When the Rubber meets the Snow

Winter driving in Muskoka isn’t like points south. We’ve got snow and ice for long stretches of time, and that brings special challenges for drivers. Here are a few winter driving hacks that might just keep you keep the smooth side up and the rough side down this snowy season.

Wear winter tires

Just because Ontario doesn’t make them compulsory doesn’t mean we don’t need them. Softer rubber compound increases grip in cold weather, while more aggressive tread patterns get down to the road and clear snow out of the tire much better than “no-season” all season tires. It’s hard to believe the difference until you experience it first-hand.

Clear your vehicle of snow and frost

The OPP have a nickname for those drivers who only clear a small patch of their front windshield of snow or frost: Tank Commanders. Take the time to scrape all of the frost from your windows so you can see in all directions. What you can’t see you could hit! And brush the snow off of all of your car, so you’re not trailing a maelstrom of white stuff off of your roof into the faces of all those drivers behind you.

Slow down, look ahead

Reduced traction because of snow, ice, and slush increases stopping distances and reduces your ability to maneuvre  your car quickly. Give people around you more space, and realize that the effective width of the road is reduced because of the berm of snow and slush that sits just off the travel lane. Be gentle in your application of the brakes and movement of the steering wheel. You don’t want to upset the balance of your car, and slippery roads make that much more likely.

Don’t rely on electronic nannies like ABS and ESP

Anti-lock-brakes (ABS) keeps your tires from skidding when you put the brakes on, allowing you to steer while braking and keeping your car from skidding sideways. BUT: ABS doesn’t make your car stop quicker, especially on snow or ice. In fact, it will lengthen your stopping distances! So, instead of sliding through the intersection sideways, you’ll slide through nice and straight. Yikes!

Electronic Stability Programs (ESP) use your brakes selectively to keep you from spinning out of control while cornering. Consider these aids as last resorts: they’ll bail you out if you get caught out by a surprise in road conditions. And try out your nannies in a safe place to find out what they feel like. The first time ABS comes on, a lot of drivers take their foot off the brake, thinking that something is wrong with their car.

Share the road

Sometimes the travel path on a two lane road is right down the middle of the road. Fine when you’re on your own, but it requires teamwork and compassion when you’re meeting oncoming traffic. Forcing someone off the road into the ditch is not cool! You need to slow down and gently move over, sometimes into the grabby snow just off the travel lane. Not fun, but doable. If both drivers give a bit, no one gets ditched.

This is just a partial list of winter driving hacks that, hopefully, will keep you on the road enjoying all that winter has to offer in Muskoka. There are lots of other tips, like carrying an emergency kit including candles, kitty litter, warm gloves and toque, cell phone, and on and on. The best tip: If it’s too ugly out there, just don’t go. Nothing is so important that it’s worth your car, or worse, your life. Hunker down, have a hot chocolate, call them to say you’re staying home, and go when the roads are clear.

Photo: Oziel Gomez, courtesy of Unsplash.

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