve been rear-ended twice, and have had a few more close calls of my own than I care to admit, so this one hits close to home. When in comes to ice, control over your vehicle becomes little more than an illusion. Think you’re far enough away from the car ahead? You probably aren’t.

I know this is a point that has probably been drilled into your head since Driver’s Education (because it sure-as-heck was drilled into mine), but it’s not without good reason; according to 2014 MPI statistics, “following too closely” was the contributing factor to 16% of car accidents (resulting in 27% of collision-related injuries), second only to distracted driving at 21%, which brings me to my next point:

Do not drive while distracted! According to the same MPI statistics from 2014 as mentioned previously, distracted driving resulted in 27% of collision-related fatalities, 1% up from 2013. I don’t care if your mom texted you or you spilled your Timbits all over the floor or there’s a cute guy walking down the street; distracted driving is not only a threat to your own life, but to those around you as well. There is no excuse. Just don’t do it.

Drive Defensively. This is not something that I learned on my own, but rather something that my mom taught me. In addition to being a safe driver, it is important to be aware of the other drivers around you. Keep an eye out for the cars in your line of sight, be aware of potential accidents that could occur and think of ways that you might react quickly to avoid them. I know it sounds like a lot of brain-power is involved, but it becomes almost second-nature with practice and can mean the difference between a collision or a close call. Just don’t over-do it and distract yourself from driving safely.

As an example of defensive driving, when the light turns green I always check to see whether anyone will slide into the intersection before proceeding through.

Have Patience

Chill out. Getting angry will not make the car ahead of you go any faster. We all have places to be and things to do; being aggressive is not only unproductive, it also creates tension, irritates everyone around you and increases your own stress levels.

Change your attitude. If you think that speeding, pressuring other drivers, swerving in and out of traffic or being aggressive is getting you where you need to go any faster, it’s not. Eventually you will hit a red light and all the people you just cut off will catch up with you. Just go with the flow.

Equip Your Vehicle

Winter tires. Enough said.

Windshield washer fluid. Remember to top it up, and carry extra in the trunk. I have a bad habit of forgetting to fill it and often need to pullover mid-commute to throw a few snowballs at my car. It’s not as fun as it sounds.

Jumper cables. No Winnipeger should go without a set of jumper cables in the trunk. It might also help to know how to use them.

{Note to self: Learn how to jump a car.}

Make the Commute Enjoyable

Audio. I never drive anywhere without the radio or a CD playing. Because winter commutes generally take longer, I find that listening to music distracts from the monotony of an everyday route. Don’t like music? Try listening to an audiobook, downloading your podcast to-go or finding a CD of your favourite comedian.

Yummy beverage. I don’t know about you, but a hot cup of tea or coffee in the morning can make the drive to work so much more bearable.

I know having an enjoyable drive doesn’t seem like much of a “safety” tip, but it can definitely decrease driving-related stress and prevent aggressive driving habits. Trust me, it helps.

Did I miss anything that you find important? Let me know in the comments below.

Happy driving!

Randi

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