Winter driving can be a challenge in the best of times. On rural roads, however, it’s even trickier.
Roads in the country are often more exposed to hazards like crossing wildlife and reduced visibility. They’re also more isolated, which makes asking for help in case of a breakdown tougher.
Here are a few ways to stay safe on a rural road trip.
1. Check your vehicle before leaving
“Don’t just prepare for the destination; prepare for the journey,” says Scott McIntyre, CAA Saskatchewan’s VP of Automotive Services.
Before leaving you must check your vehicle and ensure that it’s safe for driving. Check the pressure on your winter tires and add air, if necessary.
If your battery is more than three years old, schedule a test at Regina Battery Depot. Verify road conditions online and postpone your trip if things look dicey.
Have your brakes inspected thoroughly and service them, if necessary, as that will help with better braking power, especially on icy, snow-covered roads.
Before embarking on your journey, ensure that you have a full tank or at minimum a half tank of fuel. This will help reduce moisture in the gas tank plus it adds weight to your vehicle.
Lastly, when you head out, inform someone of your route, destination, and expected arrival time.
2. Pack an emergency roadside kit
In the event of a rural or any breakdown or accident, a well-stocked emergency kit can be a real lifesaver. You can either buy a readymade kit or assemble one at home.
A roadside safety kit must consist of items like a collapsible shovel, reflective triangles/ pylons, first-aid supplies, window ice scraper, snow brush, and booster cables.
In addition to that, you must also pack some extra winter gear including mitts, toques, and footwear. Also, pack ample water and non-perishable food items like energy or nourishment bars.
Finally, always remember to keep your mobile phone charger with you in case your phone runs out of battery, and you need to charge it to stay connected or request roadside assistance.
3. Drive to the conditions
“Most people drive the speed limit,” McIntyre says, “but if the roads are treacherous, you need to slow down more.”
During winters, you should double your following distance from three to six seconds as you never know when you or the vehicle ahead might hit a patch of black ice.
Furthermore, to help visibility, make sure your headlights are clear of snow. However, don’t use high beams during a snowfall because the light will reflect off the flakes, thereby causing a glare.
Lastly, always remember to slow down to 60 km/h for first responders including tow truck operators, law enforcement, paramedics, firefighters, and highway construction workers.
CAA PRO TIP: Before leaving for your destination, check the Saskatchewan government’s highway hotline for all the latest updates on current winter road conditions.
4. Know where you are
Even though we live in a digital age, there are still some pockets in Saskatchewan — mainly along the vast stretches of highway in the north—where GPS and mobile internet signals may be unreliable.
Therefore, it’s advisable to carry a paper map as a backup. Alternatively, you can also download an offline version of a map on your phone so that it loads without the need for the internet.
While you’re on your journey, stay alert and take note of road markers along your route.
It’s also good practice to keep an eye out for landmarks like prominent businesses, gas stations, or restaurants in the towns through which you pass through.
Doing so will help tow truck operators (or other first responders) find you faster without precise coordinates in case of an emergency.
5. When in trouble, call for help
“CAA agents are specially trained to handle rural calls as quickly and safely as possible,” says McIntyre.
Therefore, if you do find yourself in trouble, waste no time and use the CAA mobile app to request roadside assistance. You can also call us on 1-800-222-4357 or request it online.
Give as many details as you can to the CAA agent, who’ll dispatch a tow truck and give you tips on staying safe. While you wait, don’t abandon your vehicle. Instead, stay inside and keep yourself warm.
If, however, you’ve been in an accident and someone is injured, call 911 immediately. Safe travels!