Tips for Safe Winter Driving

Geek!This is Carol Foltz’s submission for the HP Magic Giveaway. Feel free to leave comments for this article as you see fit – your feedback is certainly welcomed! If you’d like to submit your own how-to, what-is, or top-five list, you can send it to me. Views and opinions of this writer are not necessarily my own:

My motto for driving is: I drive like an old lady so I can be one. I don’t mean the drive-45-in-a-55-mph-zone old lady, just that I take reasonable care, I don’t speed and I’m more careful when weather conditions negatively impact driving conditions.

Winter driving seems to baffle some drivers, even though winter keeps returning every year. When the snow flies, common sense flies out the window. Therefore, I present “Carol’s Rules For Safe Winter Driving.”

  1. Make sure you need to go out. If you don’t need to go out, then don’t. If you must go out, make sure you know where you are going and why. Don’t make extra trips.
  2. Realize that the roads are slick and you can’t stop on a dime. Give yourself leeway by slowing down before you get to the intersection. Also, you can’t just start driving. Ease into it a little bit, or you will fishtail. If there is a car next to you, you could hit it if you aren’t careful.
  3. Be careful and assume that everyone else on the road isn’t careful. Act like they are either first-time drivers who don’t know what they are doing or that they are actively trying to kill you with their cars. Stay away from the other drivers. WEAR YOUR SEATBELT!
  4. If you are driving when it’s still snowing, drive slowly with wipers going and your lights on, even if it’s daytime. Having your lights on helps other drivers see you and hopefully avoid you.
  5. If you are driving and get stuck, stay with your car unless it’s falling into a river or something. Don’t get out and start walking to your destination, especially if you are in the country. Don’t make law enforcement start looking for you “between Moorland and Rockwell City,” for example. (Those two towns are about 20 miles apart.)
  6. The usual: Have a winter survival kit in your car, including a shovel. When a bad winter storm hit Iowa in February 2007, I prepared by bringing a suitcase of clothes and things I would need into town when I came to work, with plans to stay at my mom’s apartment until it was safe to go home. I left our only shovel at home, thinking that maybe my family might need it. I could always go to Wal-Mart and get one before going to stay the night at Mom’s, right? Wrong. They closed Wal-Mart. They closed Wal-Mart.
  7. In winter, snow happens. It rarely happens without warning, however. Keep up to date with the weather on a daily basis so you can be prepared. In that memorable storm of 2007, the weather warnings had been in place for days ahead. I had time to think about my plans, pack a suitcase, do extra shopping and so on. I even came into work the night the storm hit, even though I wasn’t scheduled to work that night, so I wouldn’t be driving during the heavy part of the storm. If I had not, I would have been stuck at home for four days because travel was prohibited.
  8. If school is out and businesses are closing, don’t get into your little two-door car and head for the mall. Stay home. (See rule No. 1.) When authorities say that travel is prohibited, take them seriously. As I mentioned before, weather reports can give you an idea ahead of time when the bad storms are coming. If on Saturday, you hear that a bad storm is expected to hit your area on Wednesday, and that warning is repeated on a daily basis, maybe you should do your emergency grocery shopping on Saturday, Sunday, Monday or Tuesday. Don’t try to go out Wednesday night after the blizzard hits because you are out of groceries.
  9. Have a cell phone handy. In these days of prepaid cell phones, everyone can afford one. Have a cell phone even if you only use it when you have an emergency in your car. Keep your cell phone charged. Like a spare tire that you have to check periodically to make sure it’s not flat, a cell phone is only good if it’s charged. Be familiar with the basic functions of your cell phone. Which leads to No. 10…
  10. Know where you are. If you absolutely must travel in bad winter weather, have a good idea where you are in case something happens and you have to call 911. It will be easier for law enforcement to find you if you can say you are two miles west of Moorland rather than “somewhere between Moorland and Rockwell City” (see rule No. 5).

Some of these tips are specific to winter driving in climates where snow is the norm. Some of these tips are good year-round no matter where you live. I can’t stress too much the importance of wearing a seatbelt. There have been several accidents in my area this past year with preventable fatalities: the people involved didn’t wear seatbelts and were thrown from their vehicles. Some of these accidents had survivors who could have avoided serious injuries by wearing seatbelts. All of these accidents involved people in their teens and early 20s.

Above all, be careful. Drive like an old geek so you can be one.

