Thinking Driver delivers Winter Driving Skills Training to Government of Northwest Territories, Department of Transportation Employees.
When I was asked if I would like to go to the Northwest Territories (NWT) for three weeks to deliver 'Winter Driving: Skid Control and Recovery', I thought what a great opportunity to see the North and at the same time, be in the very best part of Canada to facilitate winter driving courses.
My first stop was Yellowknife, where I was warmly greeted by the NWT employees. They had a large field near the airport that had been snow plowed for this course - which was great - but then they added water. Needless to say, this was an excellent simulation of roads turned to ice and/or their famous 'ice roads'.
We begin training with a classroom theory session in Winter Driving Fundamentals. We cover such things as the 6 conditions of winter driving, fundamentals of traction and control, 3 principal types of skid and how to recover from them. There were a lot of good questions in the class which made for an excellent discussion time prior to going out in the vehicles and putting it all into practical application.
Getting into the vehicles and out onto the icy surface to put the theory into practice really raises the enthusiasm and excitement of the group. It's about the most fun you can have in winter driving conditions: A safe, closed course, free of obstruction or other traffic, perfect for skidding.
When I took off to the Great White North, I cam prepared and was certainly grateful to have packed well once the temperature hit -40 degrees. The extra hat I picked up was very useful.
Despite the chillier temperatures, each morning I awoke to the beauty of a northern sunrise in all its glory. Breathtaking to behold and what a way to start my day!
After a week in Yellowknife, it was time to head to Hay River for a week. This leg of the journey began with a 45 minute flight over "Great Slave Lake" in a DC-3 with Buffalo Air. Not a large plane, but cozy, friendly, and we arrived safe and sound.
Again I was warmly greeted and welcomed by the NWT staff. Their track was created on an open field with a large snow island in the middle. The track was a combination of packed snow, ice, with some gravel sticking out to create a good example of what is found on local roads. The practical training was challenging, but we only had to shovel snow once to free a truck from the snow piled island. Another winter skill learned - how to get your vehicle unstuck!
My third week in the North started with another flight aboard Buffalo Air in that DC-3 to Yellowknife, followed by a 1.5 hour flight in a Boeing 737 to Inuvik with a brief stop over at Norman Wells. Inuvik was the smaller of the three locations and again filled with extremely friendly people. Once again the NWT staff greeted me like a Rock Star.
The practical training location was a large square area on the Mackenzie River, plowed for this course. For safety reasons, there was a wide snow bank separating out training area from an ice road that leads to Tukoyaktuk. This area proved to be challenging and a good simulation of what these NWT employees drive on a daily basis.
At the beginning of these three weeks, I felt a bit intimidated with the thought of attempting to teach winter driving skills to people who live their entire lives in the North and grew up in this driving environment. What could I teach that they didn't already know? As it turned out, the Thinking Driver program had many things to offer: How to drive in winter with new vehicle technology such as ABS brakes or electronic stabilizers; One of the main things that I was able to pass on to these students, is how to handle an 'under-steer' situation. Most were experts when their vehicle went into 'over-steer', but were unfamiliar with how to get out of an 'under-steer'. 90% of those who attended indicated they learned new things as well as having obtained an excellent review and reminder in other areas that could be improved upon.
I believe that if I can pass on even one good tip to enhance a driver's skill and competence and make driving a safer part of their day, then I've done my job and can go home happy and with a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. After three weeks in the Northwest Territories, I am a happy man indeed.
– Michael Glas, Chief Instructor, Thinking Driver, March 2013
Thank you to everyone who visited the Thinking Driver booth at the recent BC Municipal Occupational Health & Safety Conference, held in Victoria, BC.
Congratulations to our draw winners who will be receiving a copy of Thinking Driver’s ‘Winter Driving Fundamental’ DVD.
- Dave Cochran, The City of Calgary
- Ken Glubish, The City of Edmonton
- Gail Townsley, City of Richmond
- Alexander Tishenico, City of Vernon
- Scott McMillan, City of Prince George
- Rob Walker, Capital Regional District
If you would like to preview Thinking Driver’s ‘Winter Driving Fundamentals’ DVD or any of the DVDs in our library, please go to www.thinkingdriver.com.
The car wasn’t going very fast when it passed us. In fact, it was hardly going any faster than we were which made me wonder why the driver felt the need to go by. As he signalled right and began to move back into our lane, the rear of the car began a graceful, slow motion pirouette to the left and the car rotated a full 180 degrees clockwise as we both continued down the highway. Bill, who was driving our van, braked gently and we stopped just in time to see the car (now facing the wrong way and going backwards in front of us) come to a gentle stop in the snow bank that had been left by the plough. No one was hurt and we helped them get out of the snow bank, turned around and on their way.
