Monday, 21 January 2013

Road safety during changing weather conditions

One of the joys of living so close to the Rockies is our exposure to Chinooks—those warm winds that give us what would otherwise be unusually high temperatures for winter. Chinooks may make us the envy of other snow-shovelling settlements throughout our nation, as it is often the case that they melt the snow away before accumulation gets out of hand. That said, because of the cyclical nature of our weather patterns, we know that we should come to expect that periods of warm are followed by periods of cold shortly thereafter, which in turn means that snowmelt which has not yet evaporated away will quickly turn to ice (and conversely, that solid accumulations of precipitation such as snow and ice will once again turn to slush). What this means for us as drivers is that we need to be alert and adaptable to quickly changing conditions. We cannot take for granted one type of winter condition, and be prepared for that only.

Pre-season preparations:
  • try to prepare for winter driving long before winter arrives. Certainly, this year's winter has been exceptional in how early it arrived, but apart from exceptional years, do your best to anticipate the onset of winter, and to offset that with advanced preparations. These preparations should involve checking your defroster, your brakes, ensuring your heater and thermostat work, and that your antifreeze levels are accurate.
  • Be sure to don your snow tires. Also, ensure that your tires are in good shape, and that the treads are not worn on them.
  • Check that all your lights are in working order. Winter is a season in which headlights and emergency flashers tend to see more use than in other seasons.
  • To avoid frozen wiper fluid, opt for a winter appropriate fluid that has antifreeze in it. Test your windshield washer to make sure the nozzles are not blocked.
  • Consider using winter blades on your windshield wipers to help you clear snow and ice that accumulate on your car.
  • Ensure that you keep a scraper in your car with you always.

When driving in ice, snow, and slush:
  • Allow yourself plenty of extra time for travel.
  • Ensure that your lights are on. Making yourself visible is critical.
  • Plan ahead by checking your local radio station for news about collisions, advisories, and closures. (To help others with safety, be sure to call in with such information yourself when you are among the first to learn of it).
  • If your route is one that becomes particularly hazardous during freezing or melting conditions (for example, bridges are notorious for icing, and steep winding roads that lose their traction owing to ice or slush can be disastrous) try to plan an alternate route.
  • Be sure that those who know you (friends, family, coworkers) know what to expect of your routine, as well as trips you make outside of this routine. This way, if your ability to drive is compromised, people will know where to find you.
  • Use gradual, rather than sudden tactics both for gaining speed and slowing down.
  • If you drive a larger vehicle, remember that you will need more time to come to a safe stop. Apply this knowledge to trucks with whom you share the road as well: give them plenty of space for breaking and changing lanes.


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