snow driving

How to Drive in the Snow Like a Pro

We just learned some alarming news.

Santander, an insurance company located in the United Kingdom, just conducted a study and discovered that 25% of drivers have gotten in a car accident due to snowy or icy conditions. That’s one out of four drivers!

Driving in the snow is dangerous and not for the faint of heart. The safest way to drive in bad winter weather is to simply stay home. If you absolutely have to brave the snow and go somewhere, take all the precautions possible and make sure you know what you’re doing on the road. The more prepared you are, the lower your chances are of getting in a car accident.

As a person who survived 26 brutal winters of Chicago and is currently living in the high Rockies where steep roads meet hundreds of inches of snow and slippery ice, I’m no stranger to the art of driving in the snow. However, I still become nervous behind the wheel whenever the weather gets too extreme for my liking. Bad weather is not something to be taken lightly.

While you can never be 100% safe driving in snowy or icy conditions, you can avoid all kinds of detrimental scenarios that happen on the road every day simply by preparing yourself and your car. What better place to start than here? Take a look at the following list of useful tips for preparing yourself and driving safely in the snow.

Know your vehicle.

Is your car a rear-wheel, front-wheel, or all-wheel drive? How much engine power does your car have? Where does your car carry the most weight? What kind of brake system does your car have?

All those factors affect the way your vehicle performs in the snow. For example, if you have a rear-wheel pickup truck, you need to know that most of the weight resides in the front and that it’s difficult for the rear wheels to grip the road and push all the weight forward. The best solution for this type of vehicle is to add weight, such as sandbags, to the bed of the truck.

You can drive your car around an empty snowy parking lot until you’re immensely familiar with how your car handles in snowy or icy conditions.

Use the right tires.

Did you know that more than 90% of drivers don’t even use winter tires? Don’t be one of them! Winter tires – also known as snow tires – can save your life. Not only do they drastically reduce braking distance, they also have great snow traction.

If you think your ultra high performance summer tires or all-season tires provide enough grip on slippery roads, you’re mistaken. Even though all-season tires are more effective than summer tires when it comes to driving in bad weather, they’re not necessarily useful in snowy or icy conditions. When looking for winter tires, look for the ones with a symbol that resembles a snowflake on a mountain on the sidewall. That means they meet the tire industry’s standards for snow traction.

Prepare your car before each trip.

Before driving anywhere, take the following steps to ensure that your vehicle is ready to be driven out in the snow:

–       Ensure that your windshield washer system works.

–       Add more anti-icing fluid if necessary.

–       In extreme conditions, install snow chains to your tires.

–       Check the brakes.

–       Clear snow from your tires, headlights, taillights, windshield, rear window, and side windows.

–       Ensure that there’s a winter safety kit in your car. (A typical winter safety kit consists of a spade, sand for traction, a wool blanket, non-perishable emergency food, jumper cables, flashlight, a flare gun, and a first aid kit.)

Keep the headlights on.

When snow is falling, you want to be visible to other drivers. The best way to do this is to turn your headlights on during the day.

Stick to main roads as much as possible.

Snow plow trucks and salt spreaders tackle main roads first before doing side roads and residential streets. Because of that, well-maintained main roads are far safer than snow-covered side streets that probably won’t get any attention until hours into the snowstorm. Also, often times main roads have enough traffic to ensure that you will get help in the event of an emergency. Try to stick with main roads that are straight, not curvy.

Don’t drive too fast.

Here’s a fun fact: cutting your speed by only 5 to 10 mph will give you a lot more control over your car. Speeding is the number one cause of car accidents in bad winter weather. It’s because speeding on slippery roads leads to more dramatic and life-threatening mistakes. Do not put your car on cruise control, and do not attempt to pass other vehicles.  If you’re driving a manual vehicle, drive using the lower gears to increase your traction on the road.

Increase the distance.

Never drive too close to the car in front of you. Instead, increase the distance between you and the car ahead of you. A good rule of thumb is to allow four car lengths for every 10 mph you drive. For example, if you’re driving 30 mph in the midst of a snowstorm, leave 12 car lengths between you and the car in front of you.

Think ahead.

You know how sometimes you would space out while driving? Well, never, ever, ever space out during a snowstorm! Be alert, look ahead, and think clearly. Anticipate problems before they actually occur. You don’t want to be forced to abruptly react to problems you could’ve easily anticipated beforehand.

Steer and brake smoothly.

Any abrupt movement can result in losing control of the vehicle. If you maneuver your vehicle smoothly and gently, you will keep traction and control as much as possible. For example, always brake smoothly before you reach a corner, release the brakes while turning the corner gently, and once your car straightens up, gently accelerate until you regain control of your vehicle.

Slow your speed when crossing bridges and overpasses.

Bridges and overpasses are notorious hotspots for black ice. It’s because cold air passes underneath those structures and keeps the ice frozen longer than usual. If the road – on bridges, overpasses, or any other place – looks slick, it probably is. Black ice is dangerously transparent ice that can be hard to detect. If you suspect that you’re approaching black ice, especially on a bridge or an overpass, slow your speed with smooth brake application and drive cautiously.

Don’t put too much trust in your car.

All-wheel drive, electronic stability control, antilock brakes, and other vehicle control mechanisms are especially nice to have, but they won’t save your life. A lot of people allow those features to lull them into a false sense of security.

If you’re sliding off the road, not even a state-of-the-art stability system will change that. Remember that a four-wheel drive doesn’t provide much more traction than a two-wheel drive does. Contrary to popular belief, four-wheel drives don’t exist to help you drive faster in the snow. Rather, they exist to help you get unstuck from the snow.

Don’t expect your vehicle to handle the problems on the road. As the driver, you’re the only one who has the power to maneuver yourself to safety. Always remember that.

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Join the Discussion

  • Semper Fi

    This article is dealing with ‘four-wheelers’ and the ‘ordinary driver’ … whereas the photo is showing a large tractor truck … on a perfectly level road … snow, no ice … and apparently the roadway underneath the truck had given way and the load sank into what could be a culvert underneath….. DOES THIS PHOTO MAKE IT LOOK LIKE IT WAS THE DRIVER’S FAULT?????

    • marlee67

      relax, it’s only a picture….

  • Semper Fi

    Somehow, the photo doesn’t match up with the content of the article.