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Tips on staying safe on the roads this festive season

In winter weather, you’re always being told to “drive for the conditions.” But do you know exactly what that means, and how to stay safe?

“You need to consider snow, ice, slush, darkness, traffic, glare, and how your car responds to cold,” says Scott Marshall, director of training for Young Drivers of Canada. “You’re not going to have the traction, nor will the drivers around you, so don’t put your life in the hands of the driver next to you.” Whenever possible, don’t stay alongside other vehicles, but drive in a staggered formation. That way, if a driver nearby slides and fishtails, there’s far less chance you’ll get hit.

Posted speed limits are for ideal conditions, which means on dry roads and with good visibility. Any time that’s not the case, reduce your speed. If you’re on the highway and you have to drive very slowly to feel safe, get off and take a lower-speed road.

Braking distance gets much longer the faster you’re going, and it will take even longer to stop on slippery roads. “The first mistake people make is judging their following distances in car lengths, instead of time,” Marshall says. “When the car in front passes something like a light pole, start counting. In normal conditions in the city, you should be two seconds from the driver ahead. Highway speed is three seconds, and once you add slippery conditions, you need to increase that significantly.”

Winter tires always give you better traction, even on dry roads, any time the thermometer falls below 7C. At that temperature, their softer compound means they’re better able to grip the road than all-season tires. Checking the tire pressure regularly will also ensure that the tires can do their job properly.

If there’s a snow plow in front of you, stay at least 7 meters (25 feet) behind it. “Give them a chance to clear the road,” Marshall says. Be careful crossing any snow windows the plow leaves behind, since they will affect your control.

Should the weather be really bad, stay home if you can. If you’re on the highway and run into bad conditions, get off at the next exit and look for someplace to wait it out, such as a restaurant or hotel. “Being on the shoulder of the highway is not the safest place to stop and wait for a few hours,” Marshall says. “Don’t get stranded.”

Tips

• Kit. Keep a personal kit in your car, including gloves, hat, emergency candle with lighter, and non-perishable food items. Women who wear high heels should pack a pair of flat-heeled boots.

• Cleanliness. Always clean all the snow off your car completely before driving, including all windows, headlights, and taillights.

• Washer fluid. Carry an extra jug of washer fluid in your vehicle at all time.

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