Canadian seasons come and go fast. So we can relate if you feel like you just finished getting your car ready for spring and tuning up your car’s AC for the summer heat. With fresh starts and cozy clothes, this time of year comes with unpredictable weather and temperature changes to prepare for as you slip into your fall routine. Review these 10 tips to keep yourself safe while driving in the fall through sun, rain, ice and fog, even if the forecast calls for all four on the same day.
Don’t Forego the Forecast
Fall weather is notoriously unpredictable, so make a habit of checking the forecast before you head out. Unfortunately, autumn driving features road risks common to spring and winter, like slippery roads, sudden downpours and reduced visibility due to fog, which we’ll discuss later. When considering common fall driving tips, make sure to remember that driving during or after heavy rainfall increases your risk of hydroplaning, which is when your tires lose traction on the road while driving through water.
Fall driving requires some extra planning to stay safe on wet roads:
- Inspect your windshield wipers and ensure you have plenty of winter windshield washer fluid.
- Give yourself time to defog your windows before heading out.
- Leave at least three vehicle lengths of space between you and the vehicle ahead to give yourself more time to stop in an emergency.
· If you lose control of your car in pooled water, do your best to stay calm, gradually reduce your speed, gently pump your brakes and steer in the direction of your slide until you feel your tires regain traction.
In addition to operating at a safe speed for wet conditions and avoiding puddles as much as possible: Proper tire maintenance can also help reduce the risk of hydroplaning.
Well-Maintained Tires Are an Essential Safety Feature
One of the most important fall driving tips is to pay attention to your tires. Ensuring you have good tire pressure is especially crucial as temperatures drop. Cold weather can decrease your tire pressure which causes poor handling, delayed response to your steering and braking and reduced fuel economy. Use a tire pressure gauge to regularly check that your tire pressure meets your car’s manufacturer’s recommendations.
Tires with enough tread help you maintain traction on wet, icy, snowy roads and reduces your risk of hydroplaning. You can check your tire tread at home using a tread depth gauge, your tire’s tread wear indicator, or a coin test to ensure you have at least 5/32 of an inch of tread to help grip the pavement.
Test your tires in multiple spots to determine if they are wearing evenly. If your tires are wearing unevenly, a trusted professional can help improve their longevity by rotating your tires, aligning your wheels and checking your vehicle’s suspension.
Since rubber can degrade over time, you’ll want to consider replacing tires over six years old. Check your tires’ age by referring to their year of manufacture, the last two numbers of the four-digit manufacture date printed on the side of each tire.
Winterizing your car is crucial to safe driving once winter hits full force. Switching to snow tires when the temperature drops below 7°C is vital to maintaining optimal traction on the road and can give you access to an insurance discount.
Beware of Black Ice
While back ice is closer to the winter end of the seasonal spectrum of driving hazards, it’s common on cold fall days, especially when temperatures dip at night and in the early morning.
The illuminated snowflake symbol on your dashboard reminds you to slow down and drive carefully in potentially icy conditions. Still, ice can be hiding on the road even when the air temperature is above freezing.
Bridges, overpasses and the road underneath, are more likely to harbour patches of black ice so drive on them with extra care. The top of slopped bridges and overpasses can be especially icy as road salt can roll off faster than on flat road surfaces. In addition, tree-lined roads are shaded from the sun and prone to ice and fallen leaves can further conceal icy patches. If you encounter black ice, gentle steering and slowing are key since sharp turns and hard braking will increase your chances of losing control and sliding. When remembering your fall driving tips, keep in mind that your safety can be at risk when it comes to black ice, so make sure to be aware of it.
Approach Fog with Caution
If the forecast calls for heavy fog, it’s best to avoid unnecessary road trips. One of our most important fall driving tips is to simply not drive under harsh conditions like fog. However, if you’re driving when unexpected fog rolls in, follow these tips for staying safe while driving in foggy conditions:
- Use your low beams and fog lights if you have them. Don’t use your high beams; they will reduce your ability to see through the fog.
- Use your windshield wipers and turn up your defroster to keep your windshield as clear as possible.
- Avoid typical driving distractions: turn off your radio, don’t use any devices, even hands-free ones, and ask your passengers to stay quiet so you can focus on the road.
- Roll down your windows so you can listen for essential aspects of your surroundings that fog may be visually obscuring.
- Use the reflective white line to your right to guide you. It’s best to keep a safe distance from the centerline (without driving on the shoulder of the road) to keep safely away from oncoming traffic.
- Try not to focus too much on the vehicle lights ahead of you; while it’s crucial to keep track of the vehicles around you, keep your eyes scanning the road for reflective markers and other potential hazards.
