December 1 to 7 is National Safe Driving Week in Canada. The goal of the Canada Safety Council during this week is to draw driver awareness to several areas that are considered dangerous driving situations.

Winterize—Be Prepared

Most Canadian drivers have had a poor driving experience due to their failure to adjust their driving behavior to account for a change in weather conditions. Winter driving poses the greatest driver challenge in cold temperate climates like Canada.

In an effort to save lives and prevent accidents caused by driver failure to adjust their driving to weather conditions, the Canada Safety Council (CSC) provides the following suggestions:

  • It is important to prepare for safe winter driving by keeping your car in top working performance. In the fall, have a complete car engine tune-up. Ensure elements like the exhaust system, fuel and cooling systems, car brakes, battery, tires and windshield wipers are checked and replaced if needed
  • Ensure snow tires are put on, and that they are the right pressure for best traction
  • Necessary safety items for your vehicle include: a good windshield scraper and brush, a sturdy snow shovel, gritty substance like sand or kitty litter, highway flares, jumper cables, a flashlight, antifreeze, and extra washer fluid with anti-freeze solvent
  • Your car should have a working spare tire, wheel wrench and tire jack
  • An emergency kit including warm blankets, fresh water, food, matches, a first aid kit, and a fully charged cell phone should be in your car in case you should become stranded.

It is crucial to adjust your driving techniques to accommodate for winter weather conditions like ice, snow, and poor visibility due to blowing and drifting snow. Your primary goal in winter driving is to avoid collisions with other vehicles and objects. A good strategy is to stay off the roads in inclement weather. Another strategy is to slow down and drive cautiously, as well as be prepared to drive defensively.

Who Has Your Back on the Road This Winter?

A related National Safe Driving initiative is called “Who Has Your Back on the Road This Winter?” Canada Safety Council suggests that new technologies are available on newer vehicles, which can help make winter driving safer as well.

One of these new technologies is called Electronic Stability Control (ESC). ESC can reduce crashes by reducing skidding. ESC sensors apply the brakes to one or more wheels, reducing engine power to stabilize the vehicle and turn it in the right direction when these sensors detect a problem. Since almost half of Canadian car crashes are caused by a loss of vehicle control, Electronic Stability Control can reduce serious accidents by up to forty percent. ESC is available only by purchasing a vehicle that is equipped with it. ESC will soon be compulsory on all North American motor vehicles.

Another safety technology is an Anti-lock Braking System (ABS). ABS allows the driver to steer his vehicle while braking hard. Wheel sensors detect lock-up and ABS relieves enough pressure to allow the tires to continue to roll.

Traction control is another feature that assists drivers in slippery winter road conditions. This technology regulates the power to the wheels, often getting your vehicle out of slippery situations. ABS systems lower speeds and transmission and engine management, thus working with traction control to provide better traction on ice or snow. Four-wheel or all-wheel drive features provide power to all four wheels. This feature allows for improved start-ups, particularly in situations with a build up of snow or ice. All-wheel drive (AWD) technology is especially useful on winter roads where there are many hills and/or poor snow removal.

Driver Distractions

As technology progresses, more gadgets and gizmos are available than ever before, and as a result, distracted driving has increased. Distracted driving is a national issue, and all ten Canadian provinces have some form of legislation regarding cell phones and distracted driving.

According to a 2012 National Traffic Safety Administration report, eighty percent of vehicle collisions and sixty-five percent of near collisions involved driver inattention as a contributing factor.

The Canada Safety Council also draws attention to things that distract drivers. It is easy to become less than vigilant on roads that you travel every day. During National Safe Driving Week, the CSC wants to remind drivers that driving is a serious—often life-and-death responsibility, and it is important to be alert at all times. A 2011 study conducted by the Alberta Department of Transportation discovered that distracted drivers are three times more likely to be involved in a collision than drivers who were not distracted.

While cell phones are admittedly a problem with drivers talking and texting, CSC wants to use National Safe Driving week to highlight other problems with driver distractions. Another study investigated passengers as a driver distraction. This study found that children are four times as distracting as adult passengers, and babies are eight times as distracting as adult passengers.

Every behavior that distracts a driver from his or her task is poor driving behavior. This includes:

  • Paying too much attention to passengers—particularly young passengers
  • Smoking cigarettes while driving
  • Drinking or doing drugs before or during driving
  • Texting or talking on your cellphone—even if it is hands free!
  • Applying makeup, brushing or flossing teeth, combing your hair, shaving—or any other beauty routine that should be done in your bathroom—while driving
  • Eating while driving
  • Drinking coffee, tea, water or any other beverage while driving
  • Fiddling with the GPS or radio or any other vehicle gadget while driving

Impaired Driving

A final initiative of the CSC concerns impaired driving. Canada Safety Council reminds drivers that it is illegal to drive if you are impaired due to the use of alcohol or drugs. This includes legal drugs including prescription medications or over-the-counter remedies. Impaired driving applies to all vehicles: car, truck, motorcycle, ATV, tractor, snowmobile, scooter, or boat.

To avoid impaired driving charges—and possibly incarceration or the loss of your license, CSC suggests:

  • Don’t drive when you are legally impaired
  • If you are drinking or taking drugs have a prepared plan. Use a designated driver or stay over
  • Don’t ride with anyone you think might be impaired
  • Don’t allow friends or family drive if they are impaired