Tips for driving on icy roads

5 minute read Published on Feb 8, 2023 by BrokerLink Communications

A line of cars slowly driving on a snowy, icy road. Entire image is monochrome blue-ish except the taillights, which are glowing red and yellow.

Even the most seasoned Canadian driver often dreads the thought of driving on icy roads. And the truth is, the best tip for driving in icy conditions is to not drive on them at all. But when you live in Canada, chances are good that you will have to at some point in your life. Therefore, knowing how to best prepare your car, including the best for winter driving and what to do if you hit an icy patch is vital to helping you stay safe this winter.

Winter driving tips

Since the weather in Canada varies significantly depending on which part of the country you live in, we’ve put together several driving tips to help you drive safely no matter where you live in Canada:

1. Use winter tires

Having the right tires to help you manoeuvre safely in winter conditions is crucial. Winter tires are built specifically to perform better on wet, snowy and icy roads. Also known as snow tires, they have several design features that make them ideal and often necessary to help you maintain traction when you need to drive through inclement winter weather conditions. When the temperatures start reaching 7°C, it’s time to swap your summer or all-season tires for your winter ones. Once mounted, make sure they are properly inflated.

2. Clear off your vehicle before leaving

If your car is covered in a layer of ice and snow, make sure you clean it off to ensure you have enough visibility before leaving the driveway. Most people know to clear their windshield, windows, side mirrors, and rear window, but you also need to clear off your hood, roof, headlights, taillights and licence plate.

Cleaning off your hood and roof keeps snow from blowing up or sliding down onto your windshield while accelerating or decelerating, both reducing your visibility. It also stops patches of snow from flying off your roof and falling onto the windshield of the car behind you. In some provinces, failing to clear off your roof is a fineable offence, along with having an obstructed licence plate number.

3. Don’t rely on your car thermometer

When you start your vehicle, you may have a feature that lets you know when the roads may be icy. However, your car uses the air temperature to determine this. The air temperature will warm up faster than the pavement, meaning the roads can still be icy even when your vehicle says it’s above freezing. Instead, look around for other signs of ice, such as on trees, your side mirrors or your wipers.

4. Drive cautiously

Don’t be overconfident. It’s incredibly important that you take your time and accelerate slowly. Your stopping distance in icy road conditions is double that of dry roads, so brake lightly and maintain a safe distance between yourself and the vehicle in front of you. Speeding, suddenly changing lanes or driving too closely can quickly result in an accident. Also, if you notice someone trying to pass you, just move closer to the side of the road to give them more room in case they lose traction.

5. Don’t panic

If the roads are icy or snowy, avoid slamming your brakes. This will make your brakes lock up, causing you to lose control of your vehicle and skid. Instead, use the heel-to-toe method to pump the brakes. This will help you stop faster and reduce sliding. Alternatively, if your vehicle has an anti-lock braking system (ABS), put your foot on the brake and apply even pressure. You will feel your ABS begin pumping the brakes for you.

If you drive a manual car, try downshifting through the gears instead of stomping on the brakes. This is another way to help slow your car down. Just don’t feather the clutch, or you may start skidding across the ice.

6. Be careful of freezing rain

It’s not uncommon in parts of Canada for the cold weather to quickly turn regular rain into freezing rain. Freezing rain can make road conditions very dangerous for drivers because it creates a coating of ice wherever it lands, creating slippery conditions and black ice. Make sure you give yourself plenty of time to get where you need to go, maintain a safe following distance with the vehicles in front of you, and follow the tips above.

How to avoid black ice

Black ice usually forms at the freezing point or in freezing temperatures on roads where the heat of the tires has melted any ice and snow just enough during the day. It is almost impossible to see, especially when it’s under a layer of snow. Therefore, by knowing where to expect it, you can plan your route to try and avoid it.

  • It forms a thin layer of ice mostly at night or early morning, as this is when temperatures generally reach their lowest. Whenever you can, try to avoid driving until after the sun comes up.
  • Avoid roads that are not exposed to the sun, such as a tree-lined road or under a bridge. Without direct sunlight, it will take longer for the ice to melt.
  • Black ice is more common on bridges and overpasses because both the top and underside of the road are exposed to the cold air, ensuring any water freezes faster.
  • If the temperature is below freezing, assume any wet spot on the road is black ice.

Also, if you notice the vehicle in front of you suddenly swerve or fishtail, chances are good that it hit a patch of black ice.

What to do if you hit black ice

No matter how much you prepare, there is still a risk you will hit a patch of ice when driving in below-freezing temperatures. Knowing how to steer out of a slide can help you avoid a collision:

  1. As mentioned already, don’t panic or brake hard.
  2. Keep your eyes on the road in the direction you want to go — don’t look around at other vehicles.
  3. Steer gently in the direction you want to go. Instinct may tell you to yank your steering wheel in the opposite direction — but don’t. You could cause your car to spin out.
  4. If you are sliding, feather your brake pedal to help reduce how far you skid and stop. If your vehicle has ABS, put your foot on the brake and apply even pressure.

Cars and weather damage

Winters in Canada are just one example of how severe weather can damage your car. Think back on when you’ve driven in icy road conditions or a sudden blizzard. Your vehicle could be rear-ended if another skids on a patch of black ice. That’s why it is essential for Canadian drivers to safeguard their vehicles with an insurance policy that meets their needs in the event of physical damage to their vehicle(s). That way, if you find yourself driving in icy conditions, you know you are protected, no matter what happens.

We’re here to help

When it comes to severe weather, preparation is key, which includes having the right insurance. Contact your BrokerLink broker to understand what’s included and excluded within your comprehensive car coverage. It’s also an opportunity to learn ways to improve your coverage. We’re here to help you weather through any unexpected surprises.