Why All Season Tires Don’t Cut it For Alberta Winters

“My all season tires are good enough,” is a sentence often heard during Calgary winters as we battle through the snowy weather to get where we’re going. However, anyone who has experienced the benefits of winter tires knows this to be untrue. All season tires, despite the name, are not good enough for all seasons. Not Calgarian seasons anyway.

This is where the confusion arises. ‘All season tires’ should come with an asterisk that their seasonal flexibility is for wet and dry seasons, not for hot and cold. The defining feature of an all season tire is the treads, which are designed to prevent hydroplaning on wet roads. Hyrdoplaning occurs when the tire can’t move water through its treads at a high enough volume to maintain contact with the road, causing the driver to lose control of the vehicle. All season tires prevent this by designing the treads to move water through them more efficiently and maintain better control on wet roads. How does this tread design help in cold temperatures? It doesn’t, at all.

The problem with tires in cold weather is that the rubber begins to harden below 7°C. Once the temperature drops to -10°C, the all season tire material becomes more like a hard plastic than a flexible rubber. When a vehicle hits a patch of ice in temperatures below -10°C, those all season tires are not going to have any traction. The vehicle might as well have summer tires. Even when it comes to driving on snow, the treads in all season tires are too thin to maintain traction effectively. Tires designed for wet weather are simply not good enough for cold weather.

Winter tires, on the other hand, are made with a rubber material designed to be more resistant to cold temperatures. When the temperature falls well below zero, they maintain their rubbery flexibility and will not lose nearly as much traction on snow or ice. The distance required to stop the vehicle is reduced dramatically. When you’re coming towards a busy intersection and need to know accurate braking distance, do you want hardened tires with limited traction? Probably not. This is the situation that all seasons will put you in, and that winter tires prevent.

The material used in winter tires is the most important feature, but its tread design is useful as well. All season tires have thinner threads incapable of taking on thick snow. Winter tire treads are specifically designed to take on snow and further increase the surface area of the tire’s contact with the snow – increased surface area means more friction, which means better traction. More advanced winter tires even come with small metal studs, providing more grip and preventing the vehicle from sliding when accelerating.

The province of Quebec has already made winter tires mandatory between December 15 and March 15. Alberta and British Columbia have them as a requirement to drive in more mountainous areas. Other provinces are looking at introducing similar legislation, for a very good reason. Only winter tires are appropriate for Canadian winters – all seasons don’t cut it.

Defensive Driving for Winter Weather

Some days, it seems like a lot of the drivers we share the road with are getting more and more, um, “unpredictable”.

From parking on sidewalks and stopping for pedestrians in the pedestrian crosswalk to weaving across lanes in high-speed traffic and any other example you can think of, it seems like we sometimes commute alongside some pretty erratic drivers.

And that’s not even taking the weather into account!

Bring in some cold and snowy weather, and these erratic drivers become even worse. What was an everyday danger on the road now becomes a true hazard. That driver up ahead who drifted into the middle of 2 lanes while looking at his phone? He’s now in an uncontrolled slide across your path, headed straight into the snow bank on your far right. You and every other vehicle near him are at risk of a serious collision.

HOW TO DEFEND YOURSELF WHEN DRIVING ON WINTER ROADS:

  1. Know the road conditions.

These days, you don’t even have to step outside – much less be on a road – to know what the road conditions are. There are 2 very good websites you can check to find out what the current road conditions are:

  • Alberta Transportation[1]
  • AMA[2]

However, if you’re not able to check online then you’ll have to do it the old fashioned way by making a visual assessment of the road and paying close attention to how your car feels and reacts while driving.

Things to pay attention to include how well your car responds to steering adjustments and acceleration/deceleration, whether the vehicles around you are slipping or sliding, and whether your car feels like it has a good grip on the road.

  1. Stay alert and focused.

You might not know it yet, but up ahead there’s someone talking on his Bluetooth, rummaging through a donut box with 1 hand while the other is loosely holding the wheel. When his lousy driving inevitably takes a turn for the worse, it will cause a chain reaction that you’ll have only seconds to avoid. This is one reason why you need to always pay attention!

Staying alert and focused during the whole time you’re driving isn’t easy. There are hundreds of potential micro-distractions that can divert your attention for the precious few seconds it takes for things to go wrong. And when roads are icy, it’s even more likely that even a small lapse of focus can lead to big issues.

