When the weather outside is “frightful”, though it may be a beautiful sight to see, driving in it may not be so “delightful.” Driving in wintery weather conditions can be intimidating for even the most experienced of drivers, especially those who aren’t accustomed to driving in icy and slick conditions. Whether you’re planning a trip to see snow, spending the holidays where inclement weather is expected, or you find yourself in unfamiliar driving conditions, we’ve got some winter driving safety tips to prepare yourself for driving in the snow, how to correct an unavoidable slide, and what to do in the event of getting stuck in the snow.
Know Before You Go
Before heading out into the Winter Wonderland, make sure both you and your vehicle are prepared for the driving conditions:
- Avoid driving while fatigued. Driving while tired can hinder your reaction time placing you and other drivers at risk. Be sure you are well-rested before getting behind the wheel.
- Warm up your car in a well-ventilated area. Avoid warming up your vehicle in an enclosed space, such as a garage, to avoid exposure to harmful gasses.
- Ensure tires are properly inflated and are in safe condition. For extended periods of driving in winter weather, purchase snow tires.
- Keep the gas tank at least half full. Not only is this a good idea in case you get stuck, but keeping some fuel in the tank in frequently colder conditions will help keep the gas line from freezing.
Best Practices for Driving in Winter Weather
Now that you are prepared to get on the road, here’s what you can do to get the most out of driving on wet, icy, or snowy roads:
- Take it slow. Especially while accelerating and decelerating. By doing so, you are helping to regain traction which will avoid skids. It takes longer to slow down on icy roads, so be sure to allow for the additional time for stoplights.
- Increase following distance. Driving on dry pavement is more forgiving and allows for the following distance of 3 – 4 seconds. This time should be at least doubled to increase the margin of safety while driving on snow or ice-covered roads. By increasing the distance, you are giving your vehicle more space to stop and to avoid hitting the vehicle in front of you.
- Brake safely. Slamming on the brakes in some cases is unavoidable, however, by applying firm, steady pressure to the brake, you are avoiding forcing your vehicle into a skid.
- Don’t punch the gas or stop while going up hills. Driving up a hill can be daunting on icy roads and by applying the gas on snow-covered roads, you’re just spinning your wheels. Instead, gather up the power to move up the hill before you reach the base to carry you to the top. As you reach the top, reduce speed and coast downhill, braking lightly if necessary, avoiding “riding the brakes.”
- Stay put. If at all possible, stay where you are until conditions are safer. Even if you are an experienced snow driver, sometimes staying at home or the office is safer than getting on the road.
Correcting A Slide
Driving on icy roads may be perceived as synonymous with sliding but, slides can be avoided just by maintaining a safe speed on snow and ice at about 45 MPH, avoiding sudden braking, acceleration, and turns. If your vehicle begins sliding or fishtailing, this is a warning that you’re already moving too fast for the current conditions.
The more speed your vehicle picks up, the more difficult it will be to correct a slide. Often slides or fishtails occur at speeds more than 45 MPH and require quick and precise steering to correct; a skill that surpasses the ability beyond most drivers. While there are two types of slides common on icy roads, oversteer is most often the cause of accidents. In the event of an oversteer slide correction, here’s what to do, and perhaps most importantly, what NOT to do:
- DON’T hit the brakes. Braking may be a natural reaction for any driver, but on an icy road, it’s likely to make the slide worse. For slide correction to be successful, the wheels must be turning freely.
- DO Turn into the slide. Turn your front wheels in the direction that the rear of the vehicle is sliding. For example, if the rear portion of your vehicle is sliding to the left, turn the wheel to the left. As the vehicle begins to straighten out, straighten the steering wheel.
- PRO TIP: Be sure to keep your eyes fixed on the road ahead. Turning the wheel will vary based on how far and how fast the back of your car is sliding. A small slide, for example, will only require slight steering action.
- Note: Correcting a slide can be difficult, as once the vehicle begins to respond to turning the wheel, it may give way in the other direction. When in the process of correcting a slide, be prepared for the vehicle to slide into the opposite direction. This may occur several times.
- DON’T Panic. Or overcorrect. An oversteer slide will make the car want to keep rotating into a full spin. Overcorrecting in this case, can force the car to rotate faster than the steering can counteract, making the car spin out.
Stranded In A Winter Wonderland
If you experience car trouble or other road conditions have kept your vehicle from moving, being prepared first and foremost is your best chance for survival. Prepare ahead of time with the essentials of a Winter Emergency Car Kit and follow these other tips until help arrives:
- Stay where you are, turn on your hazard lights, set up road flares, and call for help.
- Check to make sure the exhaust pipe is not obstructed by snow or other obstacles to avoid a buildup of carbon monoxide in the car. Check frequently to ensure the area stays free and clear.
- Turn the car off to preserve fuel. Every once in a while, restart the car to heat it up for a few minutes, then turn it back off.
- Stay hydrated. Believe it or not, the more hydrated you are, the warmer you’ll be. Dehydration is serious and can increase your chances to get frostbite, hypothermia, and may affect your ability to think clearly. Don’t have water? In case of an emergency, eat snow. It’s best if it is melted into the water first because eating snow could significantly lower your body temperature. Either way, it’s important to stay hydrated for your own safety.