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Winter driving challenges

There is a range of winter driving challenges that you'll encounter everyday in winter. Everyone's first priority has to be driving safely. Winter weather certainly affects the driving conditions whatever the distance, even just going to the store around the corner from where you live.

However if you have to travel anywhere, here are the most common winter driving challenges you'll find. Just keep them in mind as you drive in snowy or icy conditions.

Winter storm warnings

If there are winter storms, blizzards, freezing rain, sleet or other serious weather events forecast, staying home is the best strategy of all until it passes and the roads and highways are clear again.

Really! Why risk it?

Highway driving

Highway speeds are set for the non-winter months when road conditions are optimal on dry pavement. However, when there are snowstorms, icy roads, fog etc. to contend with during winter, you definitely need to travel at a lower speed to match the current road and weather conditions.

It's just common sense.

Unfortunately, we've all seen drivers who drive as if it's a carefree summer day instead of on snow-covered roads in the middle of January. Just as likely, they are oblivious to everyone and everything around them. All it takes is a moment's inattention by you or by other drivers when things go from being fine to bad or worse.

Be alert to whatever is going on all around you as well as what's behind and to the sides of your vehicle.

Road conditions

The type of road will dictate how often snow clearing occurs i.e. the busiest roadways will be cleared first such as highways and major roads. These are always the first priority. How cities, regions or counties deal with clearing snow is up to them but all try to get the snow cleared as soon as possible starting with their busiest urban highways and major city roads first. City side streets are usually next on the city's 'to do' list. Last on the list are the less travelled residential roads and suburban streets.

Signs obscured by snow

Over the course of the winter, another common winter driving challenge are the highway and road signs being obscured by drifting snow that sort of "sticks" to them. Naturally, it makes it very difficult or impossible to read if you are unfamiliar with the route. Make sure you have maps, directions or a GPS to help you navigate to where you want to go.

Snow banks

Snow banks rapidly build up along roads and streets, sometimes to a metre or more depending on the geographic region. Snowplow trucks come along and push the snow to clear the roads and streets after each snowfall. Having local roads cleared by city workers is mostly a good thing. However, the snow does accumulate and contributes to the build up of snow banks, particularly at street corners and in front of driveways. Given the vagaries of the winter temperature, snow banks can increase or decrease over the course of the winter.

Snow banks limit and reduce visibility so it's a particular winter driving challenge for several reasons:

  • Drivers not being able to see when turning corners, crossing streets and at cross walks.
  • Drivers reversing out of parking spaces and driveways
  • Pedestrians crossing the street are hampered by walls of snow impeding their progress
  • Pedestrians not being seen early enough by drivers who are turning.

In any event, if your line of sight is reduced or limited, be cautious driving in these situations as you never know what's just around the corner.

Passing and parking vehicles

These snow banks cause parking problems too. You are forced to park that much further away from the curb so the passing lanes for vehicles becomes narrower. It's just another winter driving challenge to be aware of that you'll frequently encounter. The level of the snow will vary due to some melting but then will be topped up with new snow as well and then the cycle repeats.

Snow clearing, snow removal and salt spraying trucks

A particular winter driving challenge is passing both salt spraying trucks and snow clearing trucks on highways and roads as they travel at low speeds. You'll encounter salt spraying trucks more frequently on roadways as that is the most common way to inhibit snow and ice from forming.

As snow accumulates over the winter with successive snowfalls, it gets removed from the roadsides. City maintenance and their snow removal trucks will also be scooping and suctioning up curbside snow in their dump trucks throughout the winter. Once that necessary but inconvenient task is finished, parking and passing vehicles on the roads and highways almost returns to normal.

The more snow falls, the more snow clearing there will be so this wide-scale snow removal may happen several times over the winter months.

If there's a huge snowfall predicted and actually comes to pass (sometimes the forecasters get it wrong), the snow clearing trucks will be out clearing roads and highways. The city or town's budget may dictate how often this happens but life and commerce must go on so snow clearing becomes a big ticket budget item if there's lots of snow.

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