10 Tips for a Safe Winter Road Trip

Here, some basic tips if you’re hitting the road this winter

Many of us will be hitting the roads this season, even if those roads are covered in snow and slush. Here, your basic checklist to stay safe from the Canadian Automobile Association and Transport Canada.

10 tips for a safer winter road trip

1. Make sure your vehicle can handle the weather. Check fluids, tires, lights, wipers and brakes, and make sure your battery is in good working order. (Note: this should be done, preferably, in the fall.) Install four matching winter tires to improve vehicle handling. This means not mixing tires with different tread patterns, internal construction and sizes.

2. Check local weather reports before you leave home. Environment Canada issues warnings when it expects blizzards, heavy snow, freezing rain or drizzle, cold snaps and winds. Some weather services like The Weather Network let you sign up for alerts when severe weather is on the radar. You can also go online to check local road conditions through your province’s Ministry of Transportation website.

3. If driving is risky, consider staying at home or postponing your trip until the weather clears. If this is not possible, proceed with caution and keep your radio tuned to a local station for ongoing weather advisories. (Note: Watch for black ice at temperatures between +4°C and -4°C, where the road surface ahead looks black and shiny. It is often found on shaded areas of the road, bridges and overpasses long after the sun has come out.)

4. Pack an emergency kit. This should include a shovel, extra windshield washer fluid, sand or kitty litter, fuel line antifreeze, a thermal blanket, extra clothing and footwear and a first-aid kit. It is also a good idea to include water bottles, an extra supply of any necessary medications and an emergency food pack in the event you get stranded. (Pack foods that are filling but don’t require preparation such as sandwiches, fruit, energy bars, or a thermos of hearty soup or stew.)

5. Learn and practice winter driving techniques (pdf) before you need them. In bad weather be sure to put more distance between you and the vehicle in front of you.

6. See and be seen. For better visibility, clear all snow from your vehicle before setting out. This includes the hood, roof, bumper and lights.

7. Be alert and well rested before starting out on any road trip. Give yourself extra travel time in bad weather and whenever possible, don’t travel alone. And try to plan your trip so you avoid driving at night. (See Adjusting to the dark.)

8. If the roads are slippery, avoid using overdrive and cruise control. Slow down, and, as always, make sure your seat belt is secure. Also, once you’re on the road, keep a close eye on your gas gauge; it’s best not to let your tank get below half full.

9. Travel with a fully charged cell phone (and don’t forget the vehicle cell phone charger.) Remember it’s not safe to talk and drive at the same time, especially when navigating slippery roads. Let someone with you make the call, or pull over to a safe spot to place a call.

10. If you do become stranded, it’s best to stay in your vehicle and keep warm while you wait for help. Experts say to run the car for 10 minutes each hour to warm it. Be careful, however, about carbon monoxide poisoning — check your exhaust pipe and clear away snow, ice, or anything that might be blocking it. As an extra precaution you may want to keep the windows open a crack to avoid poisoning.