With winter upon us, traversing snow-packed and icy roads is something we will all have to do at one point or another. Seeing as I am married to a claims adjuster, I can testify to the fact that tons of weather-related accidents occur every snowy, icy day. But they don’t have to. I have always been proud of the fact that I am a very competent and smart snow driver (knock on wood), so I am going to share some of my tricks and tips with you to (hopefully) keep everyone safer throughout the winter months.
Start With The Right Vehicle
I’m just going to say it: this is Colorado, people. You need to have either a four wheel drive vehicle or, at the very least, an all-wheel drive vehicle with good snow tires. Ideally, you want something with a high clearance for making it through snow drifts. But if this isn’t your current situation, don’t fret. You can still be a better, safer snow driver by following my other tips. However, I strongly recommend you look into getting a more capable vehicle as soon as you can realistically do it.
Take good care of your car, ensuring you keep up with all the regular maintenance year round. Trust me, the middle of a huge storm is not the time you want your battery to die or your brakes to go out. Keep your gas tank at a reasonable level too. You don’t want to add panic to an already tense situation because you are almost out of gas. Watch the weather reports, and plan ahead. Furthermore, it’s a great idea to have some basic supplies in your car in case you do get stranded somewhere. Blankets, flash lights, non-perishable snacks, water, and even an overnight bag with a change of clothes and basic toiletries if it’s really bad out. You never know.
Choose The Easiest Route Possible
This one is another obvious point, but I’m going to say it anyway. Have alternate “snow routes” to school, work, or wherever you drive on a regular basis. Your ideal snow route should minimize hills and busy roads, if possible. Being on an icy, hilly road is a disaster waiting to happen because you are at the mercy of gravity. Heavily used roads mean heavier traffic, which just compounds your chances of an accident. Even if you are a great snow driver and use the utmost of caution, that doesn’t mean the other drivers on the road will, too. Fewer cars around you means fewer opportunities for collisions and accidents.
Only Go Out If You Really, Truly Have To
Do some soul searching and decide if it’s truly necessary for you to go out. Sometimes it’s unavoidable but other times, well…do you honestly have to have milk today? Is it really that important that you go to the gym today? God will forgive you if you skip church because the roads suck. I promise. It’s far better to miss one day of church than to meet Jesus. Today.
Do A Road Test In A Safe Area
What I mean by this is, before you leave your neighborhood or the parking lot you are currently in, find a relatively open, empty area and speed up slightly, then hit the brakes. This allows you to “test” the road condition somewhat and see how slippery and/or icy it really is. This gives you a much better idea of what you are up against. However, keep in mind this result doesn’t apply to your whole drive…it’s just a general gauge of the immediate road.
Observe The Rule Of Twice
Give yourself twice the amount of time it normally takes you to get wherever you are going, because you want to drive slowly. Allow for twice the distance you normally do between you and the car in front of you, because you might slide. Think about your chosen path of travel twice before you head out. Let’s look at some simple equations:
Icy roads + speeding/rushing = Disaster
Icy roads + tailgating = Disaster
Icy roads + hills/highways/busy streets = Disaster
Is this starting to make sense?
Keep Your Headlights On
Always, and at all times during inclement weather. The more other drivers can see you, the better.
Remember You Have Very Little Traction
This applies mostly to intersections, or if you are trying to turn through a steady stream of traffic. Remember if the road is icy or snow packed, you aren’t going to have the “get up and go” that you normally have in your car. If you time your turn for a lull in traffic, but then your tires can’t grip and you can’t actually GO at your planned moment…where does that leave you? Partially in the road, with cars barreling towards you at full speed. Yikes.
Take Hills Fast
This is the one and only time I will advise you to go faster during winter driving. If you must maneuver a steep hill, wait until it is clear and then gun it. The idea here is that you have to have enough momentum to get you all the way up the hill. If you drive like a sissy chicken on this one, you are going to slide. Backwards. And maybe sideways. NOT a situation you want to be in.
If You Don’t Know, Assume the Worst
If you think it might be black ice but you aren’t sure…assume it is. If you think it’s probably not that icy, but you aren’t sure…assume it is. It’s always better to err on the side of caution and proceed slowly and carefully than to get in a terrible accident. If you are concerned about time, think of it this way: is it worse to be 15 minutes late getting somewhere, or to wreck your car and go days (maybe weeks) having it in the repair shop, or completely totaled? Right. That’s what I thought, too.
Don’t Let Other Drivers Bully You
If other drivers are tailgating you or pressuring you in some other way to speed up, pass, or go through the intersection when you aren’t certain it’s safe…let them pass you and don’t stress over it for even one second. Chances are, you will see that speed demon off in the ditch or hung up on the median further down the road. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather drive like a grandma and actually die as a grandma, rather than do something stupid and unsafe because I didn’t want to be viewed as a pansy by other drivers. Screw ’em.
If Visibility is Poor, Utilize The Clues Around You
There are many times when the snow is falling heavily, it’s dark, it’s foggy, or the road is so snow-packed you can’t see the traffic lines. This is when you need to broaden your vision and really look at your surroundings. Are there trees on either side of the road? Street lights or signs? Fences or mile markers? There is almost always some kind of landmark to help orient you to where you are on the road. Let’s use this example:
If you only look at the road, it’s hard to know where the lanes are, and where you are situated. However, if you utilize your surroundings, it’s much easier to get oriented to the space and where you should be on the road. Just be mindful of potential ditches on either side, and try to stay on the right side in your lane. If you are driving down the road dead center, chances are someone coming from the opposite direction might be, too.
