Winter driving: an expert’s take

Many people who are competent drivers during the summer months seem to lose their skills with the onset of winter. To find out how drivers can maintain their confidence and control during inclement weather, we turned to Michelin driving expert and test driver Carl Nadeau.

This second part of our two-part article focuses on winter driving. For tips on posture and good driving habits, make sure you read the first part here.

A bad habit

Never underestimate the hazards of the road. Carl explains, “People get behind the wheel unthinkingly; as long as there are four wheels and a steering column, they hit the accelerator and go. Unfortunately, the roads hold many pitfalls in the winter and you have to stay alert and constantly adapt your driving style to the weather conditions.”

Detecting danger on the road

When you’re driving, you have to look far ahead in the direction of where you want to go. Expanding on this point, Carl says, “When you look ahead into the distance you will often notice something out of the ordinary that will lead you to drive more cautiously.”

If this is the case, you need to slow down to avoid possible danger.  Carl suggests looking ahead, keeping your eyes moving, and checking your rear view and side mirrors. Also, it’s good to keep your mind active and alert, so that you can stay on course and identify potential risks.

Negotiating icy conditions

The golden rule is to avoid any sudden movements. “Drivers will hit a patch of ice, begin to skid and then hit the brakes in an attempt to avoid skidding out, which has the opposite effect, causing you to lose control of your vehicle,” warns Carl.

Drivers need to try to keep the steering wheel and car wheels as straight as possible and gradually slow down. The car can then decelerate and regain traction.

The problem with slush

The main problem with slush is that it builds up unevenly in the wheel wells, which can cause the car to move in an undesired direction. It’s a challenge to change lanes on roads covered in snow drifts.

Moving into the next lane can also cause the car to shake and may alter its trajectory, depending on the traction. You need to slow down before changing lanes and proceed with caution to test out the conditions in the passing lane before driving ahead.

Blinded by trucks

Have you ever seen another driver trying to pass a truck on a wintry day and winding up stuck in a spot where their visibility is impaired? It’s because when they come up behind the truck, it throws snow, ice and water onto their windshield. Faced with this temporary loss of visibility, drivers can panic and remain in the very spot where they can’t see anything!

There’s nothing more dangerous than the scenario above. Carl’s advice is to slow down, assess the risk and make sure you have enough room to manoeuvre before attempting to pass. He also recommends looking far ahead while accelerating and overtaking the other vehicle. The loss of visibility will only last a fraction of a second and you will accelerate in a uniform and controlled way, while respecting the speed limit.

One final note

Finally, Carl recommends getting a good set of snow tires. Choose a brand that is durable and reliable, and consider them an investment for your own safety! Your life and the lives of your loved ones are at stake, so price can’t be the main criterion for this purchase.

It’s also a good idea to have your mechanic check your tire alignment when you have your snow tires installed each year. Checking your tire pressure every month can also help prevent steering problems in emergency situations, in addition to avoiding uneven tire wear.

Drive safe this winter season!


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