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Snow Driving: How to Drive Safely in Snow

Updated on June 19, 2013
How to Drive Safely In Snow
How to Drive Safely In Snow | Source

Winter Driving

Driving in the winter can be very dangerous, as thousands of youtube videos can attest. Winter driving in a cold climate is very different from driving when it’s warm out. Below freezing temperatures, cold wind, ice and snow can all make the roads slippery and make a person feel overwhelmed and anxious. Luckily, driving in the snow does not need to be such an uncontrollable venture; knowing the right tips and tricks can get you out of a sticky situation when driving in snow and ice.

Equipment For Winter Driving

Winter Tires

The most important equipment for driving in snow and ice are winter tires. Winter tires are proper snow and ice tires with enough tread on them. Worn out tires, whether they are winter or not can be a hazard for any condition, and worn out winter tires are particularly dangerous when used on snow and ice. It is important that you have winter tires on all four of your wheels; Installing winter tires on all four wheels accounts for the single most important aspect of your car when driving in the snow and ice. Like any tires, they need to be at the proper pressure, otherwise they won’t work as well.

Note: All season tires are not suitable for winter conditions because their tread is insufficient for snow. Additionally, the tread on all season tires is made from a compound that will freeze at much warmer temperatures than a winter tire, thereby reducing traction.

New Windshield Wiper Blades For Winter Driving

When dealing with windshield wiper blades, “new” is the operative word. Old wiper blades will create exaggerated problems on the windshield. A small streak on the windshield, left behind by the wiper blades during summer driving, can turn into large blinding streaks during the winter.

Proper windshield wiper blades can remove the melting ice, dirt, and salt that accumulate on your windshield. Use windshield washer fluid in conjunction with wiper blades. Make sure you get a windshield wiper fluid that is designed for winter use; do not use a wiper fluid that is designed for the summer, as it will freeze and not work properly. It needs to be rated around -40 Celsius/Fahrenheit. Even if the temperature outside is not that cold, when driving on highways, the temperature can drop really low with the wind chill.

Winter Driving: Emergency Equipment For Your Car

A Shovel and Grip Aids

You need a shovel, a grip material, and/or anti-sliding material/boards for traction in the snow or ice. These are only used for when you are unbelievably stuck and can’t move your car. Use the shovel to dig yourself out by clearing the snow away from the wheels and in the direction you want the car to go. Keep in mind that if the snow is deep enough your car can get caught on the snow, so clear the snow as much as possible. The grip aids should only be used when the wheels are not any getting any traction at all. The aids should be placed under the drive wheels to provide traction. Keep in mind that slow movements are your friend, and spinning wheels are very dangerous and will just get you more stuck.

Use an Ice Scraper and Snow Brush

A scraper and brush are used to remove ice and snow from the windows and surfaces of the car: whether it be from the hood, roof, trunk, sides and/or mirrors. It is important to clean off all of the snow and ice from your car because ice and snow can reduce your outward visibility in any direction. Snow and ice on your car can also reduce the visibility of your own vehicle to others. Remember to clean off all exterior lights on your car so that other vehicles can see you on the road. You already are under reduced control, so you want to give yourself the greatest outward visibility that is possible.

Winter driving safety: snow left on a vehicle will reduce visibility
Winter driving safety: snow left on a vehicle will reduce visibility | Source

Additional Equipment: Food and Supplies

Always keep something in your car to help you stay warm, always dress for the weather and make sure to keep an emergency kit with you. If you break down on the side of the road, it’s possible that help might not arrive for hours. Keep this in mind when preparing for a trip. On trips out of cities, bring food and water, in addition to blankets and a cellphone. Tell family or friends when to expect you, and tell them to contact authorities if you do not arrive on time. Driving in the winter is all about taking precautions and playing it safe.

Driving Techniques to Use In the Winter

Turn Your Lights on When Driving in Snow

When driving in snow and ice, always put your lights on. Even if you are driving in the daytime, remember that with heavy weather, visibility can be reduced, so make sure that you are visible to other drivers. The best way to do this is to put your lights on so other drivers can see you before it’s too late.

Winter Driving Safety: Always turn your lights on when driving in extreme weather. There are several cars in this picture without their lights on, reducing their visibility to other drivers.
Winter Driving Safety: Always turn your lights on when driving in extreme weather. There are several cars in this picture without their lights on, reducing their visibility to other drivers. | Source

Acceleration and Deceleration

During the winter, take your time and never exceed speed limits. Accelerate slower and slow down more gradually than you normally would. When speeding up or slowing down, take longer than you normally would, because you might not be able to stop when you actually reach the stop line or traffic. Keep in mind, that the moment your tires start to spin or slide, you no longer have control over them to turn or stop.

Lower Your Speed When It’s Snowing

Keep your speeds down and watch out for black ice: this can look like an area that is darker or shinier than other parts of the road. Typically these areas won’t allow you to turn as quickly or slow down and stop as quickly as you should. This can be especially dangerous in traffic or around obstacles. Gradual movement is favored over sudden movement. When turning or changing lanes, do it gradually because you might lose traction with your wheels.

Keep Your Distance

Everything takes longer on snow and ice. If the person in front of you hits something or needs to brake suddenly, you need to have enough room to slow down. Anti-lock braking systems do not work as well on slippery surfaces, and 4 wheel-drive will not help you to stop. Double the normal distance you would leave between your car and the car in front of you. The faster you are traveling, the larger the distance should be. Keep in mind that even though you might be driving safely, the drivers around you are often the most dangerous things on the road. They may not be in control of their vehicle.

Use Caution and Plan Ahead When Driving In Snow

In winter weather, always plan ahead so that you are prepared for extreme weather. Check the weather report to see if there are any upcoming extreme weather conditions like snow storms, blizzards and freezing rain. If the weather report is announcing adverse weather conditions, plan your trip accordingly. Leave before the bad weather starts, or wait until the system has passed. If you must go out during a time of extreme weather, proceed with a high degree of caution.

Also, check the traffic reports to see if there are any roads that are bogged down with traffic or if there have been any recent accidents or closed roads. If possible, plan an alternate route. It can save you many hours of sitting idle in traffic.

Remember to keep your distance from other vehicles and always use defensive driving whenever possible.

Share Your Winter Driving Experiences

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    • TheKatsMeow profile image

      TheKatsMeow 4 years ago from Canada

      @Pkittock: thanks for commenting! And I agree with you: it is very frustrating to see many overconfident drivers speeding in the terrible weather conditions, it makes for a very dangerous situation. Thanks for the tip as well :)

    • Pkittock profile image

      Pkittock 4 years ago from Minnesota

      Excellent hub. As a Minnesota driver, I'm on board with everything you've got on here- especially winter tires. I'm daily driving a rwd sports car with no traction control or ABS and it wouldn't be possible on all-seasons. I'm glad other people have realized that AWD only helps with acceleration, not braking- the amount of SUV's I see idiotically blazing through traffic in snowstorms is unreal. One additional tip would be to take particular care at intersections- they tend to be icier/slipperier than the rest of the road.