How to Drive in the Snow and 7 Other Useful Winter Driving Tips

January 2015 brought with it some of the biggest snow storms that the East coast had seen in many years. Thanks to El Nino, we have yet to see snow here in New York this December. But, with three more months of winter headed our way, snow still has a chance to show its chilly face.

How to Drive in The Snow and 7 Useful Winter Driving Tips

Winter storms bring with them new driving challenges. Here is a list of 7 useful winter driving tips to help you stay safe on the roads this winter. Photo: Bigstock

Winter storms bring with them new driving challenges. Not only are there fewer hours of daylight, but chances for ice and snow to be on the roads as well.  Under even the best of conditions it is imperative that we use our best judgement and full attention when driving. This becomes more crucial when the roads are under winter conditions. In many instances, staying put is probably the safest decision you could make. Sometimes, though, staying put is not an option. So, in this case, we have compiled a list of seven useful winter driving tips to help you stay safe on the roads this winter.

  1. Tend to your tires. When you live in a snowy climate or an area that is susceptible to blizzards, it is best to invest in a set of snow tires. The New York Department of Motor Vehicles (NYDMV) recommends that you put them on before the first expected snow storm. They are an extra expense, but they are also your safest bet. However, another option is “all-weather” tires. These types of tires can handle typical messy weather, but are not recommended during blizzard conditions.
    1. Having properly inflated tires is vital to driving safely in winter weather conditions. Generally, a 10 degree drop in temperature equals a one-pound loss of pressure in each tire. So before hitting the road this winter, check your tire pressure to be sure the tires are properly inflated to where the manufacturer suggests they be. Also make sure that your tires are not worn. Worn tires have poor traction making it easier to hydroplane water or skid out on ice. It is also good to make sure you have a reliable spare tire in case of emergency.
  1. Keep your gas tank full. One of the last things you want to have happen is to run out of gas in the cold snow. If you are stuck in the snow for any other reason, you will want to keep the engine running to keep the heater going until help comes.  No gas means no heat while you wait.
  1. Make sure that you are visible to other drivers. Check that all of your lights (headlights, taillights, turn signals, reverse lights) are working and clear of snow and ice before you hit the road. Rain, snow, and fog are common in a New York winter and they all make it more difficult for other drivers to see you. According to the NYDMV, New York State law requires that you turn on your headlights when the weather conditions require the use of windshield wipers to clear rain, snow, sleet or fog, and “daytime running lights” do not qualify as headlights. When you are turning, use your turn signal a little sooner than normal and when you are coming to a stop, start braking a bit sooner so that other drivers have more warning as to what your intentions are and can avoid a possible collision. 
  1. Make sure that you are able to see the road and other drivers. Before you get in your car you must clear all of the snow and ice from your windshield, wiper blades, headlights, and windows. Dirty windshields increase the glare from approaching headlights. Always make sure your windshield glass is clean. Be sure that you fill your windshield washer reservoir with a freeze resistant solution. It may be a good idea to change your wiper blades all together to be sure that they are in the best working order. Your high-beams reflect snow, rain, and fog as it is falling which makes it harder to see while driving. In these conditions the NYDMV recommends using your low-beam lights for the best visibility. At night and in heavy fog and snow, lights coming from inside your vehicle also make it harder to see the road. Dim dashboard lights and keep any other interior lights off. 
  1. Reduce your speed and increase your following distance. Take it easy when braking, accelerating and steering. Sharp and sudden tugs at the wheel or slamming on the brakes could very well result in a slide and/or accident. Give yourself room for a possible slide by not following other vehicles too closely.
  1. Don’t be over confident in your vehicles all-wheel-drive (AWD) system. AWD, to the disappointment of many, does not make your car invincible. The NYDMV recommends that you drive slowly and remember that just because you have good traction in snow and ice that other drivers may not be as confident and will be driving with more caution. They go on to suggest that drivers do not break the flow of traffic by driving faster than other vehicles on the road. AWD is great with the fact that it provides extra traction, but it won’t help you stop. Always drive with caution regardless of how positive you are about your cars capabilities.
  2. Know how to recover from a skid. According to the NYDMV, in a rear-wheel drive vehicle, you can normally feel a loss of traction or the start of a slide and with a front-wheel drive vehicle, there might not be a warning. They state that front and four-wheel drive vehicles do normally handle better in ice and snow, but they do not have flawless traction and can skid without warning. These are the tips that they offer if a skid should occur:

How to recover from a rear wheel skid:

  • Turn the steering wheel in the direction the vehicle is trying to go. If your rear wheels slide left, steer left. If they slide right, steer right.
  • If your rear wheels start to slide in the other direction as you recover, turn the steering wheel toward that side. You might have to turn the wheel left and right several times to get your vehicle completely controlled.
  • If your vehicle has anti-lock brakes (ABS), keep your foot with even pressure on the brake pedal. If your vehicle does not have ABS, pump the pedal carefully. Pump more rapidly only as your car slows down. If you brake hard with regular brakes it will make the situation worse.

How to recover from a front wheel skid:

  • Take your foot off of the gas and shift to neutral or push in the clutch, but do not try to immediately steer.
  • As the wheels skid sideways, they will slow the vehicle and traction will return. As traction returns, turn the wheel in the direction you want to go. Then put the transmission in “drive” or release the clutch and accelerate carefully. 
The NYDMV suggests that in order to prevent a skid you need brake early, carefully and gently. They say to “press” your brakes in slow, steady strokes and allow the wheels to keep turning. If they begin to lock up, decrease pressure on the brake pedal. As your vehicle decreases speed, you can also shift into a lower gear.
The safest thing you can do in severe winter weather would be to stay where you are unless you absolutely HAVE to drive somewhere. If this is the case, using your common sense and following the tips above, you will more than likely make it from point A to point B without any problems. Stay safe and happy trails!
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Written by Automotive Technology of West Islip