We were on British Columbia’s Highway 5 between Hope and Merritt in the middle of winter. This is the stretch of road now made famous by the Discovery Channel program, ‘Highway Through Hell’. We were going skiing. It was snowing, the road was covered in compact snow and the temperature was well below freezing. For this time of year on the Coquihalla: pretty typical conditions.
These kinds of conditions can be challenging to drive in, but by no means must they be particularly dangerous if handled responsibly and with a modicum of skill and caution.
Approach winter conditions with less than good vehicle handling skills and/or overconfidence and you are in for trouble.
We live in a country where every single city has the potential for and history of, snow. Yes, even Victoria, BC has seen snowy roads! So why are there so many crashes at the first sign of the white stuff?
Too many of us either don’t understand the nature of traction, how to find and maintain traction in winter conditions and the implications of traction loss; or we do understand all of this but overestimate our capabilities. Either way, the results range from simply getting stuck or the harmless spinout described above, to more tragic events like the recent bus crash on a snowy pass in Oregon that killed several passengers.
So, let’s review: There are 6 main driving conditions that may affect your driving during winter months. Being mentally aware of these 6 conditions will assist you in safely negating your way during periods of extreme driving conditions.
The 6 Conditions Are:
1. Weather Conditions
Weather is the most unpredictable of the 6 conditions of winter driving. Winter can bring snow, sleet, ice, rain, winds and extreme temperatures. These conditions can last minutes or days. They can change without notice, making your journey hazardous. Prior to leaving on a trip, it is important to check the weather and road conditions to better prepare yourself. Knowledge is power. Weather reports are available from various locations such as the radio, television, or the internet. Many jurisdictions have dedicated government phone numbers or a web site where you can obtain the latest weather conditions.
2. Vehicle Condition
This is the one condition that you have some control over. Get your vehicle winter-ready with a maintenance check-up. Don’t wait for winter to check your battery, belts, hoses, radiator, oil, lights, brakes, exhaust system, heater/defroster, wipers and ignition system. A simple winter check-up for your vehicle may alleviate serious problems in the future. Getting stranded on the side of the road, in winter conditions is no picnic. For sure, check that you have good winter tires with the snowflake symbol displayed on the sidewall.
3. Road Conditions
It is not reasonable, nor prudent, to expect roads to be bare and dry during winter months. Snow, ice, slush and compact snow are road conditions that can be expected anytime in winter. Being prepared to meet the challenges that these conditions bring is critical to the safety of you and your passengers. As with weather conditions, there are also government agencies that provide information about road conditions. A simple call or check will give you a heads up on the road conditions before you drive.
4. Traffic Conditions
Sharing the road with others is something you can’t avoid. They may not be as prepared as you are. They may be running on poor tires and perhaps are driving well beyond their abilities and capabilities. A thinking driver will perform a proper assessment of this risk and choose the appropriate action to deal with the situation. Perhaps just changing lanes will do the trick. If they are following you so close that they become a hazard, it may be safer to have them in front of you. Move over and let them pass. Leaving more room or staying away from other drivers during winter driving is the Thinking Driver way.
5. Lighting Conditions
During winter months, depending on where you live, daylight can be from a few hours to non-existent. With later sunrises, earlier sunsets, and the sun lower on the horizon, glare can be a big hazard. Glare is intensified by the cover of white snow on the ground or blowing snow. To minimize these effects, maintain the cleanliness of your windshield on both the outside and the inside. Any debris or dirt film will intensify the glare and reduce your visibility. Wearing sunglasses is a good option to reduce glare. Because of the extended hours of darkness, make sure that all your lights are functioning properly and that they are cleaned off periodically. This is an important step to increase your ability to see and be seen by others. Blowing snow will accumulate on the back of the vehicle, covering tail and brake lights, so check them regularly. Ensuring that your tail lights are clean will increase your visibility and reduce the likelihood of being rear ended.
6. Driver Condition
Winter driving can be stressful and exhausting. With changing conditions, other drivers on the road and wearing cumbersome clothing, winter driving is not the same as summer driving. Vehicle control can be more difficult when you are wearing heavy winter boots along with several layers of clothing. Your winter gear can impede your movements and make vehicle control more difficult than when you are in comfortable shoes and clothing during summer months.
Being well rested will increase your mental alertness and assist you in remaining focused on the driving task at hand. It will help you remain calm during stressful situations. When you are well rested, you are less susceptible to physical aches and pains. You will find yourself feeling more comfortable behind the wheel than if you are tired. Being well rested will ensure that you are in good shape for the trip, not only mentally, by physically as well.
