No matter how well you drive throughout the rest of the year, winter is its own beast, and it’s vital that you know how to navigate it before you head out on snowy, icy roads. With winter officially upon us, read on for crowdsourced tips to help you stay safe on Utah roads.
Go slow and steady
One of the most important tips I would give on winter driving is to always go slow and steady while giving plenty of space to the vehicles in front of you. If roads are bad, it can take a lot longer for your vehicle to respond to braking and turning without sliding. You should be going well under the speed limit in inclement weather, and I’d suggest giving at least 100 yards of space between yourself and the cars in front of you.
Another tip is to not slam on the brakes if you do start to slide. This can make things a whole lot worse, and even though it seems counterintuitive, it’s the best thing to do. If you remain at a slow pace, this will limit your need to slam on the brakes. And if you do start to slide, you always want to turn into the slide to help correct it.
Another highly important tip is to have good tires on your vehicle. Even the best winter drivers in the world can’t do much with badly worn tires. Snow tires are always recommended, but all-season radials can work too.
Be a more confident and stay focus
Winter driving can be really intimidating for those who aren’t used to it, and for good reason. Snow and ice make driving dangerous and unpredictable. However, there are a few tips and tricks that can help you be a more confident and safe driver in winter conditions.
Winter driving may make you feel like everything is moving at super speed, but take a deep breath, turn down the music (and maybe give your kids a tablet to keep them as quiet as you can), and make sure your speed is low, and your actions are in slow motion.
When it comes to braking, assume it’ll take you 2-10 times as long to stop, so leave much more space between you and the car ahead of you. You’ll want to start braking much earlier than normal for a stop sign or a red light and start by slowly pumping the brakes to see how your vehicle responds. Then slowly adjust as needed.
As you change lanes or make a turn, you’ll also want to move in slow motion. Keep your speed low. Ease into the turn, and feel how your car responds. Remember, if you are sliding on ice, you can really only slide straight ahead, so keep an eye on what’s ahead of you. If you can’t stop, you might try to steer yourself to the shoulder or anywhere that you can [get to] safely to avoid a collision.
When driving in winter conditions, it’s particularly important that you avoid driving distracted, and really focus on driving. Focus on safety and know when to call it quits, and you’ll be fine.
Plan your route for safe winter driving
With handheld directions, people have become accustomed to plugging in the direction right before they start driving. However, you need undivided attention when driving in snow or ice. A few seconds with your eyes off the road could be the difference between an accident and a safe stop.
Planning your route beforehand can help you plan the correct departure time and avoid dangerous turns or areas. You can calculate the drive time and add on a few minutes to allow time for cleaning off snow and/or ice from your car. This tip will help you feel at ease when winter weather conditions require that you drive a little slower or take a different route.
Avoid going out unless it is completely necessary
Winter is always seen as a dangerous time for regular drivers, and although it is so (about 17% of all car crashes happen during winter), being well-prepared and aware at all times should get you safely wherever you’re going during this chilly season.
The first and most important tip to follow is to avoid going out unless it is completely necessary. Even if you are a good driver in harsh weather, you may encounter people along the way who aren’t, and that could leave you with serious damages you could have avoided.
If you really need to get in the driver seat during winter, then make sure to drive slowly and increase your following distance to six seconds. Many drivers follow the “three-seconds rule,” which consists of keeping three seconds worth of space between your car and the car in front of you for safety; however, on snowy or icy roads the traction in your tires is pretty much all lost, so keeping a broader distance will give you a better chance to stop when necessary and avoid any inconvenience.
Take a chill pill
When starting or stopping, take a chill pill. [If you don’t] you’ll either end up spinning your wheels and not going anywhere or potentially causing a rear-end accident. Next, back off. Don’t worry about the 50-foot rule when driving in the winter behind another vehicle, it should be more like 100 feet. Trust me, you’ll be safer. And finally, no sharp wheel turns. You’re just not going to be able to zip around a slow driver in front of you nor will you be able to totally avoid a squirrel running out in front of your car. Take it easy because it’s these types of last-minute, spur-of-the-moment actions that also cause problems.
How to actually drive safely
First and foremost, should you drive at all? Let’s face it, our cars have become integral to our lives and the thought of being without them could be enough to get our stress levels soaring. However, there are times when we really should take a step back, heed the weather warnings, and simply not drive at all.
That said, when we consider it is safe and appropriate to drive, the following next steps should be useful:
Is my car ready?
- Have you de-iced the windscreen (and all other windows)? Visibility is crucial to safe driving.
- Check your [tires] – are the pressures correct? In cold conditions, [tire] pressures can drop significantly. Are the tread depths sufficient/legal? And even if legal (1.6mm), it’s recommended that you have at least 3mm of the tread to aid water dispersion and grip in wet/cold conditions.
- Fuel – have you got plenty of fuel for your planned journey and more?
- Lights – check all your lights, visibility is often poor in winter, and your lights are not only for you to see, but equally important for you to be seen.
Am I ready?
- Do you know where you are going? Have you planned your route and an alternative should your planned route be blocked?
- If meeting someone, tell them when you expect to be there. They can raise an alarm if you do not arrive.
