How to Drive in Snow: Safety Tips
It’s that time again. It’s not quite half way through November and already snow has fallen in several places throughout the US. Though we’re still waiting to see if claims that this winter will be especially hard will be substantiated or not, it’s best to be prepared either way. In the name of preparedness and safety, we’d like to offer you some tips for how to drive in snow so that if you do get caught in a blizzard you’ll be well prepared.
Before You Learn How to Drive In Snow
Before you even leave your driveway there are some things you should do to be best prepared for driving in snow. We’re going to run through that list first, before moving on to our tips for driving in snow. This will only take a second and these steps could affect how well our driving in snow tips work for you.
Check your tires. The depth of the tread on your tires is incredibly important when driving in snow. Your tire’s tread shouldn’t measure less than 6/32 (for perspective, new car tires measure about 10/32). If your car’s tires measure less than 6/32, it’s a good idea to replace them—especially before winter weather hits. Your local tire shop or mechanic can check your tread for you.
Check your lights. Headlights, tail lights, and turn signals should all be in working order before you hit the road. If you have to drive in snow, visibility is incredibly important. While it’s important for you to be able to see, it’s even more important that others can see you (or see what your about to do, in terms of your turn signal). If you have especially foggy headlights, it might be a good idea to get those cleaned, too. Many car detailing places do it at an affordable price or you can get a kit from your local auto parts store to do it yourself.
Defrost before you drive. This might sound like a no-brainer, but turn your defroster on and let that frost and ice melt before you start driving. Some of us occasionally get in a hurry and start moving before all of the ice is gone, hoping that it will melt a bit faster once we start moving. This is a very unsafe practice as light reflecting from ice on your car could potentially prevent you from seeing another car, pedestrians, or road signs.
How to Drive in Snow Safely
If you’re anything like us, you’re bewildered by those drivers who still insist on driving 15 over the posted speed limit with no headlights on when there’s more than an inch of snow on the road. Clearly they never learned how to drive in snow. Don’t be one of those people and don’t make rookie mistakes. Here are some of our best tips to help you learn how to drive in snow to ensure you get from A to B safely.
Match your driving speed to the road conditions. Once snow or ice begin to accumulate on roads, driving becomes immediately more dangerous. If the road is cold enough for snow to stick, it means it is cold enough for water to freeze—which of course means you need to be on watch for ice patches or black ice. Just because the road isn’t covered with snow it doesn’t mean that you can drive like it’s sunny and 75 degrees out. If the road is covered in snow, then you should be doing less than the posted speed limit.
Keep a safe following distance. Following too closely when driving in snow is just asking for an accident. Braking suddenly, as you would have to do if you’re following another driver at one full car length or less, could cause your car to slide—most likely into the car in front of you, which your insurance is likely to deem your fault. When driving in snow, keep at least a one-and-a-half car-length following distance to ensure you have time to break slowly and evenly.
Manage your car’s power. This tip actually covers several things but they are all related. First, use a low gear when driving up hill or downhill to help maintain traction—this works on flat ground, too. Next, never use cruise control if you have to drive in the snow. Your cruise control won’t allow you to monitor or directly control your car’s acceleration and many cruise control features can cause your car to suddenly rev its engine in order to maintain speed, which can cause you to lose traction. Finally, avoid using overdrive. If your car allows you to disable overdrive, that will work. Otherwise, using the 3rd gear setting on automatic shifters to drive in a lower gear without overdrive will work for most vehicles. We recommend you consult your car’s owner’s manual for instructions specific to your car.
Go easy on the steering. This is what ultimately gets a lot of people who have to drive in snow. While driving, avoid changing lanes when possible and if you approach a turn in the road slow down (even more!) to adjust for the turn. Your car will typically get better traction while the tires are pointed straight ahead. When your turn your wheel, the tire turns and that change in angle can make a big difference in the amount of traction you’re getting. Add to that your forward momentum, a sudden change in direction, and a slipper surface and you are asking to end up in the ditch. Play it safe and slow down before turning when you drive in snow.
Know the way home. Any time it snows you can expect there to be a number of car accidents. This, of course, could potentially mean that your trip home will take longer. Nobody wants to get stuck in traffic in the snow, but taking a route you aren’t entirely familiar with could cause even more trouble. Know your route home and be sure to know two or three alternate routes you can reach from the first route. That way, you’ll be able to get home and you won’t have to take a road with which you may be unfamiliar. The danger in an unfamiliar road lies in the fact that you won’t know where the turns are, how sharp they are, where narrow sections may lay hidden, and other assorted snowy dangers. Don’t risk it. Take a day when the weather is nice and drive some of these alternate routes to get familiar with them before the snow starts coming down.
Pump your brakes—Wait! Don’t pump your brakes! Some of us grew up with our parents telling us to pump the brakes when you drive in snow. That’s largely because your parents learned this from driving cars that didn’t have ABS (anti-lock braking system) brakes. If your car does not have ABS brakes, this remains true. Most of us, however, drive cars with ABS brakes. If you’re one of them, then you should brake slowly, but steadily, while applying even and constant pressure. If you aren’t sure whether or not your car has ABS brakes, check the owner’s manual.
More Winter Driving Info
What you need in your car’s winter emergency kit.
Car Owner’s Guide
What to do in a hit and run? What steps can you take to prevent auto theft? What can I do to lower my auto insurance payments? Car owners get faced with a lot of questions. Read our Car Owners Guide to make sure you’re getting the most out of your car.