Driving in snow is a part of everyday winter life for some, but for others, it’s a new and frightening experience. Whenever a snowstorm is approaching, the news stations tell everyone to stay off the roads until the storm has passed. Of course, not all of us have the luxury of just staying home when the snow starts falling. But do you really know how to drive in that white slippery stuff?
First of all, plan on showing up early to wherever you’re going. Leave way ahead of time. The last thing you want is to start running late and get yourself into a hurry. If you show up early, no big deal. If you start to run late and get into a rush, bad things can happen very quickly. Patience is a virtue when driving in snow.
I know, this is obvious. But people usually don’t slow down enough when driving in snow. Don’t let other people pressure you into going faster than you’re comfortable with. If you start feeling uneasy, slow it down. If the idiot behind you is making you nervous, find a place to let him or her pass. Never get into a rush.
Leave more space
Again, it seems obvious, but following distance needs to be increased dramatically!! Leave a minimum of 9 seconds between you and the vehicle in front of you. Most people don’t practice proper safe following distance when driving in snow. You’re driving slow anyway, do you really need to be right up on the guy ahead of you? Just hang back a bit!
If you need to stop quickly
Let your vehicles Anti-Lock Brake System (ABS) do its job. ABS will allow you to steer your vehicle even while applying the brakes fully. It may not seem like the system is allowing you to stop quickly enough. But those systems are very accurate. Any further brake application and you’ll be sliding out of control without the ability to steer. If you aren’t in an emergency situation, you can actually let off the brake pedal a bit and the ABS should deactivate. That might help you maintain better control.
If your vehicle doesn’t have ABS… buy a new car! That car is old! Seriously though, for cars without ABS, it’s best to “pump” the brakes instead of letting your car skid. By pumping the brake pedal, you are allowing the vehicle to roll a bit, which will give you much better control in steering. The best option is to keep yourself out of that situation by maintaining a safe speed and following distance. Older vehicles are much more dangerous when it comes to driving in snow. If you have the choice, take a car with ABS and traction control systems. These new systems make things much safer.
Avoiding a skid
The best way to keep from sliding and losing control in the snow is to slow down well before any turn; Not during the turn. Slow way down. You can always speed up in the turn if you feel you’re going too slow. But if you enter a corner too quickly, hitting the brake or even slowing down during the corner is the quickest way to end up in a ditch, guardrail, or whatever other object is nearby. The majority of accidents in snow and ice happen due to drivers taking corners too quickly, or slowing down during the corner. You can slow down too much as many times as you want, but you can only take a corner too quickly once.
When you’re driving in show, you should do everything in slow motion. Things that you do in normal driving needs to be done in much smoother and slower increments. Be smooth, be accurate, and don’t overreact if you make a mistake. Never jerk the wheel or slam on the brakes. Smooth, soft, and slow motion moves is what you’re aiming for.
See and be seen
Even during the daytime, if it’s snowing, use those headlights. It may not help you see, but it’ll help you be seen. At night, you can experiment with the high beams and low beams, but normally during heavy snowfall, it’s best to keep the low beams on. Use fog lights if you have them.
Drive the car
Never, I repeat, NEVER use cruise control when the roads get slick. Even if there are just patches of snow, keep that cruise control off. Cruise control is always a bad idea in the snow.
So you have a 4×4 or all wheel drive?
Great! That’ll help you to maintain control or get out of spots if you’re stuck. But if you loose traction, you’ll still end up in the ditch with everyone else. Remember, having 4-wheel drive does not help you stop faster! So don’t get too over confident. All wheel drive will certainly help, but the added confidence some 4×4 drivers have causes them to wreck just as fast (or faster) as anyone else.
If you begin to skid…
So your car has begun to slide out of control. Do you know what to do? First of all, calm down and keep your cool. Here’s whatcha gotta do…
Get your foot off the brake (if you’re braking) and turn into the skid. Basically, turn the wheel into the direction you want your vehicle to go. So, if you’re car begins pointing to the left, very gently and softly turn the steering wheel back to the right.
Use the gas pedal
You also need to very slightly… accelerate. Yup, you’ve got to go against your natural instincts here. If you hit the brakes, you’re doomed. The best bet is to very gently get on the gas. This transfers the weight of the vehicle from the front of the car to the rear, which is what you want. Basically, in a skid, the rear of your vehicle is trying to become the front. Accelerating will stabilize the vehicle as you gently steer into the skid. Once you gain traction again, you’ll be able to continue on your merry little way. If your vehicle is rear wheel drive, you need to be extra gentle while doing this. Remember, do everything in slow motion. Smooth, gentle, and precise. And of course, use your best judgment. You obviously don’t want to accelerate if you’re about to rear end somebody!
The exception to the above rule is if you’ve entered a corner too quickly and begin to slide. In this case, you’re in some serious trouble. Always be sure to slow WAY down before any corner or turn. If you do start to slide, take your foot off the accelerator. Do NOT hit the brakes! It’ll only make things worse! The only thing you can really do if you are sliding due to taking a turn too quickly is to let off the gas pedal and gently try to steer the vehicle so that you don’t lose control. Honestly, all you can do at this point is control your crash. Try to avoid large objects and pedestrians. If you can, control the crash into a softer object such as bushes or snow mounds. This is an extremely dangerous situation. I can’t stress enough…enter turns slowly!!
Items to carry with you
Anytime you are driving in a snowstorm, you must carry some very basic items. Always have a fully charged cell phone with you. Make sure your vehicle is full of fuel. If you become stranded, help may not arrive for many hours, and in rural areas, it could be a day or more. You should also have extra clothing in case your clothes get wet. Keep a jacket, two pairs of gloves, and two hats with you. If you’re going to be in very rural areas, mountainous areas, or places where you don’t get cell phone signal, you might also want to consider a set of tire chains. Be sure you know how to put them on ahead of time, as they can be a bit tricky (tire cables are easier to apply than chains and about as effective).
Other items such as jumper cables, road flares, a first aid kit, or better yet, a vehicle safety kit, which usually includes all of those things and more.
Also remember to carry plenty of food and water. Nobody thinks they’ll become stranded, but during a recent blizzard in Chicago, nearly 1,000 vehicles were stranded on Lake Shore Drive right in downtown for many hours. It can happen anywhere, so be prepared! Keeping some of these necessary items in your vehicle is very basic common sense for winter driving.