33 thoughts on “Tips for Safe Winter Driving”

  1. That’s some good advice.

    I beg driving when I lived in a small town in New Hampshire. We were literally 20 miles from the nearest city, and had to rely on our own resources in case of bad driving.

    The driving skills I learned then have served a lifetime.

    One other tip I might add:

    Bring a cellphone charger with you. Have one that you can plug into your cigarette lighter. That way, you can use it even if the battery dies.

  2. Very good advice. My tip — Especially avoid driving in the FIRST snow of the winter if you can. A lot of people seem to take some time to get their “sea legs” back, and the first snow or first hour of a snowfall is always the worst.

  3. Great overview. :) The stopping distance one is especially important — on slick roads, the distance it takes to actually come to a stop can as much as quadruple, and yet I constantly see people tailgating me on snow-covered highways as though it were a beautiful summer’s day.

  4. I’ve never had to drive in snow or ice, but this is really good advice to hear.

    I mostly follow my Mom’s advice for driving– look twice and don’t risk what you can’t afford to lose.

  5. Those are good tips. I wish people in the south knew how to drive in snow, or knew to stay off the roads. It doesn’t snow often down here, but when it does it can actually be worse than up north because none of the cities down here have plows or salt/sand to make the roads drivable, and many people think they can drive as normal. Tip 3 about assuming other drivers don’t know what they’re doing really applies here.

  6. Fantastic article. I’m generally a prepared person, but you have some tips listed that I wouldn’t have thought of on my own. I just moved to an area where heavy snow is more likely than my last area. I really need to get my winter emergency car kit together. Thanks for the reminder!!

  7. The cell phone tip ought to be emphasized. I slid off the road on black ice into a ditch a few years back. I didn’t have my cell phone and it took me about two hours to flag someone down while I was bleeding from a head wound.

  8. I’d say the one that annoys me the most is people who drive without their lights on in inclement weather. I mean, seriously? Do you want someone not to see and then hit you?

    I don’t live in an area with a lot of snow and that means I should read things like this, just in case, since I don’t have very much practical snow driving experience.

    Good suggestions all around!

  9. Makes a lot of sense, and makes a good motto: Drive like an old lady so you can be one.

    One thing I’d add to the list — before you head out, clear ALL the windows and the lights of snow, ice and frost. Even if you don’t have time because you are running late for work, it makes sense to take the time to do this, because, really, it is better to make it to work late than not at all. And, you know that you live somewhere that snow falls, so there is no reason that you shouldn’t have an ice scraper in your car. I see people in the parking lot leaving work after a snow has fallen, trying to scrape off the snow with the plastic case from a CD, or leaving just a small cleared area to peer through rather than clearing off the whole window. And I see folk driving the roads with their view occluded. What’s the point of that?

  10. I have to admit, I’m sometimes guilty of not fully clearing all the windows. I brush off all the snow, but if it needs scraping, it’s really cold, and I’m in a hurry I’ll scrape what I can reach from the driver’s side and count on the defrost to get the rest.

  11. The trouble with driving like everyone else is out to kill you is this: If they are actively trying to kill me with their cars, I don’t think going slow and safe is the best response. I’d get away from them as fast as I could!

  12. Tante Shvester: you are so right and I’m sorry I left that off the list. I nearly got into an accident a few years back because of that. The driver had cleared the windshield, driver’s window and back window with about a 10-inch-diameter space each, and just pulled out in front of me. (presumably because she didn’t see me)

    (this comment is from the entrant, so is not intended to increase post count for the contest)

  13. Hey–that is great advice. There are way too many “drivers” that think that they can drive erratically when the roads are slick. Too many senseless accidents…it’s a shame.

  14. I like the motto — short, catchy, and to the point. I would add, know your skills. I grew up in MN, and the winter I turned 16 my dad took me out on an iced-over parking lot in a rear-wheel drive pickup with no weight in the back to learn how to spin. As a result I enjoy winter driving — I know how to control the car and don’t panic if I start to skid.

  15. Excellent tips. I would add to “wear your seatbelt”– please have your kids properly restrained! Kids up to 2 years old (or above) should be rear-facing if within the limits of their convertible seats; it is especially important when the likelihood of crashes is so much higher. Older kids should be harnessed until they can sit properly in a booster, then be in a high back, then a low back booster until they can sit properly without one (pass the 5 step test.) Kids and adults should always use a lap-shoulder belt, not a lap-only belt (there are options including retrofitting or an 86 Y harness for kids who must sit in the back but there are not enough lap/shoulder belts) and never put the shoulder part behind them. Children in appropriate restraints and adults properly wearing lap/shoulder belts are much less likely to be injured if there IS a crash.

