Driving in the snow doesn’t have to be dangerous. If you understand proper technique and some very basic physics, your chances of causing an accident is very slim. Of course, you can’t control all the other nut jobs out there! As a long haul truck driver, I was always amazed at the sheer number of accidents during snowy conditions. Most of them were cars that spun off the road and likely, nobody was hurt. But these were accidents that could have been easily avoided. By following the advice, tips, and tricks on this page, you’ll be able to greatly increase your safety during snowy driving conditions.
To start things off, check out the below video. They give some pretty good advice for driving in the snow and it’ll help give you a visual. Once you get the basic idea after watching the video, I’ll go into a bit further detail.
How To Get Un-Stuck
If you plan on driving in the snow, you’ll get stuck eventually. Parking lots, stop lights, stop signs, and even a slight incline can cause you to get stuck. So how do you get out of that mess?
The best thing to do is try to “rock” the car back and forth. Remember high school physics? Neither do I. But at some point, your teacher probably mentioned Newton’s first law of physics in which Newton basically says, “an object in motion tends to stay in motion.” If you can keep rocking the car back and forth, you might be able to gain momentum.
Think of this action like a swing. Once you get enough momentum forward or back, you can usually keep the vehicle in motion long enough to get out of the situation. The trick is to just feather the gas and let the car roll forward and when you can’t roll anymore, let off the gas and let your car roll back. As soon as your car can’t roll back anymore, give it some gas again. Repeat this process until you’re free!
Sometimes, rocking the vehicle won’t work. In that case, you may need to get a shovel and dig yourself a path. You can also put something near the tires such as sand or kitty litter to help the tires grip. Another trick is using windshield wiper fluid to melt the snow around your vehicle’s tires. If none of this works, it’s either time to find a neighbor with a nice 4×4 truck to pull you out, or take the easier approach and call in sick to work (or cancel whatever plans you had that were forcing you to drive in the snow).
Starting From A Stop
This isn’t that difficult, but sometimes you need to use a little technique. The key is to use the most pressure on the gas possible up until the wheels break free. Once the wheels start to break loose, you should back off the gas a bit.
Sometimes you won’t be able to get any real traction at all. If that’s the case, you need to just “feel it out” by varying the amount of gas you use until you can gauge which speed is giving you the best grip. A front-wheel-drive vehicle will pull you through the snow and shouldn’t cause many problems.
On a rear-wheel-drive vehicle, the rear end may start to slide left or right. If this occurs, you need to get traction back on those rear tires, which you can do by letting off the gas a bit. You always want to steer in the direction you want to go. So if the rear of the vehicle is sliding left, that will force the front of your vehicle to go right. Simply steer left to straighten out.
Speed And Following Distance
You’re not going to like what I have to say here, but when you’re driving in snow, you should keep a 9-second following distance. I know, that seems excessive, but when you don’t have traction, you shouldn’t be concerned with how fast you get somewhere. You should just get there. Driving 3 seconds behind somebody is not going to save you any more time than if you drive 9 seconds behind, but you’ll be much safer if the guy in front of you spins out or hits something.
There is no magic formula for determining a proper speed for snow driving because all situations will be different. During heavier snow, expressway speeds are usually down to 40mph or slower. In some cases, you might even have to drive so slow you need to put your flashers on. Whatever it takes to be safe. One thing I can say for sure is this… Don’t gauge how fast you should go based on those around you. Most drivers go way too fast in the snow and do not keep a proper following distance. Make your own decisions. If they are in a big hurry, too bad. They should have left sooner!
Stopping quickly in the snow is a whole lot easier now than it used to be. Antilock Brake Systems (ABS) have drastically improved safety because all you need to do is mash the brake pedal and hold it. The ABS system is specifically designed to give you the most braking power without losing traction. That means you can still steer around objects (within reason). If you don’t have ABS on your car, you should buy a newer car! But also, you should pump the brake pedal as fast as you can. It’s the surest way to maintain traction.
