Written By: Joseph Cescon and Bryan Sansom, Articling Student
Many Canadians are in the throes of winter and along with the bitter cold can come terrible driving conditions. During the winter months, our roads are covered in snow and ice. Conditions can be made worse by poor visibility and other hazards. As personal injury lawyers, we see a dramatic increase in serious injuries caused or contributed to by winter weather conditions. Fortunately, many of these accidents are preventable. Here are some tips to help you navigate the roads safely this winter season.
Equip your car with winter tires! Standard all-season tires are ill-equipped to perform on snow and ice for two reasons. First, the tread pattern on all-season tires is not properly designed to cut through the layer of snow or the water that sits on top of ice. This means your tire won’t grip the asphalt as effectively as it does in spring, summer and fall. Consequently, your vehicle will slide or hydroplane along the surface of snow and water which provides poor maneuverability and braking. Second, the type of rubber comprising all-season tires freezes at a higher temperature than that of winter tires. When a tire becomes frozen and rigid, less rubber makes contact the asphalt. Similar to having poor tread, rigid tires result in poor control and maneuverability.
Not only will winter tires help keep you safe, winter tires will save you money on your insurance policy. Most insurers now provide policy holders a reduced monthly premium if their vehicle is equipped with winter tires. However, motorists must be careful because this principle cuts both ways. For example, if you are in an accident but either misrepresented to your insurer that your vehicle is equipped with winter tires, or have simply failed to put them on your vehicle, your insurer may deny any claim for personal injury or property damage arising out of an accident.
It is important to note that icy or snowy road conditions always impede your vehicle’s ability to stop as quickly as it can on a bare road surface. This may seem like common sense, but drivers often operate under the misapprehension that expensive tires, four-wheel (or all-wheel) drive systems, or anti-lock braking systems (ABS) render them invincible on snow and ice. As a result, they don’t modify their driving habits in accordance with driving conditions. Four-wheel drive systems neither allow you to stop any faster than two-wheel drive systems, nor do they necessarily allow the driver to negotiate corners or bends in the road any better than two-wheel drive systems. All other things being equal, vehicles equipped with ABS have an enhanced ability to stop as compared with vehicles which do not have ABS. However, the braking ability of a vehicle with ABS is still inferior to the braking ability of your vehicle on a clear, dry road. This is true no matter what make/model of vehicle you drive.
In order to compensate for your vehicle’s reduced ability to stop on snow or ice, it can be helpful to adopt a defensive driving style during the winter months. To the extent possible, allow for a greater distance between you and the vehicles around you, slow down well in advance of intersections, and use an abundance of caution when changing lanes or entering/exiting a highway. You cannot control the driving habits of other motorists. But the foregoing suggestions help provide a buffer between you and careless motorists, ultimately decreasing the likelihood of becoming involved in a dangerous collision.
Clearing the snow off your vehicle after a snowstorm is commonplace – you wouldn’t be able to see out windshield otherwise. However, don’t forget to clear the snow off the hood and roof of your vehicle as well. Snow may be suddenly blown from the hood onto your windshield, unexpectedly obstructing your view of the road. Snow on the roof may similarly blow off your vehicle and present an unexpected hazard to motorists in your vicinity. Failing to clear the snow off your vehicle is not only potentially dangerous, but it can be costly too. A Winnipeg motorist was recently issued a $240 ticket for carrying an “unsecured load” after failing to clear the snow off his vehicle’s roof following a snowstorm.
It is also a good idea to maintain a full tank of gas. The additional weight may provide a marginal increase in your vehicle’s traction. However, and more importantly, a full tank of gas allows you to power your vehicle’s heating system which will keep you and your passengers warm in the event that you get stuck and are forced to brave the elements.