photo: Robert Harding/Alamy

Our Best Advice for Safe Winter Driving on Rural Roads

By AMA Staff

Winter driving can be a challenge at the best of times. On rural roads it’s even trickier: They are often more exposed to hazards like crossing wildlife and reduced visibility. They’re also more isolated. If you do get into trouble, “AMA agents are specially trained to handle rural calls as quickly and safely as possible,” says Brandon Klassen, a supervisor with AMA automotive services. Here are some ways to stay safe on a rural road trip.

“Don’t just prepare for the destination; prepare for the journey,” Klassen says. Check the pressure on your winter tires and add air, if necessary. If your battery’s more than three years old, schedule a free CAA Mobile Battery service test. Verify road conditions online and postpone your trip if things look dicey. If you do head out, inform someone of your route, destination and expected arrival time.

In the event of a rural breakdown or accident, a well-stocked emergency kit can be a real lifesaver. Buy one from any AMA centre, or assemble your own kit with items such as a collapsible shovel, reflective triangles/pylons, hand and foot warmers, first-aid supplies and more. Also pack ample water, energy bars and warm clothes for everyone in your vehicle. And don’t forget your phone charger!

“Most people drive the speed limit,” Klassen says, “but if the roads are treacherous, you need to slow down more.” Likewise, double your following distance from three to six seconds: You never know when you or the vehicle ahead might hit a patch of black ice. To help visibility, make sure your headlights are clear of snow. But don’t use high beams during a snowfall. The light will reflect off the flakes, causing glare.

Take charge and get your vehicle’s battery ready for winter

There are still a few pockets of Alberta—mainly in the foothills and valleys of the Rocky Mountains—where GPS and mobile-internet signals may be unreliable. Carry a paper map as a backup. And take note of road markers along your route, as well as landmarks like prominent businesses and the towns you pass through. They’ll be helpful if tow truck operators need to find you without precise coordinates.

If you’re in an accident and someone is injured, call 911. If you’re unharmed but still need a roadside rescue, call AMA. Give as many details as you can to the AMA agent, who’ll dispatch a tow truck and give you tips on staying safe while you wait. If you run the engine for warmth, first check that the tailpipe is free of snow. A clogged pipe can lead to dangerous carbon monoxide buildup in the vehicle.

Driving in rural areas? Get AMA Plus or Plus RV membership for free towing up to 160 km plus free emergency fuel and delivery.