If there’s one thing that I don’t like doing, it’s driving in the snow and on icy roads. Whether it’s overconfident drivers or inexperienced drivers, winter driving can be hazardous. There have been multiple crashes with people either driving too fast for conditions or sliding on ice you can’t see, on roads or highways that look clear.
In the event that you need to drive in similar road conditions, we’ve compiled this guide to driving safely in winter weather.
Guide to Safe Driving in Winter
Slow down, and don’t follow too close
It is necessary to give yourself plenty of room to stop. Leave at least three times as much space as usual between you and the car in front of you. You may think you can stop quickly, but no matter how fast your own reflexes may be, your car will always slide on ice. I’ve seen fully loaded semi-trucks sliding on icy roads.
Brake gently to avoid skidding
If your wheels feel like they’re starting to lock up, ease off of the brake. Another reason why it’s important to leave lots of room between you and the car in front of you. If you start skidding, and you left enough room, you may be able to stop in time.
Turn your car’s lights on
Even in the day time. This is also a good idea on clear days during the summer. It increases your visibility to other drivers.
Keep your lights and windshield clean
If your car is covered in snow, be sure to clear the snow off from your headlights, tail lights, all windows, and the top of the car. This will make driving safer for other cars on the road. Snow blowing off of the tops of trucks and other cars has landed squarely on my windshield on more than one occasion. That could have been avoided if the driver had taken the time to remove the snow.
Be especially careful on bridges, overpasses, and infrequently traveled roads
They freeze first, even at temperatures above freezing, because of cold winds and airflow around bridges.
Don’t pass snow plows or sanding trucks
They don’t have good visibility, and you’ll likely find the roads clearer behind them. Let them do their jobs, and the roads will be safer for everyone.
Don’t assume your vehicle can handle all conditions
This has to be one of my biggest pet peeves in winter. Watching trucks and SUVs zip past as if the roads are as clear as a clear, sunny summer day. Vehicles with four-wheel drive can give drivers a false sense of safety because they typically perform better in snowy and icy driving conditions. Four-wheel drive sends a specific amount of needed torque to each of the vehicle’s four tires to give added traction to move forward through snowy roads. That doesn’t mean that a vehicle with four-wheel or all-wheel drive can race down the road at top speed in the snow. Four-wheel or all-wheel drive will not give you the traction you need to brake.
Leave earlier than you normally would
Give yourself some extra time to get to your destination. You won’t feel pressure to drive any faster than you should, putting yourself and other drivers’ lives at risk. You’ll, instead, be confident that you’ll arrive at your destination on time, or close enough.
Don’t put undue pressure on other drivers
Driving too closely, stopping too closely behind other cars, or honking at cars that are waiting to turn put undue pressure onto other people.
Driving too closely can cause many problems. Should the car ahead of you need to brake, you may not be able to slow down in time. If they suddenly hit a snow patch, their car may slow quickly without warning.
At stop signs, corners, etc., attempting to stop as close to the car in front of you as possible can prove dangerous. If you start sliding on the ice, there’s no way to avoid a crash, and it’s your fault.
If someone seems to be taking too long to turn at a corner, don’t honk at them. You’re not in their position, and you don’t know the conditions. Even if you think you do, you’re putting their safety at risk by trying to make them go just so that you can get moving a little bit faster. Conditions are bad enough, take the time to be more understanding.
How fast should you be going?
Let’s put it like this: if you’re passing a lot of cars, you’re driving too fast. If you’re being passed by a lot of cars, you’re driving too slow. If you’re getting too uncomfortable, perhaps it’s best not to be on the road.
If your rear wheels skid in snow…
- Take your foot off the accelerator.
- Steer in the direction you want the front wheels to go. If your rear wheels are sliding left, steer left. If they’re sliding right, steer right.
- If your rear wheels start sliding the other way as you recover, ease the steering wheel toward that side. You might have to steer left and right a few times to get your vehicle completely under control.
- If you have standard brakes, pump them gently.
- If you have anti-lock brakes (ABS), do not pump the brakes. Apply steady pressure to the brakes. You will feel the brakes pulse — this is normal.
If your front wheels skid in snow…
- Take your foot off the gas and shift to neutral, but don’t try to steer immediately.
- As the wheels skid sideways, they will slow the vehicle and traction will return. As it does, steer in the direction you want to go. Then put the transmission in “drive” or release the clutch, and accelerate gently.
If you get stuck in snow…
- Do not spin your wheels. This will only dig you in deeper.
- Turn your wheels from side to side a few times to push snow out of the way.
- Use a light touch on the gas, to ease your car out.
- Use a shovel to clear snow away from the wheels and the underside of the car.
- Pour sand, kitty litter, gravel or salt in the path of the wheels, to help get traction.
- Try rocking the vehicle. (Check your owner’s manual first — it can damage the transmission on some vehicles.) Shift from forward to reverse, and back again. Each time you’re in gear, give a light touch on the gas until the vehicle gets going.
- More Tips
Sources: Weather.com, HowStuffWorks, National Safety Council, New York State Department of Motor Vehicles, Washington State Government Information & Services