Arrive Alive and Stay Safe with Our Tips for Driving in the Snow

Even though Groundhog’s Day is just around the corner, winter is heating up, or more accurately, freezing up with increased arctic activity.

This week in the middle and northeastern United States, a one-two punch of snowy weather and arctic cold air will put much of the country into a deep-freeze. If you’re lucky, you can batten down your respective hatches, stay home, and do your best to keep your pipes from freezing. However, many of us still have obligations to meet, and that can mean hitting the road when the roads are in bad shape. That’s why we’ve put together this list of tips for driving in the snow. This is useful information this week and any time you find snow or slush on the ground. Driving in winter can be hazardous, especially if it’s a surprise and the roads aren’t treated.

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Helpful Tips for Driving in the Snow

Of course, we recommend that you stay snuggled up inside rather than going out. However, if you have no choice, please avail our tips for driving in the snow. These tips for driving in the snow will keep you safe and help you arrive alive.

1. Don’t Go Out!

tips for driving in the snow

This is kind of a cheat, but it’s an important enough point to make here. There is a reason everyone goes out for those last-minute groceries before a storm. Because when it hits, you want to be able to be inside for the duration. Even slight snowfalls, just an inch or two, can be hazardous if the roads aren’t properly treated.

It’s not even that you’ll be stranded or stuck, but the slippery conditions can greatly increase the chances of an accident. No matter what you do, pay close attention to the weather, specifically from a weather service or TV station, rather than simply your phone’s app. Local weather reporters are not as inaccurate as jokes would make them seem.

Local reporters are familiar with the region where they work, so they have a better understanding of how weather affects it. Now, news stations may hype up their “Winter Storm Tracker 6000” or whatever marketing gimmick they have, but any good meteorologist won’t.

This is because if they say conditions are going to be hazardous (or that the city isn’t prepared to treat the roads in a timely fashion), they mean it. So, do what you can to avoid needing to travel. Work from home, do your shopping early, and make sure you have fully-charged phones and flashlights for if the power goes out.

2. Check Your Vehicle Before Driving

tips for driving in the snow

In inclement weather or just going out for a drive, you should make sure that your vehicle is in good working condition. This is one of the most major tips for driving in the snow. In the Army, for example, no soldier can drive their Humvee to the PX without first doing a preventative maintenance check. While that may be a bit extreme for the civilian world, it’s a good rule of thumb in the winter.

For example, if it snowed heavily, especially if there was a large temperature variation, your exhaust could become blocked with snow or ice. This could expose you, your friends, or even your kids to harmful carbon monoxide, especially if you are “warming up the car” in the garage. A quick check can avoid these hazards.

Along with checking that your exhaust is clear, make sure your back-up camera is clear and clean. A frosted over or wet camera can reduce your visibility and lead to an increased risk of backing into something or someone. Clean all the snow off of your car, to avoid sending off your car and into the field of view of other drivers.

Also take a peek under the hood, looking for cracked lines or belts. Also, give the tires a quick examination to make sure that they are in good working order. Also keep an eye on the treads, and if they’re low get new tires before the first chance of serious winter weather. Keep gas tank at least halfway filled, but top of all fluids to be on the safe side.

3. Go Slowly!

tips for driving in the snow

If you have to go out during bad winter weather or in its immediate aftermath, make sure you plan for extra time. Driving on slick or snow-covered roads demands that careful drivers keep their speeds well below the speed limit and heed all of our tips for driving in the snow. Yes, on slick roads momentum can be your friend, and we’ll talk about that more below.

But in general, you want to keep the speed down because too much of it can cause you to lose control of your vehicle in the conditions. Instead of thinking about speed, think about stability. Drive at a rate that allows to feel fully in control of your vehicle. Don’t speed up for red lights or into turns. Know when to coast. Not only is this important for the safety of others, but it’s important to keep you safe from other drivers who aren’t following our tips for driving in the snow.

The reason you want stability over speed is not just so you don’t lose control of your car. It’s not just about your skill behind the wheel, either. There is no foolproof way to avoid losing control on slick, untreated roads. In the event of something like that, you want to have control of your vehicle can so you can avoid any ancillary accidents. Whether you avoid the collision by using your brakes, turning out of the car’s path, or speeding up (careful not to spin your wheels), you can only do any of those things if you are fully in control of the vehicle. Take your time, because being late is better than getting in an avoidable accident.

4. Know How to Use Your Brakes

tips for driving in the snow

Credit: Jan Komer, Flickr

For people of a certain age, their driving instructor drove home the notion that one pumps the brake pedal rather than just slamming down your foot. Yet, with the technological marvel that is an anti-lock brake system, you have to actively work against that instinct. The whole point of ABS is that the computers in the car regulate the pressure applied to each brake.

So, press the brake down hard and don’t let your foot off of it until you are stopped. This is very good, because instead of worrying about the brakes you can focus on steering. Don’t look at the car or obstacle you’re trying to avoid, use your periphery for that. Instead look towards where you want the car to go. Professional racers cite this is as a way they get out of skids.

While driving, you will also want to use your brakes to periodically assess your traction. This way, if you have to stop suddenly, you will have a better idea of how much you might slide. Ensure there aren’t any other vehicles near you, and drive at your cruising speed. Then gently put some pressure on the brake pedal for a few seconds while keeping the car straight.

