Rubbing tires with Dale Jr. at 200-mph in a NASCAR race or walking in the middle of a highway at night might seem safer than driving during the winter months, especially after a big storm has passed. Cars lose traction, other drivers take idiotic risks, visibility is eliminated by nearly horizontal snowfall, and the whole mess turns into a demolition derby thanks to freezing rain. That's why these winter driving tips are so important.
While drivers can limit their time on the road by putting off trips to the market or staying home for dinner, there are still occasions when traveling in bad weather is necessary. For times when winter driving can't be avoided, the trick is mastering how to navigate the nasty stuff and make it home with car and body intact.
So, settle in for a rundown of safe winter driving tips. Seatbelts are required.
Winter Driving Safety Tips
Winter Driving Safety Tip #1· Allow plenty of room for evasive maneuvers and avoid sudden turns. With winter roads covered in sand, snow, slush, and ice, all vehicles will suffer a loss of traction, and that means more time and road will be needed to stop or change lanes. Scan the road ahead and be prepared for emergency situations by leaving yourself an "out."
Winter Driving Safety Tip #2· Know the vehicle's limitations. If a lightweight car has regular all-season or performance tires instead of snow tires, it may take a bit longer to gain traction in snow or slush. Also, rear-wheel-drive cars with little weight over the drive axle will have some trouble grabbing the road, and all rear-wheel-drive vehicles will tend to fishtail (when the rear end slides from side to side) unless they're equipped with traction control. Be aware of these conditions and drive accordingly.
Winter Driving Safety Tip #3· Roll onto the throttle. Nailing the gas pedal will often make the tires spin, resulting in a car that either travels nowhere or possibly goes out of control. Easing onto the gas will provide a slow, smooth start.
Winter Driving Safety Tip #4· If it's a questionable move, don't do it. Darting across streets or making quick passes in winter conditions seldom end with the best consequences. Studies have yet to prove that getting t-boned while desperately trying to cross an intersection is worth the few seconds cut from travel time.
Winter Driving Safety Tip #5· Clear snow and ice off of the car before driving. Many drivers fail to take the time to clear the side windows, rear window, and the entire windshield. As the car is warming up, turn the defrosters on and take a few minutes to free the windows of ice and snow. Also, sweeping snow off of the hood will prevent flakes from being blown up onto the windshield while driving, helping to maintain good visibility.
Winter Driving Safety Tip #6· In case of freezing rain or snow, raising wipers off the windshield will help keep them from freezing to the glass.
Winter Driving Safety Tip #7· Keep exterior lights clean. With all of the muck that ends up on the road, exterior lights become cloudy. Carry a towel or rag (tissues and snow also work) to clean headlights and taillights when visibility is compromised.
Winter Driving Safety Tip #8· Stay alert for road changes. During cold, wet weather, bridges freeze before road surfaces and can become quite hazardous. And, in climates with extreme cold, frost heaves can develop, effectively creating large bumps where previously there had been none. Potholes also develop in these areas, which can cause suspension damage or possibly a blowout, sometimes with a loss of vehicle control.
Winter Driving Safety Tip #9· Be smart. Drivers should stick to well traveled, familiar roads - a snowy night is not the time to investigate the layout of the city. Also, be prepared to take a different route, if necessary - roads along the regular route may not be cleared or may have steep sections that are especially treacherous. Finally, experienced drivers should avoid becoming complacent - even after 40 winters, veteran winter drivers can find themselves in a ditch.
Winter Driving FAQs
A number of winter driving schools operate throughout the country with programs suited for new drivers and wannabe racers. One example is the Bridgestone Winter Driving School located in Steamboat Springs, Colorado.
Should rear-wheel-drive vehicles be avoided for areas with bad weather?
Not necessarily. Most late model, rear-wheel-drive cars offer systems designed to improve performance in bad weather, such as traction and stability control systems. Combine these technologies with winter tires and a safe, knowledgeable driver, the wheels driving the vehicle become less important.
I've heard people talk about how dangerous black ice is. What is it?
Black ice is simply a patch of ice on the road, and from a driver's perspective, it blends in with the pavement. It is the cause of numerous accidents because drivers feel confident they are traveling on a dry surface, only to discover they are on ice.
--Photos courtesy of Ford Motor Company, Volvo North America