Driving in the snow can be challenging because a blizzard reduces both your visibility and your car’s traction. It’s not impossible, though, and there are relatively simple steps you can take to make sure you keep moving without skidding around like a hockey puck. It’s not as scary as it sounds — millions of people do it annually.
If you’re planning a road trip this winter — or simply live somewhere with a lot of snow — don’t assume that putting snow tires on your car will suffice. Knowing the right things to do while driving in winter weather could save you from an accident. While you could take a class on winter driving, we’ve compiled a list of tips that you can follow to drive safely once the snow starts falling. Additionally, here’s a quick guide detailing how to put on snow chains.
Sit up straight
Good posture isn’t just important for avoiding back pain — it can also help you drive better. Laying back in your seat can make steering more difficult, a problem if you suddenly hit a slick spot. Adjust your seat so that you are sitting up straight and at an appropriate distance from the steering wheel.
Brake in a straight line
Real life isn’t Mario Kart, for better or worse, so don’t hit the brakes while you’re turning. Brake while your car is going in a straight line to scrub off speed before you reach a turn. Braking while turning is a great way to skid.
Look to your destination
Keep your eyes on the spot you want to go rather than where the car is currently going. If your car is sliding and you’re looking in the direction it is moving, your hands may drift on the steering wheel as well.
Brake before you need to
When the road is slick, your brakes may not bring you to a sudden stop. Start braking early so you can come to a complete stop in time. It’s better to brake earlier while applying less pressure on the pedal than to wait until the last minute and slam your foot down. ABS won’t help you if you’re traveling on half an inch of ice.
Give the car in front of you a lot of space
It’s always important to avoid tailgating on the road, particularly in winter conditions. Keep twice as much distance between you and the car ahead of you as you normally would. That way, if the person in front of you slams on the brakes or starts spinning out of control, you’ll have time to slow down or steer out of the way.
Don’t jam on controls
When you’re fighting the elements and suddenly feel out of control, slamming on the brakes is a natural reaction. A light touch is important when driving in snow, however. Ease into whatever you are doing, whether it’s braking, throttling, etc. One exception: If your car is starting to slide, you may need to counter-steer quickly to get control of the situation.
Make sure you can see
Driving around with foggy windows and snow on your windshield is a great way to stuff your car into the back end of a city bus. Take an extra five minutes to fully clear snow and ice from your car before you leave, and turn on the defogger when needed. Winter weather isn’t an excuse to drive around blindly.
Carry an emergency kit
This point is particularly important if you often drive in rural areas. Pack a blanket, hand warmers, a sturdy rope, jumper cables, basic tools, a lighter, snacks, road flares, a pencil, and paper into a cardboard box and keep it in your trunk. Odds are you won’t need any of this if you’re driving across Manhattan, but they might make your trip a lot less hellish if you’re planning a trek across Minnesota in the middle of winter. Make sure you have a cell phone charger, too.
If you don’t feel comfortable, stay home
If you’re not comfortable with the idea of driving in the snow, or if the road conditions are truly awful, stay home. Wait until the storm passes, and give the city you’re in time to plow the roads. Some trips are urgent and can’t be delayed, but if there’s a foot of snow on the ground and a layer of ice underneath it, it’s wiser to eat ramen at home than to go out for a bite.