Who has your back on the road this winter? II

National Safe Driving Week
December 1 - 7, 2010

When winter weather presents challenging conditions behind the wheel, take comfort in the fact that new technologies are working to keep you safer than ever. Built into newer vehicles, new technologies can help you recover quickly from a skid, prevent wheels from locking up while braking, and provide improved traction in slippery conditions.

December 1st to 7th is National Safe Driving Week and the Canada Safety Council encourages all Canadian drivers to take added precautions on the road throughout the winter months. Plan ahead and take more time driving to your destination. Being prepared is the best way to ensure for safe winter driving. This includes adjusting driving habits consistent with weather conditions, maintaining your vehicle for optimum performance, and equipping it with necessary safety items.

Adjust driving behaviour

During winter months, Canadians experience higher collision rates than at other times of the year. Winter driving can be one of the biggest challenges, so it is essential to adjust driving behaviour with the change in seasons. You may not be able to control the weather and road conditions but you can control how you drive. Leave at least three seconds (more in bad weather) between your car and the car you are following. It can make the difference between having a collision or not.

Maintain your vehicle

You should get a complete vehicle tune-up in the fall to prepare for the winter driving season. All systems should be checked: exhaust, fuel, heating and cooling systems, and all new safety systems (listed below). Brakes, lights, batteries, tires, windshield wipers and fluid, are all especially important to check before venturing out in winter conditions.

Check tire pressure often, at least once a month and especially before highway driving. Properly inflated, high quality winter tires will give you the best traction on winter roads. Make sure that your four winter tires are for Canadian climate, and will keep their traction under freezing temperatures. Look for a snowflake-inside-mountains symbol on the tire sidewalls.

Equip your Vehicle

Having an emergency car kit on hand will make a big difference when stranded in the cold for hours until you can get back on the road safely. Your emergency car kit should include: ice scraper and brush, shovel, gritty substance such as sand or kitty litter, booster cables, flashlight, antifreeze and extra washer fluid. Also include items such as warm blankets, fresh water, matches, first aid kit, and a well-charged cell phone. Of course you should also have a properly inflated spare tire, wheel wrench and tire jack.

New Safety Systems

Electronic Stability Control
Electronic Stability Control (ESC) is a safety technology that helps drivers avoid crashes by reducing the likelihood of losing control when a vehicle is skidding. ESC sensors compare the direction of the steering wheel to the direction the vehicle is going. When they are not the same, and the vehicle begins to skid, ESC applies the brakes to one or more wheels, and/or reduces engine power to help keep the vehicle under control and keeps you heading in the right direction. Approximately 48 per cent of serious road crashes in Canada are the result of loss of control. Studies show that ESC could reduce these by 20 to 40 per cent. The only way to get ESC is to buy a new or used vehicle that is already equipped with it. Transport Canada has introduced a new standard that requires an ESC system on all passenger cars, multi-purpose vehicles, trucks and buses manufactured on or after September 2011.

Anti-lock Braking System
Anti-lock Braking System (ABS) is a system that allows you to retain steering control when braking hard by preventing your wheels from locking up. When wheel sensors detect lock-up, the system relieves enough pressure to keep the tires rolling, while you brake hard. You will feel the brake pedal rapidly pulse back against your foot and may hear some mechanical noise. DO NOT lift your foot from the brake or pump the pedal. It is advisable to experience ABS technology away from traffic before you need to use them on the road.

Traction Control Systems
Traction control works in a similar manner to ABS. Traction control systems (TCS) are designed to keep your tires from skidding, but while ABS helps you decrease speed, traction control helps you maintain control when increasing speed. TCS’s monitor the speed of your propulsion wheels, and if it senses one wheel moving faster than the others, the system slows that wheel down to help it regain traction. Two systems are prevalent; one using the ABS system and one using the transmission and engine management to help regain traction when you find yourself stuck on ice, snow or other slippery conditions.

Four/all-wheel drive
Four-wheel drive powers all four wheels for propulsion and provides better start-ups, especially in wintry regions that have hills and/or poor snow removal. Heavy-duty four-wheel drive is often overkill; all-wheel drive, which is lighter and cheaper, is totally automatic and may be more effective. You will still need snow tires on your vehicle as braking and cornering is not enhanced by 4-wheel drive/all-wheel drive.
The above safety features are designed to help keep vehicle occupants safe, however the most important safety factor is an alert and defensive driver. Remember to buckle-up and keep all driving distractions to a minimum on the road this winter.