If you feel a jittering underfoot and don’t slow down as you’d expect, that means the roads are very slick. What you felt is the ABS activating, which is sometimes accompanied with by an indicator light on the dash. If you can slow down without it kicking on, then that means your traction is good.

5. Know How to Recover from a Skid

tips for driving in the snow

Credit Rafi Asdourian, Flickr

When you are snowy or slick roads, a skid is all but inevitable, especially if conditions are inconsistent or the roads untreated. This is something every driver worries about, because you feel like you are losing control of the car. It can be scary when it happens but keep your head and everything will be okay.

With steering, what you do differs depending on whether you have a front-wheel drive, rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive vehicle. Yet, no matter kind of car it is, the first rule is to not jam on the brakes. Instead you ease off the gas, and the deceleration can sometimes be enough to allow the wheels to find traction again.

Yet, steering is a part of this, too. If you have a front-wheel vehicle, you won’t want to steer to much. Ease off the gas and lightly guide the wheel in the direction the front of the car is turning. Once you feet the wheels regain traction, gently guide the steering wheel back in the direction you want the car to go. With a rear-wheel vehicle, you slightly steer the wheel in the direction the rear is turning, for the same reason.

With all-wheel drive, you want to avoid doing much of anything but easing off the gas, while the system intervenes, and the tires regain traction. Keep both hands on the steering wheel but letting it “unwind” should help you get out of the skid. Finally, remember the advice above: keep your eyes on where you want to go because we unconsciously steer towards what we are looking at. 

6. When Possible, Keep Rolling

tips for driving in the snow

Sometimes, the problem with icy and snow-covered roads isn’t that wheels lose traction because of a skid. Rather, the wheels can’t find the traction they need to ascend a hill. Avoid steep hills during weather like this, because if you lose control on a hill your car turns into a giant, destructive sled.

As you drive up a slippery incline and feel yourself slowing or struggling, the first impulse might be to slam on the gas. This is not advisable, especially because if the wheels don’t have traction already, this well get them spinning. You also don’t want to stop on a hill, because it would be nigh impossible for it to ascend under its own power. When you have a hill looming before, slick and sparkling with snow, you need to have momentum on your side.

As long as you can do so safely, give your car a little gas before you start climbing up the hill. You want as much inertia as possible, and that is hopefully enough to get you up to the top. If you didn’t build up enough inertia, slowly depress the accelerator and try to do it before you lose too much speed.

Another reason you don’t want to put the pedal to the metal is because once you get to the top of the hill, the decline is waiting for you. Ideally, you will be able to start applying the brakes as you reach the crest, so you can descend slowly and with control. Again, with physics working against you, it’s best to avoid steep hills altogether.

7. Spring for Snow Tires

tips for driving in the snow

Credit: Miki Yoshito, Flickr

If you live in a region particularly beset by snow- and ice-heavy winters, the smartest thing you can do is spring for winter tires. Snow tires, as they are more commonly known, are specially designed to help increase traction on roadways slick with sleet, ice, or snow. All-season tires are a tricky bet, but the key feature of snow tires is that you only use the for about a third of the year.

So, if your all-season tires worked that first winter, they might be worn enough to be only as effective as normal tires by the second. Snow tires are a good investment if snow is a certainty, and your winter season lasts a long time. You can also get chains for your tires, which really help on untreated winter surfaces that might even be too much for snow tires.

8. Prepare for the Worst

tips for driving in the snow

Sometimes, even if you have a top-of-the-line vehicle and make all the right decisions, skidding off the road or getting stuck in a snowbank is unavoidable. When you do everything right, but still end up stranded, what’s a driver to do? Other than taking our tips for driving in the snow into consideration, and not going out in the first place, you have to be prepared with the supplies you need to weather (pun intended) and possibly even survive being stuck.

To that end, make sure your car is stocked with the supplies you need in any emergency. First and foremost, make sure you have proper cold-weather gear in the car. Even if you hate sweating through your jacket because you blast the heater, have it with you in case you get stuck somewhere. In fact, consider keeping extra jackets in the car, just in case.

Also, to stay safe in the event of an emergency stop, you will need myriad other items. Have warning triangles and flares, so you can warn other approaching cars that also may have trouble stopping. Have a snow shovel, so you can possibly shovel the snow away and get back on the road.

Ensure you have blankets, food, and water, in case you cannot. You don’t want to run your engine or battery until it has no power left, because you don’t want to abandon your vehicle if you don’t have to. In some cases where motorists are stranded because of weather, they’ve had to wait 12-36 for rescue. Take no chances, and make sure you are well-supplied.

There is no foolproof way to avoid accidents, and our tips for driving in the snow are just helpful suggestions.

Part of the adventure of driving a car is that it’s an inherently dangerous activity. At any time on the road, anything could happen that could put your car or you in jeopardy. The difference in inclement winter weather is that there are so many more chances for things to not go your way. This is why it’s important to prepare for these weather events and know what to do should you find yourself in on.

If you have to be out in this weather, it’s best to be armed with the information you need to avoid or get through any unexpected trouble. Though, we caution you one more time to avoid the roads whenever possible if winter weather is happening. Because no matter how many tips for driving in the snow you master, accidents happen. Be smart and be safe out on the roads this winter! Avail these helpful tips for driving in the snow.

What do you think? Are there any tips for driving in the snow that we forgot? Let us know along with your thoughts, reactions, and experiences in the comments below. Don’t forget to share the article of tips for driving in the snow on social media if you enjoyed it!

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