The temperatures are dropping, snow will start to fall and soon, seemingly everyone on the roads will collectively forget how to drive in the first storm, even though they were perfectly fine at the end of last winter. Here’s how you can avoid that pileup.
Our friends over at Team O’Neil Rally School pulled together a list of safe winter driving tips because you can’t drive in snow like you would on a road. Your car reacts differently to the low-friction surface, so you need to know exactly how to respond if that happens.
- Plan for winter driving - You can be the safest winter driver on the road, but you’re only as good as the tools you use. Be sure your tires still have a deep tread, or better yet buy winter tires. Tires with a good tread, intended for winter use are critical and serve as your point of contact with the road. Be sure other parts of your car are in good working order as well; wiper blades, windshield washer fluid filled and have at least a half tank of gas. Pack an emergency kit in your car with gloves, hat, coat, small shovel, jumper cables and tow strap.
- Test the conditions…and your car – Before you are faced with a real-world driving challenge, find a safe, open space and firmly apply your brakes or make a hard turn. Doing this early in the winter will allow you to know how your car reacts in these conditions, its limits, your limits, and how to safely compensate for it. Doing so throughout the winter and during different storms will give you a better idea of the current conditions and how much steering and braking input you can effectively utilize. This will also allow you to know how much to compensate for the conditions.
- Look where you want to go – This simple rule sounds obvious, but keeping it mind will help you end up where you want to be. When confronted with an unexpected slide, drivers often will fixate on an object on the side of the road, inevitably the car will head towards that object. Remain calm and stay focused on where you want the car to go, continue to concentrate on your driving inputs and often you will have a positive result.
- Prioritize your maneuvers – With limited traction available, try to separate your throttle, steering and braking inputs. Envision only doing one of these things at a time. Accelerate and brake in a straight line whenever possible, try to only steer while going around a corner. Tires have limited grip in slippery winter conditions, by asking them to do too much simultaneously you run the risk of losing grip and beginning to slide out of control.
- Be aware safety systems can be counter-productive – Systems such as ABS (Anti-lock Braking System) are in place to keep your wheels from locking up under heavy braking. When surfaces are slick enough from snow and ice this may result in you requiring several times the distance to come to a stop. Traction control is meant to eliminate the tires spinning faster than the distance of road traveled. Sometimes in winter, wheel spin is beneficial in cutting through the top layer of snow/ice and finding grip below it. Be prepared to have trouble accelerating and braking in certain slippery scenarios. Know these systems and what their positive and negative impacts are.
Just because it’s winter, it also doesn’t mean you have to feel trapped at home, unable to go to work or school, because it’s crappy outside. Getting around just takes extra care and attention. Remember: stay defensive. Just because you know how to drive in these conditions doesn’t mean everyone else does.
And if conditions are extraordinarily bad outside, stay home and wait it out. It’s safer that way.