(Photo: Kativ/iStock)

Why You Should Learn to Drive in Winter

By Tom Murray

Haydn Vosloo didn’t set out to do his driver training in winter, but like a true Albertan, he embraced all that the season threw at him. 

“It snowed when I took my lessons,” he recalls, “so learning how to park and drive on the highway was more difficult.” 

The challenge, however, was a rewarding one. With an expert AMA driving instructor beside him, the 17-year-old Medicine Hat resident gained a first-hand understanding of how to safely handle snowy, icy conditions—ensuring he’d be a better, more confident driver year-round.

“Students may prefer gentler weather for their driver training, but the reality is they’re going to have to deal with far more challenging conditions in winter,” says Martin Wiseman, chief instructor at AMA. “It’s better to learn those particular skills with a professional sitting next to you rather than just winging it on your own.”

Or as Vosloo says, “If you can do it in winter, it’s even easier in summer.” 

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IDENTIFY HAZARDS
According to provincial government statistics, Alberta sees about 32% more collisions that cause damage to vehicles and property in winter (November to March) than in spring through fall. While you’d be hard-pressed to find a motorist who doesn’t acknowledge the challenge of winter driving, the data suggests some could benefit from snow-specific training.

Drivers in winter must watch for many complications: obscured signage and road markers, plus reduced traction for accelerating, braking and turning. Then there’s ice fog—when extreme cold causes water vapour to freeze in mid-air, creating a visibility hazard. “When you encounter it, you need to slow down, especially coming to an intersection,” Wiseman says. “That’s not necessarily obvious to a novice driver.”

But it’s one of the many tips Vosloo picked up from his in-car lessons. He graduated from AMA Driver Education with knowledge of everything from smooth steering to what headlight setting to use when it’s snowing.

SECURITY BEHIND THE WHEEL
Learning how to handle slippery situations is probably the biggest benefit of wintertime training. “You’ve got to have more measured movements or you’ll end up losing traction,” Wiseman says.

In good weather, “drivers get used to turning corners in a certain way, but with snow and ice in the mix, the proper technique is very different.” The same goes for stopping: Instructors ensure students have a specific understanding of their vehicle’s braking system and how to engage it correctly on treach-erous winter roads.

Regardless of season, AMA courses give new drivers the knowledge and skills they need to become safe drivers for life. With a minimum 10 hours of in-car training, learners encounter challenging scenarios with the con-fidence that a trained instructor is by their side. And for veteran drivers looking to enhance their snow skills, AMA offers an online winter driving course and in-vehicle brush-up lessons

“The lessons helped make me feel safe and secure behind the wheel,” Vosloo says. “And they gave me confidence—especially when driving in winter.”  

4 WAYS TO STAY SAFE ON WINTER ROADS
1. Be prepared. Have a winter-ready emergency roadside kit—with blankets, shovel, waterproof matches and other necessities. AMA’s well-stocked kit is $89.95 for members.

2. Install winter tires. They’re proven to offer better traction at temperatures below 7 C (vs. three-season tires). You’ll also get a discount on your AMA auto insurance premium.

3. Have a look-see. Circle your vehicle before you leave to make sure it’s road-worthy. Be sure to check your tires’ tread depth to be certain they can still adequately grip the road.

4. Keep it clear. When brushing snow off your vehicle, clear head/tail lights and the roof too—so snow doesn’t blow onto the windshields of vehicles behind you.