Consider these six conditions every time you venture out in winter (or any time for that matter). A Thinking Driver recognizes that these conditions affect the way he/she must drive to stay safe and uses good driving techniques to negotiate them.
Tailgate Topics & Tips: Safety Meeting Planner & Agenda
Click here to access this month’s free Safety Meeting Planner.
Preview the Installing & Using Tire Chains Correctly video that accompanies this month’s Safety Meeting Planner, click here.
Upgrade your Tailgate Topics & Tips subscription to PROFESSIONAL and receive the Safety Meeting Planner & Video. Click here to find out more and to sign up.
Thinking Driver was there! The Saskatchewan Safety Council’s 41st Annual Industrial Safety Seminar took place February 3 & 4, 2014 in Saskatoon, SK. Thinking Driver was pleased to be in attendance and had a display in the tradeshow component.
Spencer McDonald, President of Thinking Driver and Chief Instructor, Dan Boyer delivered a session on “Challenging Our Culture of Risky Driving”.
Congratulations to the following people who were our draw box winners of a DVD copy of Thinking Driver’s ‘Winter Driving Fundamentals’.
Les Togunrud – Saskatchewan Ministry of Highways (Regina, SK)
Kylee Lundberg – SaskWater (Moose Jaw, SK)
Albert Hopkins – SaskTel (Saskatoon, SK)
Chris Chuhaniuk – City of Saskatoon (Saskatoon, SK)
Bob Smith – TransGas (Coleville, SK)
Doyle McMorris – The Mosaic Group (Moose Jaw, SK)
"Slip sliding away, slip sliding away. You know the nearer your destination, the more you slip slide away."
Paul Simon sang it in 1977 (there I go dating myself again) and it's still happening every winter. But with some simple techniques and a bit of practise you can eliminate that 'slip sliding away'.
Traction is the main element to consider when driving in winter conditions and when you have lost traction you are slip sliding. It doesn't matter what the road surface is or what the conditions are; there is a finite amount of grip or traction between the tires of your vehicle and that road.
Once you exceed the available traction and your vehicle is no longer responding to your commands to steer, brake or accelerate, you are no longer in control. Your final destination is now in the hand of Newton-Sir Isaac Newton, that is. Vehicle control is about physics and we learned all that we really need to know about it in high school (grade 9 physics if I recall that far back).
Learning skills to observe these laws can take a bit of practise, but no amount of skill or luck will let you dodge them. Ignore Newton at your peril.
Newton's first law says that an object at rest will remain at rest unless acted on by another force. An object in motion continues in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by another force. This law is often call 'the law of inertia'.
In driving, if your vehicle is not moving, it doesn't want to move unless acted on by another force. Once your vehicle is moving, it wants to stay moving in the same direction as it is going unless acted upon by other forces.
You exert force to change the speed or direction by altering the speed or path of the tires and as they grip the road, your direction or speed changes; but only if you have maintained traction and they are not skidding.
Abrupt steering, braking or acceleration exerts excessive forces that may exceed the available traction and initiate a skid or spin. That's why controlling with finesse is critical to winter safety. Do everything as smoothly and as gently as you can to keep the vehicle balanced and maintain the tires' grip with the road.
Here are some techniques to try:
- Leave yourself extra space and begin to brake early when you know that you may have to slow or stop. The longer distance that you use to slow, the less traction that you need to stay in control.
- Keep your speed lower than usual on corners and avoid sliding sideways.
- Squeeze and ease the brake and accelerator. Start gently, and gradually increase pressure to minimize the weight shift of the vehicle on braking or acceleration and reduce the chances of traction loss.
- Avoid abrupt steering and use 'total control steering'. Keep your hands at the 9 and 3 o'clock position on the steering wheel and 'shuffle' or 'push and pull' the steering wheel to the left or right. This will help you make directional changes more progressively and maintain your traction.
- Traction is improved when you have good winter tires and enough weight in the vehicle. Drivers with empty rear wheel drive pickup trucks could consider adding weight when conditions are slippery.
- Look well ahead in slippery conditions to plan when you may need to slow or stop. Avoid coming to a complete stop when possible and legal, particularly on hills where more traction is needed to get moving than is needed to keep moving. If you stop on a hill, it's much more difficult to get going.
- Read the road surface and try to drive where there is better traction and minimal ice.
- If you do find yourself sliding away and using your anti-lock brakes, use them correctly. If you feel or hear your anti-lock brakes activating, remember, the right reaction is to push the brake pedal down hard and look and steer where you want to go. Don't let up on the pedal until you are either back under control or stopped. The anti-lock brakes are designed to keep your wheels from locking up and allow you to steer out of danger.
