Driving in the snow can be intimidating. You can’t see what’s ahead of your car, you lose traction every time you try to move in any direction, and you have to worry about other motorists skidding into you like a hockey puck. We can’t help you with that last point, unfortunately, but there are ways to make sure you can see around you, and get to your destination with the front end pointed in the right direction. Believe us; it’s not as scary as it sounds.
If you’re planning a road trip this winter — or simply live somewhere with a lot of snow — don’t assume that putting chains on your tires will suffice (although it is an important first step); 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.
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.
Brake in a straight line
Real life isn’t Mario Kart, for better or worse, so don’t hit the brakes while turning. Brake while your car is going in a straight line, so that the car will be moving slower when you take a turn. Be sure to release the brake while turning to avoid skidding.
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.
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 they slam on the brakes or start 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 braking, throttling, etc. One exception: If your car is starting to slide, you may need to countersteer 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.