The snow has arrived. Great news for skiers and winter enthusiasts, but not so much for drivers. As a result of slick roads and reduced visibility, winter conditions can create unsafe driving conditions, and unfortunately, car accidents can occur.

With the right preparation and precautions, however, you can still look forward to a fun year of heading out to the ski hills and skating rinks — or maybe just to the airport to catch that flight to Hawaii!

Prepare Your Vehicle

Is your vehicle ready for winter? Cold weather will put many of its systems and equipment to the test, so it’s important to have the proper equipment in good repair:

Winter (Snow) Tires 

Having a good set of winter tires on your vehicle is one of the most important safety precautions when driving on slippery winter roads. Tires that are designed for snow have a special symbol on them. These tires have more aggressive tread patterns and special (softer) rubber compounds that significantly improve traction on snow and ice. You can also get snow tires with metal studs to increase traction even more — particularly on ice. 

There are also “mud and snow” tires made specifically for trucks. These tires have deep, aggressive tread patterns but lack the special rubber compounds formulated to stay soft and grippy in colder temperatures. 

A moderate winter option is an “all-weather” tire (which should have the snowflake symbol to confirm its suitability for use in snow). All-weather tires shouldn’t be confused with “all-season” tires, primarily designed to be durable and smooth running. They don’t offer the tread and rubber technologies necessary for good traction on snow and ice. For this reason, the term “all season” is misleading, and some manufacturers and tire shops are now calling them 3-season tires. 

Learn more about your tire options by reading a comparative guide and tests of snow tires. Better yet, take your vehicle to a reputable tire shop and have them assist you in choosing the best tires for your vehicle and driving habits. 

Tire Tread and Pressure

Did you know your tire pressure decreases about one psi for every five-degree drop in temperature? And even the best tires won’t offer much traction once the tread is worn down. If you get your winter tires installed by a qualified service technician, they can ensure they are in good shape and correctly inflated for the winter ahead.

Vehicle Systems Check

While putting your snow tires on, having your mechanic check a few other things is also a good idea: Make sure your windshield wipers don’t need replacing. Old rubber can become stiff and brittle in cold weather, and even a partial reduction in its effectiveness can rapidly become a serious safety issue during heavy snowfall. 

Winter temperatures increase your vehicle’s battery demands, so check its age and health. Also, ensure your engine oil and radiator antifreeze are formulated for cold weather. 

Carry Emergency Equipment

If you have the misfortune to experience a breakdown or accident, it doesn’t take long for things to get uncomfortable — possibly even life-threatening — when the temperature falls below zero. Safeguard your family by putting together an emergency kit for your vehicle, including:

  • Ice scraper, snowbrush and a shovel
  • Tire chains
  • Jumper cables
  • Bag of sand or salt (or kitty litter) – if you have a rear-wheel drive pickup truck, the extra weight will also improve traction
  • Tow rope
  • Road flares, emergency lights, or reflective triangle markers
  • Flashlight (with extra batteries, or consider a hand-crank model)
  • Extra clothing – warm and weatherproof
  • Blanket or sleeping bag
  • Water in plastic bottles (so they don’t crack if they freeze)
  • Non-perishable food
  • First-aid kit
  • Extra windshield wiper fluid (formulated for sub-zero temperatures)
  • Fuel line de-icer ​​(methanol, also called methyl hydrate or methyl alcohol)
  • Road maps (Remember those? Also, remember that cold weather doesn’t just kill car batteries, but phone batteries too!)

Check Your Fuel (Or Your Charge)

During the winter, it’s best not to let your vehicle’s fuel level get too low – and always make sure to fill up before leaving on a trip. Bad weather or road conditions may make that drive to the next gas station much longer than expected. And if your vehicle gets stuck, the engine will be the only heat source. 

If you have an electric vehicle, keep it charged up — and keep in mind that cold weather can reduce your EV’s range by up to 30%.

Winter Driving Hazards

Winter weather can increase the chance of getting in a motor vehicle accident, whether it’s a collision between multiple vehicles, a vehicle and a pedestrian, or a single-vehicle accident. Hazards to be aware of include:

Snow and Ice on Your Vehicle

Visibility is already significantly reduced when the snow starts flying. Driving without removing accumulated snow and ice from your vehicle invites disaster. This means more than just scraping your windshield. Clear snow and ice from all the windows and the hood and roof of your vehicle so it doesn’t blow back onto the windows and obscure your vision once you are driving. Also, remember to clear snow off of headlights and turn signals. 

Never turn on your windshield wipers until you have ensured they haven’t frozen to the windshield. If leaving the vehicle for an extended period when temperatures are near freezing, it’s a good idea to raise the wiper arms so the blades are up off the glass.

Slippery Roads

Two types of ice can form on the roads and make conditions treacherous — surface ice and black ice. Surface ice looks just like what it is: ice. Even though it’s instantly recognizable, you may still be unable to avoid it. Black ice is more difficult to spot because it forms very thin, leaving the road looking clear or maybe a bit wet rather than icy. 

When travelling on winter roads, allow more time for your journey. Reduce your speed and leave more space than normal when following another vehicle. The days are getting shorter and darker, so always using your headlights is a good idea. Don’t use cruise control on snowy or icy roads. Focus and anticipate hazards (including other drivers!) before encountering them.

Under normal conditions, a driver who rear-ends someone will likely have a difficult evidentiary burden to prove they were not at fault for the collision. When the road conditions are icy, the legal landscape becomes more complicated. Hazardous conditions may give rise to a defence of an ‘inevitable accident,’ or the court may determine that the road conditions warranted an elevated standard of care with additional precautions such as slower speed and leaving more space between vehicles.

Contact the Personal Injury Lawyers at Cuming & Gillespie LLP in Calgary if You Have Been Involved in a Motor Vehicle Accident

Even when you are cautious and prepared, accidents can still happen. If you or a loved one has been injured in a motor vehicle accident, our experienced personal injury lawyers can advise you on your legal rights and whether you may be entitled to compensation. To set up an initial consultation with a member of our team, contact us online or by phone at 403-571-0555.