How to Drive a Car Safely in the Snow

A dark car covered in snow.

When you're used to life in an area that sees heavy snowfall, it's easy to find yourself feeling confident when driving in the snow. Yet every winter, thousands of drivers end up in snow-related car accidents. Whether driving in the snow is an entirely new experience for you or you've been doing it for years, it's always a good idea to read up on a few good tips for safe winter driving, even if it's just as a refresher.

Change Your Mindset

Driving in the snow is very different from driving on a clean, clear road. Snow creates roads that are wet, icy, and slushy. These conditions can cause cars to slide and, as a result, crash into something or someone. This is why you need to change your mindset whenever you drive in the snow.

The biggest thing to consider is how much slower you need to drive in the winter, from warming up your car to pushing on the gas pedal and even moving your steering wheel. So, always give yourself extra time when you head out.

Prep Your Car

A close-up image of a snow-covered tire.

Before you head out to travel in the snow with your car, you should prep it for winter. First of all, switch those summer tires for winter ones, or you won't be getting far. If you have year-round tires, that's fine, too. Either way, make sure your tire pressure and tread depth are good to go.

You should also check that you have winter windshield wiper fluid since it's made specifically for colder weather and won't freeze. At the same time, check your engine coolant and antifreeze levels and make sure your car always has at least half a tank of gas.

Finally, for those just-in-case emergencies, put together a winter supply box and keep it in the backseat or trunk of your car. A winter supply box should include a first aid kit, blankets, a flashlight, road flares, a bag of sand, snacks, brightly-colored material (for tying to your antenna as a distress signal), and extra gloves. You never know when your car might break down or get stuck, and having these few items on hand could make a big difference.

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Accelerate and Decelerate Slowly

It takes a lot more time than normal to get going and slow down when driving on icy or slushy roads. If you want to avoid skids, make sure you apply the gas slowly to accelerate and take your foot off the gas a lot slower when you need to decelerate, too. In fact, you should drive a lot slower in general when the roads are covered in snow. That means you need to take turns slower as well.

Stop Sooner

A red stop sign with a snowy backdrop.

Stopping takes a lot longer in the snow than it does on dry pavement, so make sure to start your stop a lot sooner than you normally would when coming up to a red light or stop sign, or even when signaling to make a turn. If you drive a modern car and feel your brake pedal shuddering, that is the anti-lock braking system doing its job, so don't panic or take your foot off the brake.

Don't Stop Fully

If you can avoid making a complete stop, like when making a turn, it will be easier to keep going than to start moving again. This doesn't mean you should make illegal rolling stops. Instead, only apply it when it's safe and legal.

Leave Plenty of Space

Automobile traffic on a snowy road.

You will need to leave a lot more space between you and other cars if you need to make any sudden stops. So, make sure you look farther down the road than usual to see if there are any stopped cars or traffic lights up ahead. Since you can't control other drivers out on the road, this is the best way to ensure that you will be safe and avoid collisions.

Be Careful on Hills

Going up and down hills in the snow can be difficult. You can't apply extra gas to get up a hill because the tires will start spinning. Instead, make sure you have a bit of a runway on a flat road leading up to the hill. That way, you will have an easier time trying to reach the top. And whatever you do, don't stop on a hill in the winter because it will be so much more difficult to get going again. When coming down a hill, make sure to take your time as well.

Stay Home

When the weather gets really bad, and you don't have anywhere super important to be, stay home. Even if you feel confident in your driving abilities, remember that not everyone else out on the road will have the same knowledge and skills for winter driving.

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