Safety Tips for Driving on Snow or Ice Covered Roads

Safety Tips for Driving on Snow or Ice Covered Roads

I live in a town that is made up of roughly 2/3 college students that come from every different state and even various countries and therefore are not all familiar with how the weather conditions here can dramatically change the way you drive safely. There is plenty of evidence on the road this time of year that would suggest that most of them don’t have a lot of driving experience in the snow. Driving in the snow/ice covered roads can be scary!

I don’t mind driving in the snow these days as I have been driving in the snow all my life. On the flip side, 6 lane freeways make me nervous- it’s just not what I’m used to. Hopefully the tips below can keep you and your loved ones safe this holiday season no matter the driving conditions that it takes to be together.

My first bit of advice is to never be in a hurry in the winter! Nothing about driving should happen fast in the winter. You need to be extra alert and aware of your driving as well as those around you. Hopefully others are being just as cautious as you are to ensure the safety of everyone who share the road this winter.

Seating
Regardless of the weather, adjusting the driver’s seat is a must. Having the seat in the best position for your height will allow you better control of the vehicle. Ensure that when you are sitting in the seat, the steering wheel is at least 10 inches away from your chest and have a clear view of the road ahead of you.  When holding the steering wheel, your arms should be in a “10 & 2” formation with the elbows slightly bent.

By properly adjusting the seat so that you are at least 10 inches away and arms slightly bent while maintaining a grip on the steering wheel will protect your arms and chest from the deployment of the air bad should you get in a wreck.

Steering
When driving in bad weather, you need to be ready at a moment’s notice to move around an obstacle, whether it be a car, dog or branch that has fallen onto the road from the snow storm. This is not the time you want to be “holding” the steering wheel in that “cool” manner the high school kids do these days, you know, the left wrist on the steering wheel with your hand dangling over and the other arm resting on your lap. Rather, you want to ensure that your hands are on the steering wheel properly to make the needed turns with enough time so that you don’t move the steering wheel violently and skid out of control. There are two methods that are commonly used and while both have their pros and cons, it is useful to be comfortable with both. The two methods are the push-pull method and the fixed hand steering method.

  • Push-Pull Method: This method is performed by having your dominate hand at the 12 o’clock and your other arm at the 6. I typically use this method while driving at slower speeds around town. When you need to turn, one hand will push the steering wheel towards the direction you want to turn, then the other hand will grab the steering wheel and pull while the other hand returns to its original position and grabs the wheel again. You are able to provide continuous adjustments in either directions

In my opinion, this is not the method to use while driving at speeds above 25mph.

  • Fixed Hand Steering Method: This method is the most common method and typically done while driving at speeds above 25mph. With your hands at a “10 & 2” formation, you are able to make adjustments without ever letting go of the steering wheel. However, if you turn beyond 90 degrees, it can become uncomfortable and awkward.

I have noticed that I tend to use a mix of the two. For example, I always start out using the “10 & 2” formation and when I slow down I switch over to the side to side method.

Accelerating:
I can’t tell you how many times I see someone making a turn onto another road from a complete stop and they are gunning it, the wheel is spinning like crazy but they are hardly moving.

To accelerate faster with snow or ice on the road, do the opposite as you would do it in the summer: slowly. Apply a small amount of pressure to the gas pedal, slowly increasing, until you are at the preferred speed.

** Warning: This may be the “faster” way to get up and going on the ice covered road, however, this doesn’t mean you should pull out on the road with a car coming. Wait until they have passed and you have plenty of time to get where you are going. No method is a guarantee in this kind of weather.

Breaking
To stop on snow or ice covered roads requires more distance than would typically be needed. Depending on the road conditions, you should look head of you 15-30 seconds. Should you need to suddenly stop, assuming your car is equipped with Anti-Lock Brakes (ABS), you should press your foot firmly against the brake and steer your car away from the obstacle in front of you. Otherwise, coming to a stop requires you to slowly press your foot against the brake pedal repeatedly until you have come to a complete stop.

Speed:
Always Drive Slowly! Your speed should be depended upon the weather and not on how late you are to your next appointment. In the winter, you should always be extra careful of the roads as you don’t want to hit black ice and send your car into a skid or spin.

Skids and Hydroplane:

Skids are when either the front or rear part of the car “skids” out of control and you don’t have immediate control of the car. Skids can happen in the winter on ice or in the summer during or after a rain storm. Skids are extremely dangerous and scary. The most important thing should you find yourself in a skid, is to not panic.

There are two types of skids, Rear-Wheel Skid and Front-Wheel Skid. Review the steps below to safely correct your car from a skid should you find yourself in either a rear or front wheel skid.

Rear-wheel skids (Oversteer) usually occur when the back of your car slides out of control and towards the front of your car or the direction the car is currently traveling. When you see cars in the parking lot spinning around and making what’s known as “donuts” during the winter, they are essentially preforming a rear-wheel skid.

Rear-Wheel Skid:

  • Keep your eyes on the road and the direction you are traveling
  • Turn the steering wheel in the direction you want your car to go
  • Remove your foot from the gas pedal to reduce your speed. Never slam on your brakes as it will cause the car to skid out or control even more.
  • Maintain a good grip on the steering wheel
  • Straighten out your front tires when the rear wheels stop skidding to avoid the rear tires from skidding on the opposite side.

Front-wheel skids (Understeer) occurs when the front tires have lost traction and can’t turn or brake. A good example of this is when you are making a turn on a road but your car slides forward on the ice or snow, unable to make the turn.

Front-Wheel Skid:

  • Keep your eyes on the road and the direction you are traveling
  • Turn the steering wheel in the direction you want your car to go
  • Remove your foot from the gas pedal to reduce your speed. Never slam on your brakes as it will cause the car to skid out or control even more.
  • Maintain a good grip on the steering wheel
  • Slightly pump the brake pedal and turn the wheels in the direction you want to go. Once the car has regained traction, the car will turn.
  • Straighten out your front tires when the rear wheels stop skidding to avoid the rear tires from skidding on the opposite side.

General Tips:

Some other tips to help you when driving on the snow or ice:

Cruise control: Never drive on icy roads with the cruse control. You never know when you will hit a patch of black ice and the last thing you need is for your car to continually pressing on the gas pedal.

Tire pressure: On the side of your tires, there is a number that indicates the proper amount of air that should be in the tires. If you have too much air or not enough, your tires will not be as effective in griping the roads.

Proper speed: Just because the sign says 65mph doesn’t mean you should be traveling 65mph when the snow is coming down and the roads are covered with ice. Travel at speeds that will enable you to stop with enough time. Additionally, you should be aware of the speed at which others are traveling – you don’t want to be rear ended by someone because you were traveling too slow.

Seat-belts: Always buckle up – after all it’s the law. You and your family should always buckle up. Regardless of the weather.

Following another car: Never follow to closely to the car traveling in front of you. If they suddenly brake, you should have enough time to stop. Remember, you are responsible if you rear-end the car ahead of you, regardless of the situation or road conditions.

Maintenance: Ensure that your car is winter ready. You can read our other article “How To Get Your Car Ready For The Winter” to learn how you can get your car ready for the winter.