The rules or tips for surviving winter driving in Québec are not that much different than other wintery destinations in Canada. There is a shite load of snow, the wind is relentless, and whiteouts are worse than patches of dense fog.
In Québec City the old city is is made up of a series of steep hills and cobbled streets. Outside the city you get to add in things like the St. Lawrence River (which plays a small part in winter driving in Québec City as well) and the mountains and holy cow, you’ve got an intense drive ahead of you if you happen to be driving in a blizzard. Like real intense.
I know this because I just drove through a blizzard in Québec City and made the semi-foolish mistake of trying to drive out to Charlevoix, which is in the mountains east of the city. It was a crazy choice, and one that sparked the idea for this post. Voila!
I’ve learned that in blizzards, those blinking hazard lights are a godsend. Really! Not all vehicles are easily seen in a blizzard or white-out, and if their lights are flashing you’ll generally see the lights before you see the actual vehicle. When I start seeing flashing lights I automatically start slowing down as I don’t know if they’ve stopped or not. Great way to avoid having collision.
This is something I’ve only seen in Québec. I’ve lived in the Ontario snowbelt for many years, and then in Southern Alberta, and nobody utilized their hazard lights that way. In my opinion, it’s a genius idea – and one I recently used!!
An Emergency Kit
The most important rule to creating an emergency kit is to make sure you actually put it into your car. An emergency kit should contain the following items: jumper cables, road flares, portable gas can, granola or energy bars, water, tire jack and iron, can of fix-a-flat, spare tire, first aid kit, warm blanket, and waterproof matches. In winter I like to add things like hand warmers, a pair of wool socks, an extra layer of warm clothing, snow brush, paper towels, and rock salt, sand or kitty litter. Oh, and a shovel comes in handy as well.
Oh, and maybe a French-English dictionary if you’re driving outside major cities like Montréal and Québec.
Anything can happen when you’re driving, and in blizzards it could be awhile before someone finds you. In winter being over-prepared can keep you a live.
If you’re driving your own car chance are you’ll have winter tires. At least I HOPE you have winter tires put on before venturing into a winter wonderland like Québec. Do drive around without them is suicide.
If you’re planning to rent a car during your stay and explore Québec City and it’s surrounding areas it is best to ask the rental company BEFORE taking the car if the vehicle has winter tires. Never rent a car in winter if it still has summer tires.
Do NOT Make U-Turns
I am the Queen of making u-turns, especially when I’m driving in a new place. But I never make them if there is oncoming traffic (like within 3 car lengths of me), and I most certainly do not make them in winter unless there is an actual u-turn lane.
Unfortunately some people DO make them. In fact a guy in the right lane about one car length ahead of me decided to not turn right at the last minute and instead decided to make a u-turn, driving across my lane to the other side of the road. He was so close that I had to slam on the breaks to avoid hitting him. Thankfully the Toyota Corolla I’m driving this week has good tires and breaks. Otherwise I’d be calling Toyota to say I smashed their car!
Turn Your Cell Phone OFF
This tip is two-fold. First, distracted driving plus winter driving equals a death trap and not just for you! Secondly turning off your phone saves battery power. If you are in an accident or skid off the road and end up stuck, your phone will have a fairly good charge on it, which will be very helpful. Alternatively you should also have a phone charger in your car at all times and have your phone plugged in when driving. Again, a charged phone can save your life.
Windshield Washer with De-Icer
Always have a full windshield washer tank and an extra bottle (or two) or fluid in your car. Snow storms (and snow in general) can get dirty, especially if a truck is passing you. Man, I hate it when a semi-truck passes me. I’m always a white-knuckled mess!
Semi-Trucks are Angels in Disguise
I realize this is slightly contradictory to my previous statement above, but if you’re travelling in the same direction as a big truck they really can be a godsend. The key is to drive just within their wake (the snow they kick up), this keeps your windshield clear and makes seeing way easier. I’ve done this when driving in the mountains. Of course you want to be in a car with good tires and breaks.
I wouldn’t advise following them up a steep snowy hill. In a small vehicle the last thing you want to do on a steep snowy hill is stop. Once you start you need to keep going until you reach the top, otherwise you may not make it up the hill at all. Yet another lesson I’ve learned the hard way!
Always Stay with Your Car
If you are in an accident or slide off the road, always stay with your car. Never warnder off looking for help. Your emergency kit and cell phone should help you until someone finds you. Never. Wander. Off.
Be a Courteous Driver
If you’re driving along and see someone in a ditch, or with their hood up, stop or call 9-1-1. Please do not keep driving thinking someone has already helped. You could be the difference between life or death in some cases.
What if YOU were the person in the ditch? A few years ago I was one of those people in a snowy ditch after an accident, and very luck to have a truck driver/volunteer fireman stop and come to my aid. I never drove that car again.
Please be a courteous driver.
No matter what, stay calm. Getting tense and excited can impair your judgement, which in turn can impair your driving. Stay calm. If you do start to have panic attacks, find a safe place to pull over (a turning lane is not a safe place) and take a few minutes to calm down before getting back on the road.
Don’t Be Afraid to Stay Home
In winter it’s important to check the weather before you leave the house. If the reports are less than favorable and it looks sketchy outside, cancel your plans and stay home or at the hotel. I’m pretty sure whoever you’re meeting would rather you be alive tomorrow, than risk your life to hang with them. And if they wouldn’t, you need to ditch their asses, très rapide!
Keep Your Distance
One would hope that in winter people stop tailgating. This is so not true! I was a bundle of nerves this morning as trucks or car rode my ass, and then started flashing their lights to make me move. Normally I would have moved, but road conditions were not good and I had no desire to spin out in an attempt to make some loonie happy.
Of course tailgating isn’t the only problem, there are also the people who cut you off. This is something that trigged my accident when I was 24, an accident that totalled my car. In winter, I go tense all over as soon as someone cuts into my lane and I have to slow down; especially in poor visibility!
Driving in winter freaks me out. People don’t use common sense when it comes to winter driving. I’ve swore like sailor in the 2014 Toyota Corolla this week as cars ahead of me cut me off or made scary ass u-turns. If I can find an empty road, I’m a happy girl. I don’t have to worry about someone hitting me. All I have to do is relax, and enjoy the scenery around me. It’s pure bliss!