Driving safely in winter weather can be a challenge for even the most experienced drivers. Of course, the best advice is to avoid driving in hazardous conditions altogether. If you must go out, exercise caution and follow these safety tips for driving in the snow and ice.
10 Safety Tips for Driving in the Snow and Ice
Preparing for winter weather starts with your car. Properly winterizing your car will give you the best chance of beating the elements this winter. Make sure you tires are inflated and have enough tread left. Keep your windshield wipers in good condition and your wiper fluid topped off. Double check your car’s antifreeze level. Stock your car with winter essentials, like an ice scraper, road flares, rock salt and jumper cables.
2. Clear Your Car
Before you set out, clear your car of any and all snow and ice. Don’t stop at just your windshield! Snow can slide down from your car’s roof or fly off your hood and obstruct your vision. It’s not only dangerous for you, it’s dangerous to others if snow or ice flies off your car.
Pay attention to where any sensors are located on your car and make sure they’re clear. Snow, ice and dirt can obstruct cameras, blind spot detectors or other safety sensors and prevent them from working.
3. Go Slow
Take it easy when you’re driving in the snow. No amount of time saved is worth your safety and well-being. Plan for your trip to take more time and leave earlier. The road will be slippery and visibility may be poor. Not to mention, the other cars on the road are experiencing the same conditions. Keep at least double the distance from other vehicles than you normally would. This gives you plenty of time and space for you to slow down or stop.
4. No Sudden Movements
When driving on potentially slippery roads, you’ll want to avoid making sudden movements. Don’t jerk the steering wheel, as this can cause you to lose control quickly.
To avoid skidding or having your brakes lock up when stopping or slowing down, apply light pressure to the brakes. Again, leave plenty of room between you and the car ahead of you.
If you’re driving a vehicle with an electric motor, don’t use the one-pedal driving mode or regenerative braking. When driving in the snow, these systems can cause you to lose traction quickly and unpredictably.
5. Light on the Accelerator
As with braking, steady motions on the gas can help you maintain control of your car when conditions are slippery. Too much acceleration can cause you to lose traction and the sudden increase in speed can be difficult to control.
Accelerate slowly from a stop to avoid wheel spin. If your wheels are spinning and fighting for traction, don’t press the accelerator harder! Instead, slowly back off the accelerator and wait for the wheels to grip, then gently accelerate out. If you’re in an EV, this only works if you turn off the regenerative braking or one-pedal drive.
6. Stay Focused
While you should be keeping your eyes on the road any time you drive, staying focused on the road and any hazards is even more important when you’re driving in the snow. Black ice can be difficult to spot, and may appear as a puddle or look like a wet patch of asphalt. Low visibility from snow can obscure road obstacles, like potholes and ditches.
7. Don’t Panic in a Skid
Skidding and sliding on the road can be a scary experience. You can correct a skid, but only if you remain calm and feel how the vehicle is moving. Don’t make sudden, jerky actions like slamming on the brakes or turning the steering wheel.
If you’re sliding sideways, turn the wheel in the direction the back of your car is going. For example, if your car is sliding out to the right, you’ll want to steer to the right.
When the road is slippery, your brakes may make a loud grinding or pumping sound when you press on them. This is normal if your car has an anti-lock braking system (ABS). What’s happening is your car is releasing and re-engaging your brakes rapidly to maintain traction. Don’t panic if this engages! It may sound like something is getting damaged, but this is the system doing its job.
8. Don’t Stop Uphill
If you have to travel uphill in slippery conditions, try to maintain a consistent pace in a low gear. Keep plenty of distance between you and others, if possible. Try not to stop moving while going uphill, as you may lose traction and start sliding backwards.
9. AWD/Traction Control
Don’t be lulled into a false sense of security by traction control features. Your car may have all-wheel drive (AWD) or electronic stability control (ESC), but these do not mean it’s impervious to spins or skids. You are still vulnerable to the same hazards as all other drivers and should exercise caution.
10. Stay Visible While Driving in the Snow
Keep your lights in good condition. Make your car as visible as possible so others are aware of you when visibility is low. You can do this by manually turning on your headlights and fog lights if you have them. If visibility is poor, turn on your hazards so others on the road can see and keep a safe distance from you. While you should never assume another driver can see you on the road, this gives you the best chance of being seen.
However, do not leave your high beams on. When snow is whipping around or when it’s foggy, high beams will actually make visibility worse for you. The high intensity light will just reflect off the snow and impair your vision. It can also be distracting and dangerous to others on the road.