- Just like in wet and icy conditions, don’t use cruise control. You need precise control over your speed to quickly adapt to changes in road visibility and any obstacles ahead.
While you should already be driving at a safely reduced speed if you need to slow down or stop, ensure you are visible to drivers behind you. Decelerate slowly and turn on your hazard lights.
It’s best to stop safely as far to the shoulder of the road as possible or in a safer parking area if one is accessible. Turn on your emergency brake and turn off your tail lights. If another driver sees your brake or rear driving lights, they might think you’re in a driving lane and follow your lights until it’s too late to stop.
Watch for Traffic and Pedestrians
Drivers always need to be on the lookout for pedestrians and cyclists, but the start of the school year brings extra road and foot traffic as children and their guardians commute to and from school.
- Pay close attention to school zone speed limits to help keep students safe and avoid speeding fines and demerit points.
- Check your municipality and region’s websites for specific school zone driving rules, including speed limits and U-turn or passing restrictions.
- Brush up on your province’s laws regarding stopping for school buses. In Ontario, it’s against the law not to stop for a school bus with flashing red lights and its stop arm extended unless you are driving on the opposite side of a divided highway.
- Obey crossing guards, drive carefully through crosswalks and be mindful of children who cross the street without looking both ways.
It’s also a good idea to give yourself more time for your morning commute since residential streets will likely be crowded with parents hurrying to drop their kids off before the morning school bell.
Fall Foliage can be as Hazardous as it is Beautiful
Roads covered in slippery leaves require similar precautions to those slick with ice. In addition to the hazard of slippery roads, leaves can cover other dangers like potholes and ice as the temperature drops.
Slow down and drive with extra care. Leave enough room between your car and other vehicles to safely stop if you need to hit the brakes, and approach by turning cautiously.
Watch Where Leaves Fall, and you Park
While nothing beats the satisfying crunch of dry leaves underfoot, they can be both an aesthetic and fire hazard. Avoid parking close to potentially flammable leaf piles and shedding trees. Not only can a blanket of leaf debris damage your paint job, but if leaves make their way under the hood, they can also damage your air filters or cause a fire.
Take care to remove leaves from your vehicle as gently as possible. Consider purchasing a car cover if you need to park under trees and be sure to clean and wax your car before the leaves start to fall.
Keep Your Eyes Peeled for Leaf Peepers
Tourists, photographers and nature enthusiasts alike are keen to observe the vibrant colours of fall in Canada. To keep everyone safe, be on the lookout for slow, distracted drivers, cyclists and pedestrians, including Instagram posters who can’t get enough of those #autumnvibes. It can be challenging to navigate fall enthusiasts flocking to country roads and admiring the foliage, but it comes with living in a beautiful region with four distinct seasons.
Keep Your Shades Handy
They don’t just make you look cool behind the wheel. Sunglasses are essential for protecting your eyes and minimizing the sun’s glare.
Shades are helpful any time of the year when the sun gets in your eyes during a drive. But the sun sits lower in the sky and sets earlier as the winter solstice approaches, making direct sun glare more of a driving hazard. Plus, you’ll be more likely to commute home or run errands as the sun sets in your field of vision. Always keep a pair of high-quality UV 400 specs within easy reach of the driver’s seat. Don’t forget to keep both your windshield and shades clean to maximize visibility!
Prepare for Driving in the Dark
Driving in the dark can be dangerous but at times necessary, which is why you should always consider these tips when driving in the fall. Even if you’re not one to stay out late, chances are you’ll be driving with less light on autumn evenings. So, inspect all of your driving lights and take your vehicle in for maintenance if necessary.
Here are a few handy night driving tips:
- Dim your dashboard lights and turn off lights inside your car to reduce glare and make your surroundings easier to see.
- Only use your high beams when the road ahead is dark; turn them off to avoid shining them into the eyes of oncoming drivers.
- Be on the lookout for the glowing eyes of nocturnal animals in the distance.
- With the combo of rainy and low light conditions in the fall, it’s an excellent time to consider replacing your windshield wipers; most experts recommend doing so every six months.
- After washing, adding a water-resistant finish to your windshield will also help improve visibility on wet fall evenings.
In addition to your windshield, keep your lights, windows and mirrors clean. Grease, dirt, salt and other varieties of grime can dim your lights and increase glare, reducing your nighttime visibility.
Every Canadian season comes with unique driving challenges and good reasons to take on the road for an adventure. Whether driving to the countryside, work or anywhere in between, vehicle maintenance and safe driving skills are crucial for navigating inclement weather while keeping up with your fall routine.
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