Driving In Adverse Conditions
Updated: 13 hours ago
Nova Scotia has been experiencing an increase in severe weather events over the past few years. It's now more important than ever to learn how to drive in these conditions. A new driver may prefer to not drive in bad weather conditions but if they live in Nova Scotia, at some point they'll have to. I recently did a driving lesson in downtown Halifax under clear blue skies, then drove to Upper Sackville. When I arrived 30 minutes later, there were whiteout conditions due to a snow squall. I was not expecting to encounter snow while on my way to Sackville, let alone whiteout conditions, but my experience is what made me confident and that's what kept me safe. Confidence and poise is everything in challenging driving situations.
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It’s better to stay home when the weather is bad, but there are times like family emergencies or other circumstances beyond your control where you will have no choice but to drive. It would be better to have some experience driving in these conditions as the stress of an emergency or other pressing circumstances may be too much to handle on its own without the added stress of driving in bad weather. Being experienced at driving in these conditions reduces the anxiety it can produce and that will always help you make better decisions.
Lights Out At Intersections
When traffic lights stop working at intersections they become an all-way stop. Each motorist takes a turn stopping at the stop line, and it’s first come first serve. Situations like this are extremely dangerous, and if this happens at night it will be even more dangerous. Traffic lights in Nova Scotia do not have backup lighting or reflective markings that could help make them visible to drivers as they approach them at night. Unless you are familiar with an area and know where the traffic lights are, you'll be less likely to see the intersection in time to stop.
Tires Area Everything
Tires are the most important part of your vehicle
Some things to consider before heading out on the road. What condition are your tires in? All tires have wear indicators built into the tread. If your tire's tread is flush or near the wear indicator, then you'll want to have a trusted/professional mechanic look at them to make sure that they're safe to drive on. In Nova Scotia, 5/32’s is the minimum tread depth that is passable for Motor Vehicle Inspections.
Like hockey skates or football cleats, the tires on your vehicle are what give you traction. Tires are the single most important part of your vehicle.
Example of a tire that is worn out and needs to be replaced. The tires treads are flush with the wear indicators.
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Michelin Cross Climate tires are my favourite because they're safe for all conditions so you'll never have to change them when the seasons change. This also means that you won't have to wait a month for an appointment at the garage during "tire rush" season. Make sure that you have them rotated every 20,000 kilometres.
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Tips For Driving In Rain
When driving on the highway in any type of conditions the key is what you don't react to.
Reduce your speed and increase your following distance.
Drive in the tracks of other vehicles, because they have already cleared some water out of the lane with their tires.
Accelerate and brake more gradually.
Steer with smooth gentle motions.
Don’t use cruise control – If you were to hydroplane, the cruise control system would stay on which can cause the vehicle to keep accelerating. This is because the computer can't spot standing water in front of you.
Hydroplaning happens when the tires of your vehicle lose their grip on the road surface, which causes the vehicle to float. Hydroplaning eliminates a driver’s ability to steer and brake. Hydroplaning is most likely to happen when there's standing water on the road. If you’re driving too fast, your car can’t move the water out of the way fast enough. Always be mindful your speed in heavy rain because your tires will be working overtime.
This clip is from one of the many driving lessons I've done in heavy rain. It's the student's first time driving in rain. Literally all we are doing here is driving at a reduced speed of 85/kms an hour, and we didn't hydroplane.
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Get comfortable in uncomfortable situations - Learn to drive in all types of conditions
Of course it is but that’s why we make adjustments to the various factors and hazards in the driving environment to mitigate those dangers. When you are familiar with these conditions you become more comfortable in them and when you are comfortable you will always make better decisions.
Fog - Driving in the fog can be hazardous. If you are driving in fog reduce your speed and turn on the low beams. Increase your following distance be patient and avoid trying to pass any vehicles. If it gets to hard to see pull over to a gas station or safe area and wait it out for a bit. Instead of taking the main highway you might prefer to take the old trunk route instead as trunk routes run along the main highway. It doesn’t matter how good of a driver you are if you can’t see anything you can’t react to anything.
This crash happened in 2022 near Halifax. There was heavy fog during the morning rush hour by Bayer's Lake when a 3 ton truck rear ended a smaller vehicle which was the last vehicle in a stopped line of traffic, at highway speed.
This video clip explains what to do if you're ever the last driver in a stopped line of traffic.
Red Rear Fog Lights
A red rear fog light mounts on the rear of a vehicle to help it be more visible to drivers behind you. Regulations in most of the world permit vehicles to be equipped with one or two rear fog lights. If only one rear fog is equipped, it must be on the driver’s side of the vehicle. Having two is legal but makes it much more difficult for drivers behind you to see your brake lights. If the vehicle doesn't have a red rear fog light, flash your brake lights periodically by applying the brake pedal. This will help motorists behind you to see your vehicle in heavier fog.
Driving In Extreme Fog On Highway 103
Just like in all other types of adverse conditions, the key is to be super gradual with every adjustment you make to the steering wheel and brake/gas pedals when driving in the snow. 2 centimetres of snow is much more dangerous than 20 centimetres because most drivers will be less vigilant. 20 Centimetres of snow actually provides some resistance to your tires which will help you to maintain control of the vehicle, and it will slow down much easier.
Clean The Snow Off Of Your Vehicle Before Driving
The most common place to see flying ice is at highway merges and overpasses, because these are the areas where a vehicle accelerates up to highway speed for the first time after a snow storm. A pothole is another spot where snow and ice will fall from vehicles and collect on the road.
Flying ice on Highway 103 in Nova Scotia
Ice sheet flew off tractor trailer
How To Handle Skids
If you lose control and start sliding, avoid the urge to hit the brakes. Always ease your foot off the accelerator pedal when you feel the car starting to slide. Look where you want to go, not in the direction that the car is sliding to. You'll always end up going in the direction that you are looking.
When your tires start to slip you'll see this light flickering in the dash. It’s your Traction Control light and it’s telling you that your tires are slipping. This is because the computer is compensating by limiting power to certain wheels. Let up off of the accelerator pedal and you'll regain traction.
Spinout on highway 118 in Halifax Nova Scotia
Never hit the brakes if your vehicle starts to slide in the snow. The vehicle in this video wasn't slipping until the driver hit their brakes. Watch the brake lights of the vehicle.
In this lesson the student catches the shoulder of the highway in heavy snow, then recovers like a boss. They gradually steer the car back onto the road while holding the steering wheel steady while also NOT hitting the brake pedal. We slip and slide briefly, then we recover. This was a fun lesson and it made me very proud of the student.
A Driving Lesson In The Snow
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It's best to not pass a plow mostly because they are clearing the road in front of you. It's legal to pass them cautiously but I don't recommend it unless they are driving extremely slowly.
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Driving on black ice is like playing Russian Roulette. The surface of the road will usually look clear, almost as if there's just rain on it, but don’t get too comfortable because the second you do that's usually when it will catch you off-guard. You might drive 20 kilometres without your vehicle slipping, but all it takes is one small patch to send you sliding into a spin.