There’s never a good time for severe weather to hit, but among the worst is when you’re on the road. A sudden snowstorm can quickly impair your visibility, make road conditions extremely dangerous, and affect how your car handles.
Stay safe on wintertime roads with these tips for driving in snow, whiteouts, and on ice.
First, some general winter-weather rules of thumb
The below apply to all bad weather driving scenarios.
- Make sure your tires have plenty of tread before winter weather hits – or better yet, install winter tires.
- Check the weather before you leave the house; if it’s too bad, wait it out.
- Clear all snow, ice, and dirt from windows, windshield, brakes, and all other lights before leaving your driveway.
- Drive slowly the entire time while on the road (the more dangerous conditions, the slower).
- Drive smoothly, avoiding sudden movements on the steering wheel, brakes, and control panels.
Driving in Snow
The quality of snow in a snowstorm can vary widely, depending on wind speed and direction, moisture levels and more. The snow might be slushy or dry, sparse or voluminous, and it might be falling straight down or at a sharp angle. All of these variables affect how you should proceed on the road, but the following will keep you safer across many conditions.
- Go slow – Increase your following distance to at least 8-10 seconds.
- Be hyper-aware of your surroundings – Vigilance on the road will help you avoid snow dangers and also spot (and get out of the way of) out-of-control drivers who are sliding your way.
- Don’t use cruise control – It’s important that you’re paying close attention and that you’re able to react to road conditions quickly.
- Use your headlights – Make sure your headlights are on (no matter the time of day), and that they’re on dim and not high. This will help your visibility and also help other drivers see you.
- Adjust how you brake – If you’re coming up on a stop sign or signal, come to a stop slowly (that extra following distance comes in handy here). Don’t slam on your brakes, as this can put you into a skid. If you have anti-lock or ABS brakes make sure you’re comfortable with how they work in all weather conditions, including snow.
- Know when and how to stop – Don’t stop if you don’t have to (starting again can be dangerous and difficult), and never stop on a hill. If you must stop, remember it takes vehicles longer to come to a stop in snowy conditions.
- Drive in the tracks of the car in front of you – This will make it easier to control your vehicle.
Driving in Whiteout Conditions
Whiteouts may be one of the most dangerous of snowy conditions. Here’s how to handle it if you find yourself in one.
- Remain calm – This is harder said than done but trying to remain calm will help you avoid over-reacting or making poor decisions.
- Slow WAY down – The most dangerous thing about a whiteout is the sudden loss of visibility. Slowing down will give you time to see what other drivers are doing and have time to react if an accident or other emergency happens right in front of you.
- Make yourself visible to other drivers – Just as you can’t see other drivers, they can’t see you. Make yourself as visible as possible by turning on your headlights (fog lights are best if you have them), and perhaps even your hazards. You can even use hand signals out the window if you need to.
- Wait out the whiteout – If visibility drops to zero and you feel unsafe, look to the nearest exit and pull off. From there, find a shoulder to pull over on. If there are no exits on your stretch of highway, pull to the side of the road, turn on your hazards, and wait out the storm.
Driving in Ice
Besides the snow you can see, there may be ice that you can’t. Notoriously hard to see, black ice acts as a glaze that coats surfaces and makes them extremely slippery and dangerous. When driving, you’ll want to be on the lookout – and ready – for it on all roads, but especially bridges, overpasses, tunnels, roads beneath overpasses, and at the bottom of hills. Check out our tips for spotting and safely negotiating black ice here.
When it comes to the downsides of winter, hazardous driving situations are among the top. But between staying off the road when possible, and taking precautions when you do have to drive, you can keep yourself, your family, and other drivers safer.
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