Practise these techniques and you may find yourself singing Randy Bachman instead of Paul Simon and instead of 'Slip Sliding Away', you will be safely 'Rollin' Down the Highway'.
Written By: Spencer McDonald, President, Thinking Driver
About the Author - Spencer McDonald is a respected authority on driver behaviour, psychology and training, and is the founder of Thinking Driver. To learn more about Mr. McDonald, please visit www.thinkingdriver.com.
Review the Video attachment that accompanies this session.
Print and read over this entire agenda (or download a PDF version here).
Meeting Leader’s Guide:
Open the meeting with a statement.
Antilock brakes are standard on most vehicles now but not everyone know what they are really for or how to use them. This meeting will provide an overview of this important safety feature of your vehicle.
Questions For This Meeting:
Q: What is the purpose of antilock brakes?
Discuss possible answers:
- To stop easier in slippery conditions.
- To keep the vehicle from skidding.
- To make the brakes last longer.
Correct answer is:
- Antilock brakes keep the wheels rotating even under severe braking in slippery conditions. This continuing rotation or “Antilock” allows the tire to maintain traction with the road surface and allows the driver to steer.
Q: Have you ever felt your antilock brakes activate? When? Why?
Answers may be:
- Emergency stops
- Regular braking in winter conditions
- Wet roads
- Gravel or rough roads
- Downhill in slippery conditions
- Because the demand for traction has exceeded the tire’s ability to grip the road either because of rough braking, excess speed for conditions or sudden changes in the traction available to the vehicle.
- You are overdriving for the conditions.
Q: What does your vehicle behave like or feel like when the antilock brakes engage?
Discuss: there will be several descriptions of what the various vehicles do. Note that there will commonly be:
- Brake pedal feels different and/or vibrates.
- The antilock warning light on the dash may illuminate.
- The vehicle may make unusual sounds that can alarm some drivers if they are not prepared for it.
Q: What is the correct driver action when the antilock brakes engage?
If you are in an emergency situation, hold the pedal down hard and don’t let up until danger is passed.
Remember to look and steer where you want to go, not at any hazards that you are avoiding because we tend to steer where we look.
If your antilock brakes comes on regularly, under non-emergency conditions, you are overdriving for the conditions and should reduce speed and initiate your stops sooner to provide greater braking distance. This will allow you to brake more gently and not activate the antilock brakes.
If you have not felt or practised what to do when antilock brakes engage, find a suitable place on a slippery surface to practise and become accustomed to the feel of antilock and remember to look and steer once the antilock brakes have engaged.
SAFETY MEETING PLANNER & AGENDA
INSTALLING & USING TIRE CHAINS CORRECTLY
- Prepare in advance to make this meeting effective. Click HERE for a link to instructions on how to best use this information.
- Print and read over this entire agenda (or download a PDF version here).
- Think about how you want to lead the meeting.
- Is there anything that is specific to your company or operation that you can include to personalize the information?
- Review the video for this session.
- Save the link to the video in your favourite folder on your browser for easy access.
- Open and then minimize the viewer just before the meeting to make the video introduction smooth.
START YOUR MEETING!
If you drive in northern or high altitude areas with extreme winter conditions, you may use traction devices like tire chains to assist with control in winter but if you are not sure how to install them or drive with chains installed, you could be in for frustration and possibly vehicle damage or worse!
Questions for this Meeting:
Q: How many people here have used tire chains?
Tire chains have been around for many years and are still a great choice to add a massive amount of traction in difficult conditions.
Many people have chains in their vehicle in winter but have not yet needed them and therefore have never installed them.
Q: When is the best time to learn how to install chains?
The best time to install chains on your vehicle, the first time, is BEFORE you need them. If you have a heated or at least dry garage or underground parking area to practise, this is best.
- The video that we will watch shortly, shows a common and popular style of light duty truck or car chains but yours could be different.
- Read the instructions first and follow them carefully to avoid vehicle damage or injury.
- When installing on the roadside, wear a reflective vest.
- Install the chains on the drive axle tires, on an all-wheel drive or four-wheel drive, install on the rear axle.
- The first steps are to lay out the chains and depending on the type,pass them behind the tire and then connect them at the top or lay them out in front of the tire and drive forward onto the chain before pulling up both ends and connecting at the top.
- It's important to ensure that the chains are snug on the tire tread and the elastic straps crossing in front of the wheel are also snug.
- After installing the chains it's a good idea to check the tension after driving a short distance.
- What is the maximum safe speed to drive with chains installed? 50 km/h or 30 mph is the maximum safe speed.
