Living here in Colorado, where it can snow anytime between September and June, understanding how to drive safely in the snow is a fairly important thing to know. Even if you don’t travel in the mountains, it would make all of our lives a little easier if people understood a few basics. The Weather Channel has some recommendations:
Driving safely on icy roads
- Decrease your speed and leave yourself plenty of room to stop. You should allow at least three times more space than usual between you and the car in front of you.
- Brake gently to avoid skidding. If your wheels start to lock up, ease off the brake.
- Turn on your lights to increase your visibility to other motorists.
- Keep your lights and windshield clean.
- Use low gears to keep traction, especially on hills.
- Don’t use cruise control or overdrive on icy roads.
- Be especially careful on bridges, overpasses and infrequently traveled roads, which will freeze first. Even at temperatures above freezing, if the conditions are wet, you might encounter ice in shady areas or on exposed roadways like bridges.
- Don’t pass snow plows and sanding trucks. The drivers have limited visibility, and you’re likely to find the road in front of them worse than the road behind.
- Don’t assume your vehicle can handle all conditions. Even four-wheel and front-wheel drive vehicles can encounter trouble on winter roads.
I also found the following suggestions of the National Safety Council insightful:
Before Winter weather arrives, make sure your vehicle is in good condition, especially the tires. Make sure you’ve got good snow tires, and put them on early. Try not to get caught without them in the first snowfall. Never combine radial and non-radial tires on the same vehicle. On front-wheel drive cars, it’s best to put snow tires or “all-season” tires on all four wheels, not just the front.
If you must drive, clear the ice and snow from your vehicle, all windows and windshield wipers. Be sure the windshield washer reservoir is adequately filled with a freeze-resistant cleaning solution.
Drive slowly. Even if your vehicle has good traction in ice and snow, other drivers will be traveling cautiously. Don’t distrupt the flow of traffic by driving faster than everyone else.
In a rear-wheel drive vehicle, you can usually feel a loss of traction or the beginning of a skid. There may be no such warning in a front-wheel drive, however. Front-wheel drives do handle better in ice and snow, but they do not have flawless traction, and skids can occur unexpectedly. Don’t let the better feel and handling of a front-wheel drive car cause you to drive faster than you should.
Despite a popular misconception, the best approach to recovering from a skid is the same for foth front and rear-wheel drive vehicles. If your rear wheels start to skid:
- Turn the steering wheel 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.
- 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.
- If your car has an anti-lock braking system (ABS), keep your foot on the pedal. If not, pump the pedal gently, pumping more rapidly as your car slows down. Braking hard with non-anti-lock brakes will make the skid worse.
If your front wheels skid:
- Take your foot off the gas and shift to neutral, but don’t try to steer immediately.
- 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.
To avoid skids, brake carefully and gently on snow or ice. “Squeeze” your brakes in slow, steady strokes. Allow the wheels to keep rolling. If they start to lock up, ease off the brake pedal. As you slow down, you may also want to shift into a lower gear.
And, particularly, if you do mountain driving, it would be awfully smart to make sure you have the following equipment in your car before you head out:
- Snow shovel.
- Scraper with a brush on one end.
- Tow chain or strap.
- Tire chains.
- Flashlight (with extra batteries).
- Abrasive material (cat litter, sand, salt, or traction mats).
- Jumper cables.
- Warning device (flares or reflective triangles).
- Brightly colored cloth to signal for help.
- Empty coffee or similar type can containing candles, matches (in a water tight container) or a lighter, high-energy food (chocolate or dried fruit, for example).
- Sleeping bags or blankets, ski caps, and mittens.
- First-aid supplies.
All of us owe it to each other to be safe when we drive on the roads. We have safety rules that are meant to protect us and our families. But, sometimes being safe requires more than just abiding by the law. I hope this helps you be safe this winter.