Be Aware Of the Potential Unknowns Ahead
This road looks fine right now. You might feel safe going 60 mph here. However, you can’t see anything past that huge tree on the right. Once you get to that point, it’s possible you might hit an icy patch or a snow-packed area, especially if it’s in a shady spot where the sun can’t melt the snow and ice. BE AWARE OF THAT POSSIBILITY, and drive accordingly.
Shiny Is Bad
See how these tire tracks have a bit of a shine to them? Anything shiny always equals ice. Previous tire tracks mean the snow has been packed down or melted, and usually frozen over again if it’s really cold outside. For this reason, it’s best to offset your own tire tracks slightly from the existing ones to minimize the icy areas. Drive slightly to the right or left from the previous driver. In general, packed snow is less slippery than ice, and you want to avoid following the previously made tire tracks. Here is an example of the right way to do it:
NEVER SLAM ON THE BRAKES
And when I say never, I mean NEVER. Ever!! If you are driving on a slick road, slamming on the brakes is only going to achieve one thing: YOU ARE GOING TO SLIDE, and at that point you have zero control over your vehicle and you are nothing more than an object in motion at the mercy of the laws of physics. GUARANTEED. That’s terrifying. The right thing to do is to tap your brakes repeatedly and aim for a slower, but controlled, stop. Furthermore, if you have listened to what I have said previously, you should not find yourself in a situation where you have to slam on the brakes (unless, God forbid, another driver slides in front of you). It is better to end up in a minor fender bender than to send your car sliding at a high speed. But, if despite your best efforts, you do slide…
Turn INTO The Slide
If you lose control of your vehicle and you start to fishtail or slide, turn INTO the direction your car is sliding. For example, if the front of your car starts to slide to the right, turn the steering wheel to the right. This may sound scary, but by turning into the direction of the slide you are actually straightening out your tires and “righting” your vehicle, which means you immediately regain control and can get back to the correct position on the road faster. This is a far better scenario than trying to turn the steering wheel left when your car is sliding right, and you end up in all-out spin. These never end well. Trust me.
Always, Always Have A “Ditch” Plan
I hope you never have to use this, but it’s a safe practice to always being thinking in terms of the worst case scenario. If another car comes barreling towards you completely out of control, what are you going to do? Have a “ditch plan” BEFORE this situation occurs so you can react faster and make the safer choice. Reacting in the split second, heat of the moment rarely gives you the best outcome. Let’s look at an example:
So let’s say another car is sliding toward you, and you need to do SOMETHING. In this particular scenario, the obvious correct choice is to veer to the right so you don’t hit the person walking on the road, even if it means you end up in a (literal) ditch or buried in a fence. It’s a matter of prioritization and safety.
What about this one?
Your initial instinct may be to veer to the left if you need to get out of the way, and fast. HOWEVER, the incline on the left is steep enough that you run a very high risk of rolling your car, plus you have no idea based on your immediate view of how far that incline continues down. The far safer option here is to hit the guard rail on the right. I mean, let’s be honest: no one wants to wreck, but if it’s inevitable take the route that is going to stop your car in the safest way possible. You would probably hit the guardrail here, slide for a short distance, then stop. If you were driving too fast, though, the momentum from the impact might just bounce you off the guardrail, back into the road, and into a spin. Again, this is yet another reason why you need to drive SLOW in bad weather conditions. Do you see my rationale here? By having a pre-thought out plan, you would actually act against your initial instinct (which would have given you a worse outcome).
Practice, Practice, Practice
If you are not confident in your winter driving skills, it is imperative you get some practice maneuvering bad road conditions. Go to a deserted parking lot late at night, and practice your reactions when your car is sliding or spinning. Or head out to an empty road somewhere in the country, and practice those worse case scenarios in a safe environment. This helps you to get a better feel for your vehicle and how it handles on bad roads, plus it helps to burn those reactions into your mind so you are more likely to react correctly from your subconscious when you need it the most. A word of wisdom to parents of teenagers: IT IS ESPECIALLY IMPORTANT TO DO THIS PRACTICE WITH NEW DRIVERS. You will always learn more about a road by driving it than by consulting every map in the world (so to speak). Nothing, and I mean nothing, beats good old fashioned practice and repetition for safe, smart, and effective winter driving.
Further Motivation To Drive Safely
If nothing I have said thus far has gotten through to you, consider this one final thing. I’m sorry to end on a grim note, but they say a picture is worth a thousand words.
So terribly sad. Don’t let this be you. Your life is worth more than getting somewhere on time, or making a novice driving mistake that could have been prevented.
So that’s it! I hope you learned something here, or at least got a few new ideas to think about before you head out on your next winter driving excursion. My husband is a claim’s adjuster. He will handle your destroyed car if it comes to that. But believe me when I say he’d rather not.
PLEASE BE SAFE AND HAVE HAPPY DRIVING!!
***Today’s Simple Life Secret Revealed***: There is a lot you can do to minimize the potential of dangerous situations while driving in bad weather conditions. Remember this one, too: It is better to arrive late to work than early to heaven.