No matter where you’re from or what driving conditions you’re used to, snow and ice command a healthy dose of respect. Winter roads have their own set of rules and safety tips for drivers, from winter driving best practices to preparing your car for the season. Follow our winter driving tips to stay safe during your cold-weather trips.
1. Check the weather
Pay attention to the weather forecasts and news before you drive. If there are any signs of ice accumulating on the roadways or a significant accumulation of snow has fallen, avoid driving. Ice is truly treacherous, and no amount of experience can completely remove the danger it poses. Heavy snow conditions can render a car (or even a AAA rescue tow truck) stranded.
2. Prepare your car for winter conditions
If you have to drive in snow, do yourself a favor and be sure your car is ready.
- Check the tread depth on your tires. If it is too low, get a new set (this applies year-round).
- If your geography necessitates snow tires, have them ready and put them on before the first storm comes in.
- Check your battery, antifreeze and washer fluid levels.
- Always keep your gas tank more than half full.
3. Drive slowly and deliberately
It can be easy to lose traction on icy roads, especially for rear-wheel drives. Be mindful of your steering and watch for other cars and potential dangers on the road. Giving yourself enough time to make a turn or notice and steer clear of any hazards will help prevent slipping.
4. Allow extra time for stopping
Reduced traction means your typical “2 car lengths” safe driving distance is not enough, even when driving slowly. Give your fellow drivers extra space to keep everyone safe.
5. Steer into a skid
If your car starts to skid, ease off the accelerator and do not slam on the breaks. Steer in the direction that the rear of your vehicle is going. Once you’ve regained control, gently accelerate to driving speed.
6. Do not power up hills
If you can’t avoid the hill altogether, go slowly and use a low gear. Don’t try to power up the hill. Too much acceleration will cause your wheels to spin rather than move you forward. Do not stop until you reach the top or you could get stuck or go backwards.
7. Practice winter weather driving
No matter how much winter driving experience you think you have, it’s always good to practice in controlled conditions before getting into the real stuff.
This includes getting to know how your vehicle, as well as other types of vehicles, handle when conditions get downright lousy. Find a large, empty parking lot and try out all the maneuvers you hope you’ll never have to use out on the road.
Try fast acceleration, quick stops, and improper skid maneuvers so you know why they should be avoided. Practice evasive maneuvers and slam on your breaks so that you get to know how your vehicle handles in these situations.
Also, we recommend checking with any city, county, or state transportation agencies in your area for available winter weather defensive driving classes. Bridgestone Tires also has a reputable Winter Driving School you can attend.
8. Pack cold weather survival and emergency supplies in your car
Gather these items in your car as a cold weather roadway emergency kit:
- Thermal clothing, extra dry clothing, and blankets
- High-visibility items such as reflective tape, glow sticks and flares
- Cell phone chargers
- High-energy food, such as power bars, and water. Keep them in an insulated bag in the back seat, as opposed to the trunk, to keep them from freezing.
- Maps, as you may be in an area without a cellphone signal
- Whistles to alert people to your location
- Spare medication
- A first aid kit
- Single-use heat packs (lots of them)
- An extra toy (or three) for your children to keep their spirits up as you sort out a solution
Adverse winter driving conditions need to be taken seriously. Too often, we fall back on routine and become lax, but when you set out to drive on ice or snow, you should always treat it as if you know you something will go wrong. Speaking from experience, no matter how confident you feel venturing out, winter weather has a way of humbling even the most experienced of drivers!