  1. Keep a constant eye out for “that guy”

We all know who “that guy” is. He’s the shmuck who weaves through traffic going 163km/h down Deerfoot Tr., or who’s going 48km in an 80km zone, or who’s stopped only half on the shoulder as he texts his buddy. That guy.

He’s out driving way more often than you think, disrupting traffic and endangering everyone with his blatantly irresponsible driving. Obviously don’t be that guy, but don’t ignore him either.

A good defensive driver is one who doesn’t just spot “that guy”, but who also keeps track of where that guy is and stays a good and safe distance away from him.

  1. Keep a safe distance

The rule of thumb is to stay 3 seconds behind the vehicle in front of you, unless it’s a large commercial vehicle. If you’re behind a large semi or other commercial vehicle or snow plow or road sander, stay 4 seconds behind.

Keep in mind that it can take up to 12 times longer to stop your car on slick winter roads, so use your best judgment when driving in snow and ice. But also keep in mind that a 36 second lag time behind the vehicle in front of you is much better than delay you’d have if you got into a collision.

How do you know you’re staying so many seconds behind?

Find a fixed object like a road sign or tree. Start counting in “Mississippis” (“one Mississippi, 2 Mississippi, 3 Mississippi”) when the rear end of the vehicle in front of you passes this object; stop counting when the front of your vehicle reaches it. Whatever the count comes to is how many seconds behind that vehicle you are.

  1. Make sure you stay readily visible

A lot of collisions happen because drivers couldn’t see the other car. Luckily this is an easy mistake with an easy fix!

Use your exterior lights –– your headlights, signal lights, brake lights, running lights. Make sure all these lights are in good working order and use each and every one of them when you should, each and every time.

Also avoid blindspots, both your own and those of other drivers. Consistently check your blindspots to make sure nobody’s lurking somewhere you can’t easily see. Stay out of other peoples’ blindspots by knowing where your own blindspots are located and using these as a reference for avoiding other drivers’ blindspots.

  1. Keep your cool

It can be really hard to swallow your frustration and anger when another driver does something illegal, offensive, and/or just plain dumb. But allowing your emotions to influence your driving habits is a guaranteed recipe for disaster.

Letting your emotions take the wheel removes your reasoning and objectivity, opening the door for impulsive behaviour and knee-jerk reactions. From there it’s only a matter of time before you’ve driven yourself into a situation you might not be able to get out of very easily (if at all).

It may sound cheesy, but take a couple of big breaths and get your emotions in-check. Taking deep breaths doesn’t just help you relax your muscles; it also makes you more alert and clear-headed by bringing more oxygen into your brain.

  1. Take our Defensive Driving Course!

We offer one of Calgary’s best defensive driving courses, designed to fit into your schedule. We even cover defensive driving in the winter. It’s easy, incredibly informative, one-on-one, and actual students have even said it’s fun! Get in touch to learn more.
These tips are relevant throughout the year, but especially when driving in winter conditions. Practice them every time you drive and soon enough they’ll become a habit that could save you, your loved ones, and your fellow drivers from a heap of liability claims and heartache.

[1] http://511.alberta.ca/

[2] https://roadreports.ama.ab.ca/

Six Winter Driving Tips

 

Use our winter driving tips on this snowy street in Calgary.

As Canadians, we like to think that we have winter driving mastered. But one look at the accident statistics after a fresh snowfall tells us otherwise. Even for those of us who have attended (or even operate) a driving school, Calgary roads can be treacherous after a fresh snowfall.

For example, this past Christmas Eve saw approx. 4cms (1.5 inches) of snow fall within a 12 hour period of time.[1] The result? Over 300 vehicular accidents throughout Southern Alberta.[2]

With this in mind, we at Derek Brown’s Academy of Driving thought it might be a good idea to write a blog post about driving safely in the winter.

Continue reading “Six Winter Driving Tips”

A Brief History of Seatbelts

The original seatbelt was invented in 1885 as a way to keep people being raised or lowered off the ground safe.  In 1911, Benjamin Fouilous attached one to his saddle while riding his horse.  If you’re thinking “that seems like it might backfire”, you may be right, but innovation has to start somewhere.  Things really picked up in the 1950s when Dr. Hunter Shelden helped create the retractable seatbelt.  This technology was debuted in cars by the Swedish company Saab.  I know, quite the Saab Story.

Continue reading “A Brief History of Seatbelts”