Avoiding A Spinout
Spinouts in the snow are almost always caused by improper speeds or improper braking techniques. Most spinouts occur during curves and turns. You should always brake before a turn, not during a turn. Braking during a turn will cause the centrifugal force to move forward. In the ideal situation, you’d actually slow down enough before the turn that you could accelerate slightly through the turn. Be careful to not accelerate too much, but by accelerating, you are shifting weight from the front of the vehicle to the rear, which will help you maintain traction.
You should also be careful near bridges, underpasses, and tunnels. Not only can these areas freeze before other parts of the roadway, but wind conditions often change drastically. For example, when driving under an overpass, the wind will suddenly stop for a brief moment before it comes back. The slightest shimmy or overreaction on your part could send you into a spin.
Be sure to check for ruts in the road as well. A rut or ridge of snow in the road can cause one of your tires to dig in and slow one side of your vehicle down. Areas with ruts and ridges occur frequently near recently plowed streets, a place where somebody made a lane change, or near intersections.
Recovering From A Spinout
In the event you do begin to spin out, do not hit the brakes. The reason you are spinning out is that you’ve lost traction. The first thing you should do is get off the gas and the brake. Just let the vehicle roll. You should also steer in the direction you want the front of your vehicle to go. Eventually, the car will regain traction.
If you begin to spin out on a curve because you’re going too fast, you’re pretty much screwed. I’m not joking about that either. Once you enter a turn too quickly, you’re finished. There’s nothing you can do. Always slow down before the turn! On the flip side, you may experience an oversteer in which the front end of your car wants to turn too much. Simply hit the gas a little bit and gently bring the wheel in the opposite direction until you’re back on track.
Use Extreme Caution On Bridges And Overpasses
Most of the time, we see those signs before bridges that say “Bridge May Be Icy” and we hardly pay attention. Ninety-nine percent of the time, the bridge isn’t icy. Even when driving in snow or ice, the bridges are often treated and don’t pose much of a problem. However, all it takes is one time to ruin your day.
The fact is, bridges really are dangerous and can ice up much faster than other roadway surfaces. For example, say a snowplow goes over a bridge and lays down salt. The roadway surface will change from snow/ice cover to simply being wet. However, as the salt begins to wear off and lose its effect, that same moisture will form in the way of ice, even though the rest of the roadway may still be snow and ice free. There’s a reason they put those warning signs before bridges – many people lose their lives or become injured when losing control on a bridge.
Give Snowplows Lots Of Room
Visibility is almost always very poor when driving in snow and this is especially true for snowplows. Many times, due to flying snow, plow drivers can’t even see any vehicles in their mirrors. That is why passing a snowplow can be extremely dangerous! It is imperative to your safety and everyone else’s safety that you take your time and drive slowly now. When coming up on a snowplow, give them lots of space and just relax. It might be a while, but at least you will arrive safely.
Here are some do’s and don’ts when driving around snowplows:
Maintaining a safe distance and not crowding the plow is the main point here. You should at least maintain a 200-feet distance from the plow truck
Because snow plows are large, the snowplow operators will find it hard to see directly behind their trucks. Fine, they are trained to be exceptionally careful when driving, but accidents are called accidents because they can happen anytime, no matter how prepared your snowplow operator is. So it’s always best to take extra precautions.
When you see a snowplow, no matter how slow they travel, or how far away you are from the vehicle, slow down (again, keep your distance) and you should always stay alert. Remember that trucks release sand from the back, so if you stay too close, these materials may hit your windshield and obstruct your visibility. They also need to back up during storm response, so give them enough room for this.
One thing you should never attempt to do is to pass a plow on the RIGHT. A plow pushes snow to their right shoulder and usually uses a wing plow that is six to eight-foot-long. This is very difficult to see so it may put you into harm if you pass on this side of the plow.
You should never pass a snowplow in a snow cloud as well (or any other car for that matter). But, snow clouds can be caused by a snowplow so make sure that the road ahead is clearly visible without any other vehicles or snowdrifts before passing a snowplow (in case you really need to), and always remember to pass on the left!