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How To Drive In Snow

Car accidents are more common in icy conditions, and nothing instills fear in beginner drivers like a road blanketed in snow and ice.

In this guide, we'll show you how to stay safe when driving in extreme winter weather conditions.

How Should You Drive In The Snow?

If the roads are covered and visibility is poor, it's best to stay home. This is especially true if you're sleep-deprived or have a long journey ahead. You need to be awake, alert, and focused for the entirety of the journey and the risk of accidents is much higher.

If staying home is not an option, there are a few things you can do to make your journey safe:

Prepare Your Tires

If you live in colder northern states, consider purchasing winter tires. If not, just make sure your tires are properly inflated and double-check the tire tread.

You should also have a spare tire ready to go.

Clear the Car

Use an ice scraper to clear your car windows of snow before traveling. Remove snow from the roof, as it may slide down when you're driving.

Pack a Winter Driving Kit

A winter driving kit contains everything you need to drive in snow and will help you if you break down. It should include:

  • An ice scraper and detergent to wash your windows
  • Booster cables
  • A cell phone charger
  • Blankets and a pair of gloves
  • Emergency water and food supplies
  • A snow shovel
  • Traction mats
  • A bag of sand or other abrasive material (cat litter also works really well)

Charge Your Device

Make sure your phone is fully charged before you depart. If you're going on a long drive, charge it in the car and keep it close to full battery. It could save your life in the event of an accident or breakdown.

Clear the Exhaust

Check that the exhaust pipe is not filled with snow and remove any obstructions you find. If there is a blockage, it can lead to a buildup of carbon monoxide inside the vehicle.

Drive Slowly With Your Headlights On

Keep your headlights on a low beam and drive slowly. This will minimize the damage if you hit a patch of black ice and start to spin.

Tell Someone

Before driving on snow-covered roads, tell a friend or family member where you're going, what route you're taking, and when you expect to arrive. That way, if you don't show up at your intended destination, they will know something is wrong and can get help.

Stay With the Car

If you get stuck or break down, refrain from leaving the vehicle. Keep your dome light on and attach some brightly-colored cloth to the window.

Turn the engine on periodically to save gas and wait for help.

Don't Make Regular Stops

It can be difficult to regain traction from a stationary position. If you don't need to stop, don't stop!

Give Yourself Plenty of Stopping Distance

You should increase your following distance to at least 6 seconds when driving in snow. This will give you plenty of time to react and stop if the car in front grinds to a halt.

What Do You Do If Your Car Is Sliding In The Snow?

If you experience a rear-wheel skid and lose traction, avoid pumping the brake pedal and don't take your hands off the steering wheel.

Simply remove your foot from the accelerator, steer in the direction you want to go, and try to stay calm. The turn should be gentle and not sharp.

What You Shouldn't Do When Driving in Snow

Data from the Federal Highway Administration suggests that as many as 21% of car crashes and 16% of fatalities are weather-related. To avoid becoming part of this statistic, don't make any of these mistakes when driving in snow:

  • The AAA recommends avoiding cruise control when driving on slippery surfaces.
  • Don't assume that your four-wheel drive or all-wheel drive makes you invincible. It will give you more traction, but you're still at risk.
  • Refrain from hitting the brake pedal when you start skidding. It’s a natural reaction, but it will also make your tires lose grip and could send you spinning off the road.
  • Always check tire pressure, tire tread, cell phone battery life, and emergency packs. Don't assume you'll be okay because it's not a long journey or the snow isn't too heavy.
  • Don't assume your driving skills are too good for you to be caught out. Always drive safely and cautiously on snowy and icy roads.
  • Don't go too fast. This is one of the biggest mistakes that drivers make and it's one that often leads to accidents.

How Do Beginners Drive In Snow?

Sooner or later, most drivers experience driving in extreme winter conditions, and so everyone is a beginner in that sense.

But if you have only recently passed your test, driving in snow can be both daunting and dangerous.

The best course of action is to avoid it entirely or let someone more experienced drive. If that's not possible, just follow the safe driving techniques outlined above, keep your eyes on the road, and make sure you're well-rested and focused before a trip.

Do You Need Snow Tires?

Most US states have laws pertaining to the use and recommendation of snow chains.

Some of them display signage to indicate when snow chains should be used. They are not necessary for most winter driving conditions but can be essential if you're driving in heavy snow.

Is It Hard To Drive In The Snow?

Driving on snowy roads is definitely much harder than driving on clear roads, but it's something that experienced drivers do for many months a year in cold climates.

It's all about learning how your car responds to the conditions and understanding what those conditions mean.

Are you dealing with slick roads caused by a layer of ice? Are you driving on packed snow? Is there a light dusting of snow that's harmless now but could turn to ice?

The more that you drive in these conditions, the more aware and experienced you'll become.

Just remember to stay alert and focused and don't get complacent.