Don’t be scared but prepared to face freezing temperatures, as well as snow and ice with these practical safe winter driving tips you need to know today.
Every year millions of drivers brave icy and snow-covered streets and highways and in many cases these can be treacherous at best. So be prepared with these practical safe winter driving tips.
And, being from the midwest I find that driving in Wisconsin can get a bit dicey, too, during winter.
But after many years of experience and learning the ins and outs of defensive driving has helped me greatly with dealing with slippery byways and highways.
That being said, you may not be able to avoid Old Man Winter where you live, but that doesn’t mean you have to avoid the beauty of Old Man Winter.
Instead, face the weather with a healthy respect and learn some of the best tips I know to keep you safe and sound when driving this winter:
1. Watch Your Speed: Quality over Quantity
When I was a young driver in Wisconsin, the first rule I was taught by my father was “quality over quantity.” This goes for speed, as well as, for driving in winter on icy or snow-covered roads.
What does quality driving look like? Quality driving or defensive driving, as it is also called, requires drivers to keep distractions to a minimum and to drive with an attention on the road conditions and taking in what is going on around them.
RELATED: Tips for Travel and Winter Driving
In winter, concentration is essential. That means as a defensive driver, you should look for the following: Are cars sliding? Cars in ditches? If so, then drop your car’s speed to one that is conducive to the elements and keep lowering the speed until you feel in control.
You should also understand the risks involved in driving on icy roads and drive within those conditions that you feel you can safely manage. Obviously, there will always be extenuating circumstances, especially if one is a fireman, policeman, ENT’s, etc., but then, these first responders, too, know the importance of quality driving and will err on the side of caution–always.
2. Let the Tires Do the Work
It isn’t enough to rely on the brakes or lower gears to move you forward in snow. Believe it or not, it’s the tires that can make all the difference. Power resides in the four wheels that have the potential to move you forward through all sorts of slush and ice.
Front Wheel or Rear Wheel? The important thing is to know whether your car or truck is front or rear-wheeled drive. That will help you determine how to best to deal with the winter weather. Simply put, front-wheel drive vehicles are “pulled” forward by the front wheels and “pushed” in the case of rear-wheeled drive.
RELATED: Snow Tires vs All Season Tires
As you drive and find that you are skidding, ease up on the accelerator and allow the power in the wheels to push or pull you forward. By relaxing on the accelerator you are allowing the wheels to perform at their highest power but with the least resistance.
All Weather or Winter Tires? The other thing you need to consider is whether your car is equipped with proper winter tires. Some drivers choose to use all-weather tires, while others swear by winter tires that they have their mechanic put on at the beginning of the season and take off in spring.
RELATED: Seasonal Car Maintenance
Check the Tread. There are definite pros and cons to both all-weather and winter tires, but in either case having good tread depth is actually more important for safe winter driving. If your tires are bald, they have little or no chance for traction. So if you haven’t had your tires checked within the last six months, now would be a good time to do so.
3. Winter Driving Tips on Braking (Video)
4. Watch for Weather Change
There is something to be said to watch for quick weather changes. In fact, one item that is very handy is a thermometer gauge that can easily be put in any vehicle. Why a thermometer?
Quick-falling temperatures. When this happens, especially if the temperature has been hovering around the freezing mark is that a front is probably near by and that as fast as the temperatures move down, so will ice begin to form on the roads and bridges.
When this happens a condition called “black ice” occurs and can be quite dangerous. Again, you should use caution when driving and slow down. Another key skill is to not use excessive braking or accelerating. This will help a lot when dealing with this condition.
Blizzards. Winter storms, blizzards and white-out conditions can come on quickly. In many cases changing weather warrants great caution. Not only is visibility affected with blizzard conditions but so is your ability to deal with the amount of snow gathering on your windshield and roads.
Ice. Because of the ability for cold air to rush over bridges and overpasses, these are usually the first areas on the road to accumulate icy patches. Slow down and don’t accelerate or brake too quickly when crossing long stretches of bridges or overpasses.
Fog. Fog can play a role in massive pile ups and collisions. This is especially true where the weather changes so rapidly from cold to warm or vise versa. If you find yourself in an extremely foggy area and are unable to see any vehicles in front of you, pull off the road and way a bit until the fog clears.
5. Keep Your Gas Tank Full
You will never know if the traffic becomes overly congested or comes to a complete standstill. So why take a chance? Make sure your car’s fuel tank is full of gas. It should be a habit every driver should engage in not only just winter drivers.There are two major reasons why to keep your car full of gas:
A full tank reduces condensation and will minimize any engine trouble that might occur because of this.
Sediment lies at the bottom of your gas tank and you certainly don’t want that flowing into your engine. But even more important is that it takes a lot of energy to drive in the winter, running the heater and even engaging lower gears, so much so that you will be using more gas than you think.
