If there’s one thing that I don’t like doing, it’s driving in the snow and on icy roads. Here in Michigan, we’ve had the most snow we’ve had in about twenty years. In the area around me, there have been multiple crashes with people either driving too fast for conditions, or sliding on ice that they didn’t see, with the roads looking clear.
In the event that you are dealing with similar road conditions, I thought it would be a good time to share some tips for driving safely in snow and ice.
1) Slow down, and don’t follow too close – It is necessary to give yourself plenty of room to stop. At least three times as much space as usual betwen you and the car in front of you. You may think you can stop quickly, but no matter how fast your own reflexes may be, your car will always slide on ice. I’ve seen fully loaded semi trucks sliding on icy roads.
2) Brake gently to avoid skidding – If your wheels feel like they’re starting to lock up, ease off of the brake. Another reason why it’s important to leave lots of room between you and the car in front of you. If you start skidding, and you left enough room, you may be able to stop in time.
3) Turn your lights on – Even in the day time. This is also a good idea on clear days during the summer. It increases your visibility to other drivers.
4) Keep your lights and windshield clean – If your car is covered in snow, be sure to clear the snow off from your headlights, rear lights, all windows, and even the top of the car. This will make driving safer other cars on the road.
5) Be especially careful on bridges, overpasses and infrequently traveled roads – They freeze first, even at temperatures above freezing.
6) Don’t pass snow plows or sanding trucks – They don’t have good visibility, and you’ll likely find the roads clearer behind them.
7) Don’t assume your vehicle can handle all conditions – This has to be one of my biggest pet peeves in winter. Watching trucks and SUVs zip past as if the roads are clear as a warm summer day. Vehicles with four-wheel drive can give drivers a false sense of safety because they typically perform better in snowy and icy driving conditions. Four-wheel drive sends a specific amount of needed torque to each of the vehicle’s four tires to give added traction to move forward through snowy roads. That doesn’t mean that a vehicle with four-wheel or all-wheel drive can race down the road at top speed in the snow. Four-wheel or all-wheel drive will not give you the traction you need to brake.
8) Leave earlier than you normally would – Give yourself some extra time to get to your destination on time. You won’t feel pressured to drive any faster than you should, putting yourself and other drivers lives at risk.
9) Don’t put undue pressure on other drivers – Driving too closely, stopping too closely behind other cars, honking at cars that are waiting to turn. All of these things put undue pressure onto other people. For one thing, driving too closely can cause many problems. Should the car ahead of you need to brake, you may not be able to slow down in time. If they suddenly hit a snow patch, their car may slow quickly without warning. At stop-signs, corners, etc., attempting to stop as close to the car in front of you as possible can prove dangerous. If you start sliding on the ice, there’s no way to avoid a crash, and it’s your fault. If someone seems to be taking too long to turn at a corner, don’t honk at them. You’re not in their position, and you don’t know the conditions. Even if you think you do, you’re putting their safety at risk by trying to make them go just so that you can get moving a little bit sooner. Conditions are bad enough, take the time to be more understanding.
10) How fast should you be going? – Let’s put it like this: if you’re passing a lot of cars, you’re driving too fast. If you’re being passed by a lot of cars, you’re driving too slow. If you’re getting too uncomfortable, perhaps it’s best not to be on the road.
If your rear wheels skid…
- Take your foot off the accelerator.
- Steer in the direction you want the front wheels to go. If your rear wheels are sliding left, steer left. If they’re sliding right, steer right.
- If your rear wheels start sliding the other way as you recover, ease the steering wheel toward that side. You might have to steer left and right a few times to get your vehicle completely under control.
- If you have standard brakes, pump them gently.
- If you have anti-lock brakes (ABS), do not pump the brakes. Apply steady pressure to the brakes. You will feel the brakes pulse — this is normal.
If your front wheels skid…
- Take your foot off the gas and shift to neutral, but don’t try to steer immediately.
- As the wheels skid sideways, they will slow the vehicle and traction will return. As it does, steer in the direction you want to go. Then put the transmission in “drive” or release the clutch, and accelerate gently.
If you get stuck…
- Do not spin your wheels. This will only dig you in deeper.
- Turn your wheels from side to side a few times to push snow out of the way.
- Use a light touch on the gas, to ease your car out.
- Use a shovel to clear snow away from the wheels and the underside of the car.
- Pour sand, kitty litter, gravel or salt in the path of the wheels, to help get traction.
- Try rocking the vehicle. (Check your owner’s manual first — it can damage the transmission on some vehicles.) Shift from forward to reverse, and back again. Each time you’re in gear, give a light touch on the gas until the vehicle gets going.
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