Even the most confident drivers can be thrown by slippery roads. If you are a new driver or new to driving in winter conditions, rest assured, there are several things you can do to make winter driving as smooth and safe as possible.
Winter driving can be frightening, even when you are an experienced driver. If you need to travel in winter conditions, make sure you are as prepared as possible. Clean ice and snow from the outside of your car, bring safety supplies and take a cautious approach.
Above all, be prepared for changing conditions and keep an eye out for other drivers, who may not be going slow or leaving enough space. Whether you are preparing for your first drive in winter conditions or just looking for a refresher, driving in the snow requires caution, care, and observation.
In addition to understanding the best ways to handle slippery roads, you will want to make sure your car or vehicle is properly equipped for the conditions. If you’re looking for tips for driving in the snow, here are nine simple safety precautions:
Tip #1: Be Mentally Ready
Being mentally ready is one of the most important tips for driving in the snow. When you have a trip planned and the weather is forecasting snow, be sure that navigation is not a question. If you are travelling somewhere for the first time, make sure you have the address identified in your vehicle navigation or on your phone. You’ll be glad to avoid any back-tracking or extra travel if the weather turns.
Tip #2: Check for Winter Tires
When it comes to driving in slick conditions, winter tires are a must. If your car has all-season tires, as opposed to winter tires, see if you can borrow or rent a vehicle equipped with winter tires. In more extreme conditions, in parts of Canada—often through mountain passes—you may be required to have chains on your tires, as well.
Tip #3: Be Ready with Supplies
Part of being ready for winter driving includes having a few basics on hand, easily accessible inside your car. Have plenty of extra windshield washer fluid and be confident that you know how to top it up, should you run low.
Make sure you have at least one window scraper, as well, in case you need to remove ice along the way. Bring a phone charger, plenty of blankets, water and a flashlight should you get stuck and need to wait for help.
Tip #4: Clear Your Windows
As you prepare your car for winter travel, first start your engine and turn the defogging feature on high heat, but low air, allowing your front and rear windows to defrost as your engine warms. Take this opportunity to scrape ice from the windows and brush any snow from the hood and roof. This will prevent snow and ice from blowing into your line of sight, once you’re on the road.
Tip #5: Remember Your Head Lights
While you remove snow from the exterior of your car or truck, remember to pay extra attention to the lights—both in the front and rear of the vehicle. When visibility is low, it is important to have the best possible lighting, both in order to see what’s in front of you and to help others see you. Use running lights or even headlights during the day and make sure your headlights are on at night.
Tip #6: Don’t Forget Your Tail Lights
Similarly, be sure to clear snow and debris from your tail lights. Timing is an essential part of driving safely in winter conditions. Knowing that the driver in front of you is slowing down is vital, as it gives you time to gently brake yourself.
In other words, part of your safety on the road is making sure your tail lights are in good condition and easy to see, helping the driver behind you know exactly when you are slowing down. Plus, always make sure your taillights are in good condition before you go for a drive.
Tip #7: Go Slow
As you start any winter drive, it is important go slow, especially in the initial stages, as you assess the road conditions. Don’t be afraid to touch the brakes as you first pull out of your parking space or driveway—this will help you determine if the roads are coated with black ice or slippery, packed snow.
Tip #8: Leave More Space
As you pull into traffic, be sure to leave far more space than you normally would. Coming to a full stop can be tricky when the roads are slippery. Rather than get too close to the car in front of you, test your brakes gently as you prepare to stop, then ease to a full stop with plenty of space in front of you. Coming to a full stop too quickly on slippery roads can result in a slide.
Tip #9: Understand Your Brakes
The design of your car will determine the best way for you to brake on slippery roads. With a standard braking system, you may need to pump your brakes—holding briefly and releasing—if you end up in a slide. Remain calm, avoid over-turning the steering wheel and pump the brakes.
If your vehicle has anti-lock brakes, it will do the pumping for you, allowing you to steer more easily while slowing down. Anti-lock brakes reduce your stopping distance and prevent your wheels from locking.