And, if you are caught up in a traffic jam or at a standstill, what to do? The best thing is not to run your engine for an excessive amount of time. Run it just until the cabin area gets warm and then shut it off. Running the engine without moving or for long periods of time at a standstill can cause your car’s engine to get overheated or fail.
6. Always Travel with a Charged Cell Phone
Many of use the cell phone almost unconsciously and when it is truly needed the most it could be drained of any power. Don’t you be caught unaware with an uncharged phone.
Call ahead and keep your cell phone handy. Make sure that you let someone know where you are going, especially if you are traveling for longer distances. If you can, don’t travel alone and plan your route ahead of time.
If you find that you will be later than expected, give a call and let someone know at your final destination when you take a break. That way, no one will be overly alarmed should the weather take a turn for the worst and you find yourself having to stay put elsewhere.
And, should your car become disabled, stay with your vehicle, call for assistance and limit your calling and engine running time. Doing this alone will the drain of your battery for both your car and phone at a minimum.
7. Always Keep a Winter Driving Kit in Your Car
One of the best winter driving safety tips I know is to have a standard winter driving kit that is located in your trunk or back hatch area. In some cases having this one thing can be the matter of life or death.
First, find a small plastic bin and put all of these items in it and refresh and update it before the next season.
It is always best to use self-charging items whenever possible. Brands like Dynamo offer a number of self-charging products, including a flashlight that you just wind and go. And, with the right product, you can also recharge your cell phone anywhere or anytime.
Here is a list of essential items to keep in your car in winter:
- First Aid Kit
- Flashlight (Self-Charging better than Battery-Operated)
- Shovel or Folding Shovel
- Cell Phone (Charged)
- Duct Tape
- Pair of Non-latex gloves
- 12-volt air compressor
- Mini auto tool kit
- Bungee Cords
- Bottled Water
- Couple of Candy Bars or Granola Bars
- Tow Strap
- Ice Scraper and Brush
- Warm Clothes
- Extra Pair of Boots
- Rain Jacket
- Extra Pair of Mittens or Gloves
- Jumper Cables
- Roadside Flares/Reflective Triangle
8. If the Weather Looks Too Bad Stay Home
Here you’ll have to use some common sense. Obviously a light dusting of snow isn’t necessarily worth staying home, that is, unless you live in the deep South of the United States.
But for those brave drivers in the Midwest, West, Northwest and other snow-worthy areas, when the weather changes to icy mixes, inches that turn into feet of snow, blizzards, white outs, etc. these become situations that all winter drivers need to consider serious. Always err on the side of caution and listen to weather service personnel should they request that you not drive due to poor driving conditions.
Carbon Monoxide: The Silent Killer
Besides the snow and icy roads, many drivers forget that there is a silent killer that we oftentimes overlook: carbon monoxide.
Breathing it can be lethal, so taking a few precautions will help not only to save your life but also your passengers’ lives, as well.
- If stalled, crack your windows open a little to keep carbon monoxide from building up.
- If in a ditch and you can safely get out, check to make sure the exhaust pipe is not completely encased in snow. If it is clear away the exhaust pipe as best you can, especially if you feel you need to keep the car running in order to use the car’s heater.
- If you begin to feel sleepy or nauseated, get into fresh air quickly and get help immediately.
Winter Driving Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Above all, remain calm and let your engine do the work. Then…1. Take your foot off the accelerator. 2. Keep the steering wheel straight and allow the car to move through the icy patch. 3. Slowly accelerate once you’ve gotten through the ice. (Note: This technique also works if you find yourself hydroplaning.)
More than anything, remain calm. Then…1. Turn the steering wheel in the direction of your skid.2. Take your foot off the accelerator.3. Don’t slam on your brakes. This action alone will cause you to swerve even more.If you have ABS brakes, the proper thing to do is to “pump” your brakes, meaning: press down on the brakes quickly, then let up. Do this on and off to allow both the wheels and brakes to do their job. If you don’t have ABS brakes, then press down on the brakes slowly and steadily but do not “slam” them down. Slamming your brakes will only cause you to skid further.
Above all keep calm and avoid overexertion. Only run the engine as long as you have to keep the car warm. If you have the proper clothing and can bundle up do so. Trying to push your car into a new position can be both dangerous and deadly. Your vehicle is your best shelter, so use your energy wisely. Also, be sure to keep the radiator free from snow to avoid the engine from overheating. Sometimes when going into a ditch, the snow can be very deep. Venture out of your car only if it is safe to do so and clear away the snow by the exhaust pipe and engine areas. Remember: the tailpipe is HOT and can cause severe burns to your hands, so avoid touching it.
One final tip: if you do have to go out in poor weather, drive defensively. Make sure you are prepared and above all use common sense when driving in winter.
Winter can be fun and many people love get out and about to enjoy many winter activities, but always strive to do so with care and caution.
For more great seasonal travel tips and ideas, be sure to check out Wisconsin Homemaker’s Travel Section.