The key to driving safely on the roads is to be proactive. Not reactive. In all actuality, there is little you can do when you actually lose control on the road–you are at the mercy of your vehicle! Stating the obvious, the best thing to do is to simply avoid driving in dangerous winter weather, but sometimes it’s inevitable.

Follow these general rules to avoid getting in trouble:

  1. Avoid driving in inclement weather
  2. SLOW DOWN! Your speed should never be above 45 mph if the roads are covered in snow and/or ice.
  3. Keep your distance! Braking can take twice as long and extra space can also give you more time to avoid an accident.
  4. Keep both hands on the wheel and drive carefully.
Winter Driving

Image Credit: NOAA

Your Car is Important!

Tires. Tires really do matter. For adequate snow traction, you need at least 6/32-inch tread. Consider this thought via Edmunds: “Successful race drivers know that tires are often the difference between hero and zero. A fresh set of rubber will allow the 30th-place driver to blow by the leader who has yet to pit for new tires. The same is true in snow.”

Wipers. When was the last time you replaced your windshield wipers? If you can’t remember, it’s time for new ones. While you’re at it, make sure you fill up on some good anti-icing windshield washer fluid.

Check Yor Lights. Are your lights working? Be sure to check often. It’s not only important to make sure you can see, but that you can be seen. Opaque headlight covers should be polished or replaced. Use your headlights even during the day and make sure they’re clear of snow.

Know Your Car. Is your car All-Wheel-Drive or not? Do you have ABS brakes?

Black Ice

Black ice is, arguably, the most dangerous stuff to drive on because it’s difficult to see and can send you spinning out of control very quickly. If you are hitting the road during Winter, be sure to check the pavement before heading out–do you see patches of ice or is the pavement completely dry? When ground temperatures are cold enough, precipitation can freeze on contact, resulting in a sheet of ice.

Black ice is actually clear, but gets its name because it looks like the rest of the pavement–it can be very difficult to see, especially when it’s dark. This is why it’s good to be aware of temperatures in your area. All drivers should be cautious temperatures are at or below freezing. Also understand where ice tends to form. Black ice can form on surfaces that are shaded (think of tree-covered shady spots that result in patches of ice). Be extra careful on bridges, overpasses and tunnels. Salt and sanding does help with icy roads, but remember that it becomes less effective at 15 degrees or lower–if it’s that cold out, be extra aware! Remember too that primetime for ice to form is between sunset and sunrise.

Black Ice

Image credit: NWS Twin Cities

I’m Skidding!

It happens to the best of us in wintry climates: we skid. Learning how to regain control in a skid is all about your level of experience in handling a skdding event and remaining calm. This only comes with experience. Practicing is wonderful. If you can’t afford a professional driving course, you can find an open space to prace sliding your car (without danger of damage or police).

General rules:
-DO NOT panic.
-DO NOT brake if you’re skidding.
-DO hold your steering wheel steady.

For a front skid, release the accelerator gradually and let your car slow down. Turning your wheel or braking will not do a thing in that moment and, in fact, might do more harm that good when you actually do regain traction.

For a rear skid, take your foot off the accelerator and steer in the direction you want the front wheels to go. So if your back is sliding left, steer left. If they are sliding right, steer right. Basically: turn into the slide! This takes PRACTICE and is impossible to really understand unless you’ve been there.



I’m Stuck!

If your car is stuck, do not spin your wheels–you will only dig yourself in deeper. You can turn your wheels from side to side to push snow out of the way. Gently press on the gas to ease your car out. If you’re really, really stuck, now is the time to engage your winter tool kit in your vehicle. Use a shovel to clear snow away and pour sand or salt to help gain traction. You can also try rocking the vehicle, shifting from drive to reverse and back again with gentle pressure on the gas with each gear.