‘Don’t be an igloo on wheels’: CAA expert offers tips to stay safe on the roads this winter
Health & Safety CAA Extreme Weather PPE Road Safety Winter Driving
Editor’s Note: This article is part of OHS Canada’s special focus on Extreme Weather PPE – running Oct. 30 to Nov. 2. See full coverage here.
It’s almost time for Canadians to break out their white knuckles. With the calendar turning to November, snow is already starting to fly in many parts of the country — which can make driving more hazardous for workers who are behind the wheel.
Kristine D’Arbelles, senior director of public affairs at the Canadian Automobile Association (CAA), sat down with OHS Canada to talk about what employers and workers can do to ensure they stay safe while driving in the winter.
“It may sound silly and simple, but the major hazard is the ice and snow on the road,” she said, which makes installing winter tires one of the most effective steps to consider.
“If this is an employer vehicle, you might not have a choice of what sort of tires are being put on this vehicle,” said D’Arbelles. “But if you do, and it’s something you can ask your employer, putting on winter tires will really help with all sorts of weather-related conditions.”
Studies have proven their effectiveness, she said, and drivers typically get 50% more traction with winter tires versus all-season wheels.
Routine vehicle maintenance is also crucial. The CAA identifies dead batteries as the most common issue, particularly after a snowstorm or during extremely cold weekends.
“If you already have a weak battery, you’re making it work even more; that’s where you start to lean into the area where you end up with more dead batteries,” said D’Arbelles. Employers are encouraged to check batteries, particularly those between three and five years old, for signs of wear or corrosion.
In addition to tire and battery checks, employers are also advised to inspect the vehicle’s brakes.
“Having good brakes can really make a difference between either stopping or sliding,” D’Arbelles said. “If you’ve got strong brakes, and winter tires, then your stopping distance is going to be a lot less than someone who has all season tires with squeaky brakes.”
Safe driving techniques
As for actual driving techniques, D’Arbelles has clear advice: “Don’t use cruise control” in the winter.
“As nice as it is on longer drives, cruise control is not helpful on slippery roads — especially if you have to make a quick decision,” she said. “If your foot is not near the pedal, because you’ve taken it away because you’re on cruise control, there’s a risk that you hit the brake a little too late.”
She also stressed that “speed limits are posted for ideal weather,” recommending that drivers go below the speed limit in adverse conditions.
When it comes to an emergency kit, D’Arbelles said simplicity is key.
“You don’t have to spend a lot of money on fancy emergency kits. You can go to stores where you can spend $100 to $150 on the emergency kit and, honestly, it’s not that much better than building your own kit from home because a lot of the stuff you can find in your house.”
That includes a flashlight with extra batteries, a basic first-aid kit, and a snowbrush and scraper. She also recommends carrying a small shovel and a bag of an abrasive material like sand or kitty litter for situations where a vehicle is stuck in snow.
“Not road salt, because that can cause rust on your vehicle,” she said.
It’s also a good idea to keep some extra clothes in the vehicle, including socks and blankets, along with plenty of washer fluid and a set of booster cables.
“With booster cables, some people know how to use them — some people don’t know how to use them,” said D’Arbelles. Attaching a piece of paper with instructions on how to properly boost a vehicle can be helpful in case the person who needs them isn’t sure, she said.
Technology’s role and limitations
While vehicles are increasingly incorporating safety technology like ABS brakes, D’Arbelles cautioned against overreliance.
“The technology is there to assist you. You are still the driver; you’re still responsible for driving,” she said.
For those who may be tempted to use their phones while driving, D’Arbelles issued a warning: “If you’re driving in winter conditions, that’s the last time you want to be distracted.”
Clear off vehicles
Her advice to drivers about clearing off cars is simple: “Don’t be an igloo on wheels.”
“You’ll see those people who still have a mound of snow on their vehicle and they only clear the driver side,” she said. “That’s very, very dangerous — not just for the driver but then for everyone around them as well. You can’t see your blind spots, you can’t see the winter cyclist who’s beside you, you can’t see the other smaller car that is beside you.”
As winter draws closer, the message for employers is clear: proactive measures, from vehicle maintenance to driver education, can make a significant difference in road safety.