Ice skating, sledding, and skiing — sure, they’re fun winter activities, but you don’t want to experience the thrill of gliding across ice and snow when you’re behind the wheel of your car. No, navigating through winter weather is a very serious matter. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration, between 2002-2012 adverse weather conditions such as snow, sleet, icy rain, and wet pavements were responsible for 1,311,970 automobile accidents, resulting in 6,253 fatalities.
No doubt many of these accidents could have been prevented if car owners were more cautious in their method of driving, and made sure their vehicles were prepared in advance for the onset of inclement conditions. If you need a refresher on how to drive as safely as possible during the winter months, check out our tips below on how you can be a responsible and careful driver.
Just chill out
Common sense is a driver’s first line of defense against the hazards of wintry roads. Keeping within posted speed limits and maintaining a sensible distance from the car ahead of you are crucial, when even the most careful driver could be surprised by a patch of black ice. Bear in mind that it takes twice as long for a car to stop on an icy pavement as it does a dry one. Headlights should be used even in the day, when visibility is poor due to precipitation or haze. This way, your taillights will be activated, as well. Remember, it isn’t just about you seeing them, but them seeing you. Make sure all your windows, mirrors, and the headlights are cleared before you set out. And be considerate for the sake of others’ safety. Don’t leave your roof or hood covered in the white stuff. You might find a sheet of icy snow taking flight from your vehicle to sail toward the one behind you.
If your vehicle goes into a skid, don’t give in to the nervous impulse to slam on the brakes suddenly. By the same token, don’t accelerate in an attempt to force your way out of the skid. Take your foot off the gas, and if possible, put the car into neutral if it’s an automatic, or declutch if you have a manual transmission. Keep your eyes and your tires pointed in the direction you want to go.
If your car doesn’t have antilock brakes, use the squeeze method. That is, press the pedal firmly but without locking the brakes, release, then repeat, easing the car into decelerating. If your car does have antilock brakes, then depress the brake pedal smoothly without releasing pressure, and hold until the vehicle can come to a complete stop.
If you go into a spin, steer in the direction the car is spinning. Skidding and spinning are frightening to experience, but it’s important to stay calm and not react in a panicky manner as this will greatly increase the odds you’ll come out unscathed.
Patience is a virtue when your safety is on the line. It isn’t about getting there quickly, but getting there at all. For instance, don’t pass a snow plow if you can help it. They’re clearing the way for you — the snow is only going to be worse ahead of them. Keep back far enough, though, to avoid blown plumes of snow.
On a road where the snow isn’t cleared yet, you might be inclined to drive in the tracks of the cars gone before you, but these tracks can be glazed and slippery. You can get more traction by driving in the snow outside the tracks, so long as it’s not too deep to push through.
If you do become stuck in snow, one method of getting some traction so you won’t be spinning your wheels is to fetch your car’s floor matt and place it in front of or behind the stuck wheel, depending on whether you’re moving forward or backing up, to give the tire some grip.
Is your car prepared for the worst?
Even a cautious driver, however, is at a disadvantage if their vehicle itself is not up to the challenge. In preparation for winter weather, the condition of your tires should be the first order of business. Dedicated snow tires are preferable to all-season tires, because they’re formed from a softer compound and offer better grip, but whatever tires you have on should not show worn treading. Remember, too, that your tires should be properly inflated, according to the recommendation of your owner’s manual. In cold weather, for every 9 degree drop in Fahrenheit your tire pressure will drop 1 psi.
Don’t be overly confident in your all-wheel drive vehicle. They’re by no means invulnerable to skidding. If yours is a rear-wheel drive vehicle, a little extra weight in the trunk such as a bag of sand or kitty litter can be beneficial. So can the weight of at least a half-tank of gas. Plus, you’ll have plenty to get you to the next gas station if you face slow going.
It’s also a good idea to pack emergency supplies, for the worst case scenario of finding yourself snowbound in your vehicle. This would include a flashlight, medical kit, blankets and extra articles of warm clothing, some power bars or other food items, and of course water.
Be smart, be safe
Many people are reluctant to drive at all during winter weather, but don’t let your fear or Mother Nature rule you. Just anticipate the increased hazards of driving in poor conditions, and use appropriate restraint. Once you have remembered and internalized all of our safety tips then you’ll be able to handle snowy roads with little to no problem. Keep a cool head, and you’ll get to that warm destination of yours safely.