I grew up in the mountains of West Virginia, and while our winter snows covering the ground and trees were glistening and magical, they had a downside.
Snow and ice-covered the roads, and the entire city would shut down—sometimes for a week or more. Learning how to drive in the snow and ice was tricky—to say the least.
Severe winter weather can be frightening and dangerous for drivers anywhere. According to research from the U.S. Department of Transportation, close to 6,000 people are killed and over 445,000 are injured in crashes caused by bad weather. With such an alarming statistic, it is vital to know how to stay as safe as possible while driving in wintery weather.
If you live in an area where the snow pours and the ice forms over the roads during the winter, you know the importance of driving safely. First and foremost, ask yourself if it is absolutely mandatory that you go out on the roads. If it’s not an emergency, stay home.
However, if you have no choice, there are safety tips to use while driving in hazardous conditions.
Useful Tips For Safe Driving This Winter
1). Weather-Proof Your Vehicle
As temperatures drop, it’s time to make sure that your vehicle is weather-proof. First, visit your mechanic and get your vehicle serviced. Make sure there are no leaks or repairs that need fixed. Also, have your tires checked to see if they need to be replaced with snow tires.
Then, make sure your vehicle is stocked with a winter driving survival kit, including an ice scraper, a snow shovel, and sand or road salt (some people also swear that kitty litter works too.) Keep jumper cables, a flashlight, and blankets in your vehicle too.
Keep your windshield wipers in top condition and make sure your windshield fluid is full. Keep your gas tank full, so if you become stranded in the snow, you can run your engine and stay warm.
Before you leave the house, take time to clear snow and ice off your car, including your windshield, mirrors, lights, hood, roof, and trunk. Defrost your windows thoroughly to ensure the best visibility.
2. Plan Your Travel and Route
Plan ahead by knowing where you will go and what route you will take. Check the weather, road conditions, and traffic before setting out on your destination. Most GPS systems provide this information, so you can know traffic patterns or closed roads prior to leaving.
Give yourself more time than usual to get to your destination. Running late will increase your stress level and could affect your driving. If you see ahead of time that a road is closed, plan an alternative route.
3. Drive Slowly and Use Your Fog Lights
Before you leave, turn on your fog lights. Fog lights can help you see better while driving in wintery weather since they are a dimmer yellow rather than bright white. You can also see other vehicles better if they have their fog lights on.
Speed limits are meant for dry roads, so when driving on snow and ice, drive slower than usual. There’s no magic speed to follow when driving in the snow and ice, although experts say to stay at least ten miles under the speed limit.
Accelerate and decelerate slowly. This will help ensure that you don’t have to stop suddenly on ice. Remember, it takes longer to slow down and stop on icy roads, and stopping suddenly may cause you to lose traction and skid.
When you are behind another car, give yourself an extra 9-10 seconds more following distance than normal. I know this may seem excessive, but when you don’t have good traction, keeping this distance will ensure that you have the time to stop if the vehicle in front of you stops.
Also, don’t gauge how fast you drive based on other drivers around you. Most drivers drive way too fast in the snow, so don’t use anyone else as a guideline.
4. Know Your Brakes
In snow and ice, do not slam on your brakes. Slamming brakes could cause a skid. Instead, when approaching a stop sign or intersection, slow down slowly by softly tapping your brakes.
Know whether your vehicle has an antilock brake system and how to use it. Antilock brakes prevent your wheels from locking up during braking, and they are an important safety feature for winter weather. If you have them, apply firm, continual pressure to the brake pedal.=
If you do not have antilock brakes, you may need to pump your brakes if you feel your brakes locking up.
5. Avoid a Spinout
Spinouts are scary—I remember having a few when I was driving in the snow and ice in West Virginia. They most often occur during curves and turns when the driver is driving too fast or braking too quickly. Black ice is another culprit—black ice is ice that cannot be seen on the road, so it is incredibly dangerous.
To avoid a spinout, brake before you turn, not after. Also, be extra careful near bridges, underpasses, and tunnels since these areas freeze before other parts of the road do.
Most drivers immediately hit the brakes when they feel their vehicle spinning. This is the worst thing you can do. The reason you are spinning is because you have lost traction, and hitting the breaks will cause you to spin more.
If you do spin out, let up on the gas and the brake. Steer in the direction you want the front of your vehicle to go. This may seem awkward, but it works. If you need to pull off on the side of the road, do so. Try to get as far off as possible, and put your hazard lights on to warn other drivers.
Wintertime can be such a magical time of year with the glistening snow and sparkly ice, but it is important to take precautions while driving. Following these five tips will ensure your utmost safety while driving in snow and ice.