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Driving in Snow - Snow Belt Travel

Updated on March 14, 2022

Snow Belt: areas downwind of the Great Lakes that experience enhanced snowfall accumulations each winter season due to lake effect snow.

Lake-effect Snow: produced during cooler atmospheric conditions when cold winds move across long expanses of warmer lake water.

Squeeze Braking: "squeezing" or depressing your brakes with gentle, slow brake application-not slamming down on them. Also called "controlled" or "threshold" breaking

Let it Snow!

When you live in Northwest Pennsylvania, you learn to drive in snow. Living and working just 20 and 40 minutes south of Erie, I have no choice. Jon Erdman, in a article, lists Erie, Pennsylvania as the second snowiest city in the United States receiving an average yearly snowfall of 100.8 inches! Erie County (where I work) and Crawford County (where I live) are considered part of the "snow belt" in Northwestern Pennsylvania.

According to Jason Warren,, "Snow belts are areas downwind of the Great Lakes that experience enhanced snowfall accumulations each winter season due to lake effect snow." (Lake-effect snow is produced during cooler atmospheric conditions when cold winds move across long expanses of warmer lake water.)

So you get the idea - I live where it SNOWS and SNOWS a lot and therefore, I have learned a few things about how to drive in the fluffy white stuff - very carefully and a few other tips I outline below.


Tip #1 - Slow Down

The first tip is quite simple -when driving in snow - slow down! Snow, packed snow and ice all produce a slippery surface and sliding is a common outcome. Greatly reduce your speed and you greatly reduce your chance of losing control.

According to, "Reduce your speed to correspond with conditions. There is no such thing as a “safe” speed range at which you may drive on snow or ice. You must be extremely cautious until you are able to determine how much traction you can expect from your tires."

Tip #2 - Consistency in Acceleration and Braking

While you're reducing speed, practice driving consistency. Driving on bad roads is a skill, so finding a parking lot and practice. This is a good and safe way to get the feel for maneuvering your car in inclement conditions.

Two areas to focus on when you're practicing driving consistency is braking and acceleration. The tendency to brake a lot and brake hard out of fear will send you into a spin quicker than anything. Braking properly and keeping a steady, consistent speed are the best way to drive in snow.

The American Automobile Association (AAA) offers these tips: "As you reach the crest of the hill, reduce your speed and proceed down the hill as slowly as possible. Minimize brake use on very slippery, icy hills; if further speed reduction is needed, gentle, slow brake application (squeeze braking) is recommended to avoid loss of control."

"Squeeze braking" is further explained on "Reacting to an emergency requires quick action, but it is important to avoid stepping too hard on the brakes. If you "stand" on them, you are likely to end up losing control and sliding into someone. By squeezing the brakes and keeping the wheels rolling, you might be able to steer around an object instead of hitting it. If you do panic and lock up the brakes, you can still regain control by backing off the brake pedal."


Tip #3 - Do Not Tailgate and Create a Safe Following Distance

Tailgating causes accidents especially in the bad weather. We have all see the domino effect on the news when cars traveling too closely on a highway are involved in a pile up. If someone is tailgating you, and you can do so safely, pull over and let them pass.

Most driver's courses teach the 3-second rule. The 3-second rule says if you reach that same fixed point before you can count to three, then you are driving too close to the car in front of you and you need to fall back a bit. The 3-Second Rule allows for a safe following distance when the road is dry and straight. A demonstration on how to calculate it can be seen in the video to the right. But according to the website,, "If it's icy or you are driving on compacted snow ...then it is wise to create at least a ten second gap, so you would need to count all the way up to one-thousand ten before you reach the same fixed point that you watched the vehicle ahead of you pass. Yes, it will look like a huge gap, but who cares?" Safety is key when driving in bad weather.

Weather-related Crash Statistics

By crash type ... for an average year, seventeen percent (17%) of fatal crashes, twenty percent (20%) of injury crashes, and twenty-four percent (24%) of property-damage-only (PDO) crashes occur in the presence of adverse weather and/or slick pavement. That is on an annual basis, nearly 6,250 fatal crashes, over 480,000 injury crashes and nearly 961,000 PDO crashes occur in adverse weather or on slick pavement. (Source: Ten-year averages from 2002 to 2012 analyzed by Booz Allen Hamilton, based on NHTSA data).


Tip # 4- Leave Yourself Plenty of Time

I totaled a min-van once. I slid in slush and found myself hanging precariously on an embankment held up only by saplings and brush. A short distance from where I wrecked, another woman wrecked. I was fortunate. They pulled me from the wreckage alive - she was not so lucky. I don't know the details of her story, but I do know the roads were slushy and dangerous that day and I did not allow myself enough time to get to work in such conditions. The end result could have been so much worse.

This is a simple tip regarding driving in bad weather and it's very easy - allow yourself plenty of time to travel. You can lift half the burden of driving in bad weather off your shoulders if you just carve out extra time to arrive to your destination safely.


So whether driving in the snow belt or in a sudden winter storm that invades the south - when handling slippery winter roads, drive at slower speeds, practice braking carefully, increase distance between you and the car in front of you and leave yourself plenty of time.

Hopefully, these few tips will assist you in arriving safely.

More Advice for Specific Bad Weather Incidents

If your rear wheels skid...

  1. Take your foot off the accelerator.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. If you have standard brakes, pump them gently.
  5. 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...

  1. Take your foot off the gas and shift to neutral, but don't try to steer immediately.
  2. 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...

  1. Do not spin your wheels. This will only dig you in deeper.
  2. Turn your wheels from side to side a few times to push snow out of the way.
  3. Use a light touch on the gas, to ease your car out.
  4. Use a shovel to clear snow away from the wheels and the underside of the car.
  5. Pour sand, kitty litter, gravel or salt in the path of the wheels, to help get traction.
  6. 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.



Erdman, J. (2014, February 3). America's 20 Snowiest Major Cities. The Weather Channel. Retrieved March 4, 2014, from

How to go on ice and snow. (n.d.). Retrieved March 4, 2014, from

Preparing for Winter Driving – How to Drive in Snow and Ice. (n.d.). Preparing for Winter Driving. Retrieved March 4, 2014, from

Warren, J. (2010, October 5). Where are the snow belts and how much snow falls there? (LE Snow Series, Part 2).
Retrieved March 4, 2014, from

Wren, E. (n.d.). Following Distance. Retrieved March 4, 2014, from (Site no longer exists. More information on E. Wren can be found here:


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