Winter Driving Safety Tips
Tips for Driving in the Snow and Ice
You own a snow blower to make life easier in winter, but sometimes you simply can’t avoid winter’s worst, especially once you’re out of your driveway and on the road.
Don’t let cold, snowy weather get the best of you if you need to use your car. Use these basic tips to keep your cool and stay safe in winter driving conditions.
How to Get out of a Snowy Driveway
We can’t stress this enough: if possible, avoid driving in snow during extreme weather conditions. Staying off the road both keeps you safe and puts less strain on emergency road crews.
However, we recognize that sometimes winter driving is unavoidable. If you have to go out in the snow, your first step will be to clear your snow-packed driveway.
Your snow blower will make the job easier, but some snow, such as frozen snow, will be difficult for even a powerhouse machine to handle. Break up the top layer of frozen snow with a shovel or other hand tool before digging into it with your snow blower.
If the snow in your driveway is high, don’t try to clear paths that are as wide as the snow blower’s entire intake space. Make paths that are about half as wide. It will take longer, but it won’t overload your machine.
Road Hazards to Avoid
Even a thin layer of snow, slush, or ice can reduce the traction between your car’s wheels and the road, creating dangerous conditions.
But snow and ice aren’t the only road hazards that winter might place in your path.
Black ice is one of the most commonly discussed dangers. This is ice is the same color as the driving surface (usually black asphalt, which gives it its name), and it contains no air bubbles. As a result, you likely won’t see black ice and won’t even realize it’s on the road until your car slides across a patch.
Bridges present another winter danger. Because air circulates around all sides of a bridge, water on its surface will freeze more quickly than water on a ground-based road, and you might end up driving on ice before you know it.
Finally, the spaces between driving lanes offer an unexpected challenge. These spaces are where snow gets pushed to the side and builds up in hard, crunchy layers. Trying to change lanes across these thick layers can be difficult and might result in your car getting stuck.
So, how can you stay safe when faced with road hazards like these?
General Winter Driving Safety Tips
Even before you set out on the road, having knowledge of safe winter driving habits such as the ones listed below can reduce your risk:
- If you're a new driver, practice driving in an empty snowy parking lot to get used to how your car handles
- Pack emergency supplies into your car (extra gloves and hats, hand warmers, a blanket, a flashlight, windshield washer de-icer fluid)
- Clear snow and ice from all the surfaces of your car before driving, including windows, the roof, headlights, taillights, and any sensors
- Accelerate gradually and reduce your speed while driving
- Increase your following distance behind other vehicles (suggestions include increasing it by three times your usual following distance, increasing it by eight to ten seconds, and increasing it to five car lengths)
- Follow in the tracks established by other vehicles
- Never use cruise control—always maintain direct control over your car’s speed
- Pull over if at any point you feel unsafe
But even if you drive carefully, slipping or getting stuck in snow might be unavoidable. The good news is that there are safe and effective ways of handling those issues as well.
What to Do If Your Car Skids in Snow
Slipping and skidding on the road can be terrifying, especially if cars are headed toward you in the opposite lane. Below are the steps to take if your car slips on ice or snow.
First, take your foot off the gas pedal. Accelerating will reduce the control you have over your car.
Next, if your car’s rear wheels are the ones skidding, turn your steering wheel in the direction you want your front wheels to face. Often this means that you’ll turn in the direction your rear wheels are drifting—if your rear wheels are drifting to the left, turn your steering wheel left.
Don't exaggerate your steering or overcorrect. Suddenly jerking your wheel to the side can cause you to lose control. In fact, aside from high speeds, overcorrecting while steering is one of the most common causes of winter driving accidents. Turn your steering wheel gradually.
If your car starts sliding too far in the other direction, you might have to turn your steering wheel left and right several times to correct your course. Again, turn the wheel gradually and steadily.
If your car’s front wheels are the ones skidding, wait for traction to return. Then, turn your steering wheel in the direction you want your front wheels to face.
Most modern cars are equipped with antilock braking systems (ABS). If your car is one of them, press on the brake pedal gradually and steadily so that you feel the brakes pump automatically as the ABS activates.
Do not pump the brakes on a car with ABS. Only pump the brakes if your car is an older model with standard brakes. This will prevent your standard brakes from locking (a condition that ABS brakes are designed to avoid, which is why you shouldn’t pump them).
If your car is in danger of colliding with another object, it’s better to steer out of the way than to try to avoid it by braking. On a slippery road, it takes less distance to steer away from a collision than to brake in front of it.
What to Do If Your Car Is Stuck in Snow
Skidding on a snowy road is an unnerving experience. Getting your wheels stuck in a snow drift is another—it’s the opposite problem, but it can be just as upsetting.
Don’t panic. Start by shifting your car into second gear, which will reduce the speed going to the wheels, and disengaging your car's vehicle stability control (VSC) or vehicle stability assist (VSA). The VSC applies a braking force to your wheels, which won't help if you're trying to get unstuck.
Afterward, turn your steering wheel side to side several times. This will help dig out your front wheels and clear the space around them.
Continue to clear snow away from your front and rear wheels with a shovel, a scraper, your hands, or any other tool suited for the job.
Next, place an item or a substance that will provide more traction on the ground in front of your tires. Effective suggestions include items that are easy to carry in your car or find on the ground nearby:
- Kitty litter
- Floor mats or rubber mats
- Small twigs
Once you’re ready, press gently on the car’s gas pedal to ease it forward. Do not floor the gas! Spinning your wheels only risks digging you further into the ditch.
Once you're out, be sure to reengage your VSC or VSA before continuing safely on your way.
Winter driving can be frightening and stressful—the exact opposite experience that you think about when enjoying the convenience of a snow blower. But keeping a few tips in mind before you have to deal with snow on the road can get your ready for it and keep you safe.