- If you are headed into the mountains and the roads are snowy and slick, before you approach a hill, install the chains in a safe area before you get stuck. Many highways provide a 'chaining up' area. Use this area and avoid the hazard of being stuck on a hill in a traveling lane trying to stay safe while installing your chains. Always wear a safety vest to be seen as you work.
- Remember to take the chains off in a safe area as soon as you are back on clear pavement to avoid damage to your vehicle, the chains and the roads.
- Once your trip is over, take the time to clean and dry the chains, inspect them, then spray them with an anti-rust coating and re-pack them to be ready for the next time that you need them.
- Always carry an emergency winter survival kit including a flashlight with extra batteries, a cell phone, blankets, water, snacks, gloves, boots, first aid kit, ice scraper, jumper cables, extra windshield washer fluid, a reflective vest and reflective markers or flares.
- Learn to install your chains in advance and practise to ensure that you can do this in difficult conditions.
- Choose a safe place to install and remove the chains.
- Wear a safety vest while working outside the vehicle.
- Check for tension after driving a short distance.
- Keep your speed below 50 km/h or 30 mph.
- Clean and store chains properly after use.
If your vehicles have tire chains, install them on a vehicle now as a team.
SAFETY MEETING PLANNER AND AGENDA
• Prepare in advance to make this meeting effective. Click HERE for a link to instructions on how to best use this information.
• Print and read over this entire agenda (or download a PDF version here).
• Think about how you want to lead the meeting.
• Is there anything that is specific to your company or operation that you can include to personalize the information?
• Review the video for this session.
Save the link to the video in your ‘Favourites’ folder on your browser for easy access.
Open and then minimize the viewer just before the meeting to make the video introduction smooth.
START YOUR MEETING!
You hear it on the radio traffic report whenever the weather gets bad. Accidents all over the place and everyone is blaming the weather! Weather is rarely the cause of an accident or incident. Instead, it’s usually a driver who doesn’t adjust his or her driving to accommodate the weather.
The Questions for this Meeting:
Q: What are the kinds of bad weather that we face in this area and what types of challenges do they present?
Answers could be:
- Snow – causes traction problems and often steering problems if there is accumulation on the road.
- Ice – causes traction and control problems. Black ice can be particularly hazardous because it doesn’t appear on the road.
- Heavy Rain and Flooding – can cause visibility problems and traction issues if it pools on the road. This situation can result in hydroplaning where the vehicle tires rise onto a cushion of water and lose contact with the road.
- Blowing Snow – can create whiteout conditions that are extremely dangerous.
- How many more can we identify?
Q: Why does too much speed cause problems in all of these (and other) extreme weather conditions?
- As speed increases under any conditions, the energy stored by the vehicle movement also increases and needs to be somehow absorbed or dissipated enough to permit steering and braking on whatever road surface you are on regardless of the traction conditions. If traction conditions are poor and you are going too fast to stop or steer, you will end up out of control; either briefly until your speed comes down enough to regain traction, or long enough to crash. That’s just a fact. You can’t change the laws of physics, even if you are an excellent driver.
- A human being takes between 1/2 and 1 second to react to something when driving, and even more time to move the right foot to the brake pedal if stopping or braking is necessary. If your speed is too great in conditions where you can’t see well ahead, you will be overdriving your vision and will be unable to react fast enough to avoid problems. Again, just a fact of nature.
- Combine slippery surfaces and poor visibility with too much speed and you have a recipe for disaster.
- When you are driving under any condition, regularly assess your speed and adjust it as necessary to ensure that you are able to slow or stop to avoid a hazard.
- When you know that conditions are poor and you must drive anyway, leave early or call ahead to notify people that you may be late and take it slower.
- Choose the right lane on multilane roadways and just stay there unless traffic is moving impossibly slow. The guys in the fast lane on slippery roads are almost always going too fast to effectively control the vehicle in any situation except straight line, ‘no problem’ driving.
- Make sure that your lights are clean and are giving you the best possible light and drive at a speed that allows you to stop in the distance that you can see.
Introduce the Video:
Spencer McDonald discusses the importance of adjusting your driving to accommodate current weather conditions.
For the next week make a conscious effort to check your speed regularly in good and bad conditions and try out driving a bit slower; especially in poorer conditions.
If you are a ‘left lane just go as fast as the fastest traffic’ kind of person, try out the right lane for a change and hang out with the ones going a little slower. It’s safer, and you may find that it is less irritating that you imagine when you choose it!
Think about how important it is for you to hurry and take chances in poor conditions. Ask yourself: is it worth investing a couple more minutes to ensure that I get home safe to my family?