Safety Tips For Driving In Snow And Ice
Waking up to a fresh snowfall is wonderful when you are a kid on a snow day, but not so great once you are an adult needing to drive to work. Driving in snowy or icy conditions is hazardous, particularly if you are not used to extreme weather, are tired, or are heading out while it’s still dark.
If the weather is particularly stormy, the snow is falling heavily, or the forecast calls for a worsening of the weather later in the day, your best bet is to stay home. Often though, you cannot take the day off, and must brave the elements. When it comes time to drive in winter weather, taking precautions and knowing how to handle your car on a snowy road can make the difference between a safe trip and an accident.
Get Your Car Ready Before Winter Arrives
If you live in a cold winter climate, get your car ready before the first snowfall of the season. Worn tires, low antifreeze and a battery ill-equipped to handle the cold all make winter driving risky.
- Check your tires. The tread should be in good condition, with no worn or bald spots. If you live in a particularly snowy area, switch to snow tires, which have much deeper tread with better traction than regular tires.
- Switch to windshield wiper fluid that is formulated to not freeze in subzero temperatures and change your wipers to one’s that can handle snow.
- Keep your gas tank at least half full throughout the winter to cut down on condensation and make it easier to start on a freezing morning.
- Get an oil change.
- Keep an ice scraper in your car, along with a small shovel. You should also have a bag of sand or kitty litter, to be used in case your car becomes stuck in snow or mud.
- If you live or frequently drive in a mountain region, keep snow chains in the trunk.
- Make sure all of your car’s lights are in order, and check all belts and hoses.
- Keep an emergency kit in the car, with a blanket, flares, water, jumper cables and a flashlight with working batteries.
Heading Out On A Snowy Day
If driving in snowy or icy conditions is unavoidable, take extra precautions. Check weather reports before leaving, and plan to head out extra early so you won’t feel rushed or anxious about arriving on time.
- Remove all snow from the top of the car and the windshield. Use your scraper if necessary.
- Cut your speed way down. If the road is wet or lightly covered with snow, you should be driving at least 5 to 10 mph slower than normal. With a heavier layer of snow, reduce your speed by half. If you see or suspect ice, drive as slowly as you can until past the icy area.
- Leave at least three times as much space as usual between your car and the car ahead of you.
- Don’t slam on the brakes; ease them down gently and release slightly if the car begins to slide.
- Keep your headlights on, even during daytime.
- Be particularly cautious when crossing bridges or overpasses, as these are more likely to be icy.
- Keep your eyes focused on the road ahead, and scan for potential dangers, signs of black ice, or reckless drivers.
- Slow down more than normally when turning. Be particularly aware of turning the wheel smoothly and avoiding any sudden moves.
When You Start To Slide
If your car hits a patch of ice and begins to slide, your first instinct is likely to slam on the breaks and jerk the wheel in the opposite direction. Once a car is sliding on ice, however, the brakes are ineffective.
If The Front Of The Car Is Skidding:
- Take your foot of the gas, but do not slam on the brakes.
- Shift the car into “neutral”.
- Steer towards the direction you want to go.
- As you feel the car slow and traction return, put the car back in “drive” and slowly accelerate back to your regular speed.
If The Back Of The Car Is Skidding:
- Take your foot off the accelerator.
- Turn the steering wheel in the direction you want the car to go. Often, the car will begin sliding the other way, so be prepared to gently turn the wheel from side to side. Just keep aiming the front wheels in the direction you want to steer the car.
- If you have antilock brakes, apply steady pressure. If you have standard brakes, gently pump them.
- When you feel the car regain traction, gently accelerate in the direction you want to go, and return to your previous speed.
When Your Car Gets Stuck
If you find yourself stuck in a deep snowdrift, don’t panic. You can probably get yourself free and be on your way.
- Don’t press down on the gas and keep the tires spinning. This will dig an even deeper trench.
- Turn the steering wheel from side to side to loosen the area around the tires.
- Put your car in the lowest gear, then lightly press on the gas, and attempt to drive the car forward.
- If you are still stuck, use your emergency shovel to clear away snow, ice or mud from around your tires. You can also pour some sand or kitty litter in front of the tires to help give traction on slippery ground.
- Shift the car from “forward” to “reverse” and back again, each time gently pressing on the gas.
- When you feel the car start to move forward, give a little bit more gas to ease the car out of the trench, and drive straight ahead.
Though snow and ice add to the hazards of driving, by taking precautions, slowing down and keeping a calm head in a skid, you can conquer the elements and safely arrive at your destination.