Winter Driving

Winter Driving

animated snow divider

These are some great tips that I have learned over the years from coping with Ottawa winter driving!! The best advice I ever got: stay off the roads if the weather is really bad… Even if you know how to cope with bad weather, it doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone else does (tip #11)! Here are 25 great tips for surviving the winters. Great review for “seasoned” drivers and those new to driving in winter conditions too!!

25 Driving Tips That Could Save Your Life

plan ahead sign
Winter driving in Ottawa means being prepared well ahead of time.

  1. Prepare your vehicle with winter maintenance and check-ups. (battery, belts, hoses, radiator, oil, lights, brakes, tires, exhaust system, heater/defroster, wipers, and ignition system)
  2. Plan your winter driving route ahead of time. Let someone know your destination and expected time of arrival.
  3. Check weather and travel conditions before heading out. Don’t take chances if the weather is bad. Allow yourself extra time for travel, or wait until conditions improve.
  4. Know how to regain control of your vehicle in a skid. Most skids result from driving too fast for road or traffic conditions. Once in a skid, steer in the direction of the skid. To do this, look where you want your vehicle to go and steer toward that spot, being careful not to overcorrect. If you are on ice and skidding in a straight line, step on the clutch or shift to neutral.
  5. Winter driving means keeping your fuel tank sufficiently full — at least half a tank is recommended–you don’t want to be stranded somewhere in negative degree weather — and you’ll lose less fuel to evaporation!
  6. Keep windshield washer fluid that is rated for winter driving (a minimum of -40°C temperature range) in the vehicle’s reservoir. Keep an extra jug in the vehicle.
  7. Check tire pressure frequently–it decreases in cold weather and will help with fuel economy.
  8. Winter driving means clearing snow and ice from all windows, lights, mirrors, and the roof before driving. After starting your vehicle, wait for the fog to clear from the interior of the windows so you will have good visibility all around. There’s a really funny commercial I’ve seen where a man goes out in the freezing cold weather, clears about a foot of snow off his car, only to discover when trying to unlock his car that his car is parked behind the one that he just cleared! (Maybe that’s a joke that only Canadian drivers would appreciate!
  9. Consider using winter tires. They improve winter driving safety by providing better traction, braking and handling during frost, snow, slush, and particularly under icy conditions.
  10. Keep a winter survival kit in your vehicle. Having essential supplies can provide some comfort and safety for you and your passengers should you become stranded.
  11. Stay off the road during bad weather unless your trip is absolutely necessary.


blue cartoon car

  1. Keep a safe distance between you and the vehicle in front of you to avoid situations where you may have to brake suddenly on a slippery surface (in winter driving conditions, doubling the two-second rule is a good idea)
  2. Slow down – adapt your speed to highway and weather conditions
  3. Wear comfortable clothing that doesn’t restrict movement at the wheel. Keep warm clothing in the car for getting out of your vehicle.
  4. Using hand-held cell phones and other hand-held electronic communication or entertainment devices while driving is against the law (subject to fines). Emergency calls to 911 are not affected.
  5. Do not use your cruise control on wet, snowy or icy pavement. If your vehicle skids or hydroplanes, cruise control will cause your vehicle to continue to accelerate, reducing your reaction time and the ability to control your vehicle.
  6. If you’ve never driven in snowy conditions before, here’s what to expect: Snow on a road can be hard-packed and slippery as ice. It can also be rutted and full of hard tracks and gullies. Or it can be smooth and soft. Wet snow can make for slushy roads. Heavy slush can build up in the wheel wells of your vehicle and can affect your ability to steer.
  7. Look far enough ahead as you drive that you can recognize potential hazards and have plenty of time to respond. Slow down and avoid sudden turns of the steering wheel, and sudden braking and accelerating, which could cause a skid. Shaded areas, bridges, and overpasses can have hidden ice (these sections of road freeze much sooner in cold weather and stay frozen long after the sun has risen). Watch out for areas of the road that look shiny and black–(black ice)–it can cause your vehicle to suddenly lose traction. Slow down, keep your foot near the brake, and be ready to shift to neutral or step on the clutch as your vehicle crosses these areas.
  8. In snowy, wet and slushy conditions, large trucks and buses can blow snow spray onto your windshield which may cause a sudden loss of visibility. When these vehicles approach, switch your windshield wipers on.
  9. When blowing snow and white-outs impair visibility, make sure other drivers can see your vehicle. Turn on the vehicle’s full lighting system.
  10. Remain a safe distance back from plows and road maintenance equipment (they all have blue flashing lights). Passing is dangerous. DO NOT PASS A SNOW PLOW ON THE RIGHT-HAND SIDE. Snowplows have large blades that extend a metre ahead and to the right of the snowplow, sometimes extending into the right-hand lane.



stranded car

  1. If you get stuck or stranded, stay with your vehicle for safety and warmth. Wait for help to arrive. If you are in an area with cell phone service and have a cell phone, call for help. Remember, dialing 911 on your cell phone will connect you with the emergency services contact centre in the area.
  2. Be careful if you have to get out of your vehicle when on the shoulder of a busy road. If possible, use the door away from traffic.
  3. If you attempt to free your vehicle from the snow, dress warmly, shovel slowly, and do not overexert yourself. Don’t shovel or push your vehicle if you have a medical condition. Body heat is retained when clothing is kept dry. Wet clothing, due to the weather or perspiration, can lead to a dangerous loss of body heat.
  4. Draw attention to your vehicle. Use emergency flashers, flares, or a Call Police sign. Run your motor sparingly. Be careful of exhaust fumes. For fresh air, slightly open a window away from the wind. Exit your vehicle occasionally to make sure the exhaust pipe is clear of drifting snow before running the engine.

    Taking a few minutes to put together an emergency kit that you can keep in the trunk of your car is a great idea for car travel in the winter. Find a waterproof duffle-bag, or kit bag large enough to fit the items you wish to put into your kit. You could attach a few strips of Velcro in order to keep the bag from sliding around in your trunk. Here are some things that I have found indispensable at different times during my driving career:

    For comfort:

    • A first-aid kit
    • A blanket
    • Thick wool socks, oversize boots, mittens and a thick hat with fold-down ear covers. Use the warm, seldom-used ones that are at the bottom of everyone’s closet
    • A candle, waterproof matches and a clean old juice can. The candle in the can is capable of supplying some much-needed heat and light if stranded
    • Energy food & water: A couple of high-energy snack bars – with no expiry date.
    • A LED flashlight: It’s nice to have one that also operates off the 12-volt system. LED is best because they are compact yet powerful, and use less energy

    For the car:

    • Small containers of gas line antifreeze and lock de-icer.
    • Jumper cables
    • A set of flares or folding plastic warning triangles.
    • Length of rope or tow strap
    • A small folding shovel
    • Small bag of sand or kitty litter: to create grip and to prevent fishtailing
    • Duct tape and zip ties
    • plastic drop sheet or small tarp: for covering holes and providing shelter
    • bungee cords (long ones)
    • swiss army knife or multipurpose tool
    • extra windshield-washer fluid

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