- Don’t rush. Smooth, steady driving is the key to staying safe in winter.
- Packed a winter survival kit? As a minimum, have a warm coat and footwear packed in the car. Whilst the car’s heating/climate control is great while it’s running, should you get stuck or breakdown, the inside of a car will quickly plummet in temperature. Are you prepared for sitting around in the cold for hours?
All set, how to actually drive safely.
- Gentle inputs, accelerator, steering, brakes are crucial to keeping the car in balance and under control.
- Use low revs to pull away and use second gear to pull away from where possible.
- Anticipate the world around you and particularly other drivers (good advice at any time) to help avoid sudden braking/steering inputs.
- Use the car’s gears to control speed when going downhill, limit braking where possible.
- Leave plenty of space to the car in front, more than usual, particularly when driving uphill to avoid stop / starting on a hill where traction can be difficult.
NEVER slam on the brakes in the case of losing traction
The most practical tip is also the most important one, and that is: in the case of losing traction due to rain or snow, and beginning to spin out, NEVER slam on the brakes or wrench the steering wheel to either side. This will make a bad situation worse, and lead to injury or car damage. When spinning out, turn the steering wheel smoothly in the direction the car is spinning toward while easing off of the accelerator. As traction is restored, steer the front of the car in the desired direction and reduce speed until full control is regained.
Maintain cautious driving speeds
When driving in dangerously poor wintry conditions, we want to remember that any actions we take will have outsized effects. Maintain cautious driving speeds, brake smoothly and gently, and only come to a full stop if absolutely necessary. Inertia makes moving again and navigating from a stopped position much more slippery and dangerous than doing so from even a gently rolling position.
Take extra care in driving
- When there’s snow, sleet, or ice on your car, clean your car thoroughly, especially getting snow off the roof and the trunk. You may think you only need to clear off enough to see, but once you’re on the road, your speed, any sudden stops, and winter winds can whip snow off of your vehicle, impede the drivers around you and cause an accident.
- Take extra care in driving, which includes keeping a safe distance between you and other drivers to leave extra room for braking, keeping both hands on the wheel, and keeping an eye on the road to try and spot icy patches.
- If you do find yourself driving on ice, reduce your speed. If you start to skid, avoid slamming on the brakes or pumping the brakes and steer [into] the skid but don’t oversteer.
- Take advantage of the “snow” mode if your vehicle has that feature.
- Take precautions to avoid your car being unprepared for winter. You don’t want to be stuck on the side of the road in freezing weather or cause an accident and have to file an insurance claim. So prepare your car for winter driving by having a trusted mechanic check the battery, antifreeze level, thermostat, heater, brakes, and window defroster.
- Make sure you have the right amount of tread on your tires to withstand winter driving, as well as the right tire pressure, and check your lights, including emergency flashers.
- Always drive with at least a half tank of gas.
Slow down and keep your distance
Tailgating is dangerous and even illegal in some places for good reason – it is aggressive and unnecessary as it gives you almost no time to react if the car in front brakes. When snow and ice are on the ground, it is vital that you leave even more space between cars than you normally would as the stopping distance be increased by up to 10 times compared to warm and dry conditions. Drop back, slow down; otherwise, you could be unknowingly tailgating, particularly if going up or down a steep hill.
Choose the right tyres
Unless you are a motoring enthusiast, you likely don’t spend any time pondering the pro’s and con’s of the many different tyre varieties on the market, or what will be best suited to your car. However, when it comes to winter tyres, it really depends on your local climate if they are a worthy investment.
Winter tyres become effective when the average temperature in your local area reaches below 7 °C (44.6°F). [This is] not just because of the wider tread pattern, but also because they are made out of a different rubber compound that is much softer and helps the tyre maintain grip even in lower temperatures. Some countries in Europe where snow is a guarantee, have laws that require the use of winter tyres; however, here in the UK, they are a bit of a luxury, as the winters here rarely feature any snow.
Invest in a proper snow tire
The most important thing when driving in winter? Tires, tires, tires. Tires are where the rubber meets the ice and snow. Look for all-season tires at a minimum. If you plan on spending any significant time driving in slick winter conditions, invest in a proper snow tire for the winter. There is a big difference in winter capability between all-seasons and snow tires. Even better, a set of snow chains can keep you moving in the worst winter conditions.
But even good tires won’t save you if don’t know how to handle a vehicle in snow and ice. In winter, social distancing is for cars, too. When you are following someone, give them ample distance in case you need to stop quickly — which takes more time on slick roads. Pay attention to what’s happening farther in front of you than you typically would. That gives you more time to react. Drive slower than normal.
Speaking of stopping and starting, do it gradually. Don’t gun the gas or slam on the breaks, as the sudden change in speed will break the traction between your tires and the road, sending you into a skid. If you do skid, keep your eyes focused on where you want to go and ease off the gas. Don’t step on the brakes. If your rear end is skidding, turn into the skid. So if your rear end is skidding out to the right, turn to the right until the car comes out of the skid.
This is a crowdsourced article. Contributors' statements do not necessarily reflect the opinion of this website, other people, businesses, or other contributors.