How to

1 February 2017

Slip and Sliding: How to Drive in the Snow

For many across the US and in parts of Europe, snow is a treat. It falls rarely, coating the world in a magical dusting of white only to vanish by day’s end. Places like these aren’t often set up to deal with snow, and when it does fall the streets become a slippery, unsalted mess. The southern US completely shuts down when it snows; schools cancel class, businesses warn of multiple-day closures and people buyout grocery stock of the essentials in preparation for days spent indoors. People are encouraged not to drive unless absolutely necessary. This is partly because the roads are unploughed, but can also be attributed to drivers who are unfamiliar with snow. Inexperienced drivers make the icy roads a bona fide danger zone.


Driving in the snow is no easy feat, requiring defensive driving and the ability to take preemptive measures against dangerous situations. These things come with time and experience. In lieu of that, we’ll go over some tips on driving in the snow.


Know your Limits

It’s imperative that every driver, experienced or otherwise, knows when to stay home. Driving in the middle of a blizzard is never a wise decision. If the falling snowflakes are as big as saucers, you can bet that even ploughed roads will soon be covered in a soft coating of fresh snow. This worsens driving conditions, setting the stage for fender-benders and sliding into intersections. Stay home in these conditions.


Car, Meet Driver

A great chunk of the population can hardly be bothered to care about their engine size let alone the specifications of their car. Before the cold weather hits, take time to reacquaint yourself with your trusty steed, determining whether your car is rear-wheel-drive (RWD), front-wheel drive (FWD), or all-wheel drive (4WD). FWD and 4WD cars can handle snowy conditions better as they allow for more control. In these cars the weight of the engine is squarely above the drive wheels, planting the car firmly to the Earth. It’s much easier to navigate FWD and 4WD cars out of and across mounds of snow, significantly lessening the chance of getting stuck. While classically sporty, RWD cars are more difficult to operate in the snow because the drive wheels in the back have nothing to ground them. It’s best to put some kind of weight in the trunk to give RWD cars more stability. Without that added weight, it can be difficult for the car to gain traction in the snow, leading to impotent spinning tires.
  • The staff at Cars.com offers some handy tips on driving RWD cars in snow.

Gearing Up

Img: Autodeets
Just as you must prepare the garden, home interior and exterior property for snow, vehicles must be properly readied for winter. We’ve gone into specifics already – how important it is to stock the car with emergency supplies, check the oil and cooling system and bring a spare battery – but the best way to prepare a car for traversing icy roads is to ensure that the right tires are in place. Snow or winter tires should be fitted onto cars before the cold months. Both types of tires are made of a different compound than summer tires, enabling traction in the cold. Snow tires have tread grooves that grip despite icy conditions and guard against snow build-up. For areas that enjoy regular snowfall, installing the appropriate tires is a must. It wouldn’t hurt to keep an ice scraper with a snow brush, a small shovel and some sand or cat litter in your trunk. Add a spare set of heavy duty gloves to that and you’re ready for winter driving. Snow tires are borderline excessive for regions that receive little to no snow, but having all-weather tires in place will make driving in the cold months that much easier.


Practice Makes Perfect

Continued exposure is the best way to learn how to safely navigate icy roads. Driving again and again in these conditions will help inexperienced drivers learn when to start braking, how to turn, the best way to accelerate, etc. Basically, get out there and go! But do it safely. Drive slowly when conditions are icy, never pushing the car beyond your control; dangerous things lurk. Black ice is a common occurrence when temperatures drop below freezing, and these clear, slippery patches of ice are often mistaken for wet pavement. Driving slowly over black ice means there’s less of a margin for error. If you do end up sliding across the road, it’s better for everyone if you’re going slowly to begin with.


Know the Tricks
Img: Autoguide
  • If the car begins to slide out of your control, turn into the slide. This is the best way to regain control of the car.
  • Pumping the brakes, also called stutter or cadence braking, prevents the brakes from locking up. All new cars come equipped with an anti-lock braking system (ABS) that carries out this action automatically. In new cars it isn’t necessary to pump the brakes as the car does so independently. However, in older cars without ABS, do pump your brakes if you feel the car beginning to slide. Rather than slam down on the brakes and release, brake hard initially and follow that by braking less and less each time.
  • Always clear off your windows before driving. Though this seems like common sense, some people refrain from doing so. If you don’t clear snow off, your vision is obstructed making an accident all the more likely.
  • Heighten your situational awareness, paying more attention than usual to drivers in your general vicinity. People will appreciate extra room to manoeuvre, and so will you if the person in front of you slams on their brakes or loses control. 

Jacqui Litvan

Jacqui Litvan, wielding a bachelor's degree in English, strives to create a world of fantasy amidst the ever-changing landscape of military life. Attempting to become a writer, she fuels herself with coffee (working as a barista) and music (spending free time as a raver).