  16. Reading this makes me glad I live in a place where winter doesn’t exist. Of course, a lot of the advice is good for the rain, which we get plenty of.

  17. My tip: be cautious, but not *so* cautious that you’re driving in a way that other drivers won’t expect.

    Here in D.C. people drive like idiots when it snows – they’re so afraid of a little flutter that they slow down tremendously, creep when making left turns, etc. It’s actually quite dangerous, since other drivers don’t know what they’re doing. If everyone else is going 45 MPH on the highway, don’t get on and start going at 20 MPH – that, combined with lowered visibility, is a recipe for an accident. If you don’t feel comfortable going with the general flow of traffic, get off the main roads and practice driving somewhere safe.

  18. Good advice, thanks! Living in Australia, snow on the roads isn’t such an issue, but you never know when it might come in handy…. (Mega cold snap?)

    The wear your seatbelt tip, is of course, paramount. There’s no excuse for not wearing one! (Personally, I think it should be illegal not to wear a seatbelt – although, it is here and some people still don’t.)

  19. This was an excellent article. I would heartily second every one of your recommendations.

    I would also add that it is absolutely essential to make sure that your vehicle is properly winterized, and that *all* proper fluid levels are maintained (not just the antifreeze/coolant levels). Having your car break down in any situation can be bad, but in winter it can be devastating. If you live in an area with any great amount of snowfall, your vehicle must be adequately equipped to deal with those conditions (tires, wiper blades, etc.)

    I would also like to add that if you have a younger or newer driver in the household, it’s absolutely *necessary* to teach them how to handle a car in slippery/lowered visibility conditions. An ignorant driver is a danger to him/herself and to others.

    Thanks for your list, I’ll be saving it for a rainy (or snowy) day.


  20. I work in traffic safety. You’ve hit upon some excellent tips here — sounds like the voice of experience. I just want to amplify a couple of points you make:

    – limiting trips is your best bet for safety. You can’t get stuck or struck if you aren’t out there in the first place, right? So, yes, a great bit of advice is to only make necessary trips.

    – Knowing your route is another excellent idea. Having an alternate route planned is also a good idea. That hill you went up to get to the drug store might be a different experience on the way home going downhill. There’s usually a way around, and knowing it in advance can save you some real headaches.

    – Slow down and buckle up. As strange as it may seem, there are still people who only wear a seatbelt when they feel less safe than normal. They tend to buckle up in bad weather. I’m glad they do buckle up, but they need to do it all the time. If you’re a “hop in the car and go” kind of person, some situational awareness will help. Slowing down does more than help keep you on the road, it dramatically lowers the force of any impact should things go bad. The relationship between speed and force is not linear. And the ability of most cars to absorb an impact, and the human body to survive it decrease exponentially with increased speed. Seatbelts and airbags help, but given that we are going to drive at all, the #1 defense against dying in a car crash is the simplest thing of all — slow down.

  21. I appreciate the way you organized your tips under a memorable slogan. Your focus on prevention really strikes home to me (and yes, those who livelonger tend to have been better prepared, in all sorts of ways):
    – if the trip doesn’t need to be done, let it go
    – think ahead early and use weather resources in advance so that such times can be booked around

    The rest is great as well, but these were the reminders I needed most to hear. In addition to the comments about clear scraping above I’ll add that driving at higher speeds — such as on the highway — with a snow-covered roof is not safe. Not only can the snow blow offf onto cars behin, but as the vehicle warms from inside, the snow can come off in clumps or a sheet. This has happened to me when driving behind a non-cleared van, and my vision was unexpectedly totally obscured until I could clear the window as fast as possible. Not safe, and very scary.

    I know it’s a hassle if one is running late or isn’t tall, but it can be a real hazard to others.

    My thanks to the author for a well-written article.

  22. Thanks for the tips!

    i just recently got rid of an AWD SUV and replaced it with a 2 door kinda sporty front wheel drive car and wow, is there a difference.

    Your reminders are spot on.

    Thanks again.


  23. I was out driving in the snow yesterday and was amazed by a) the number of people driving without their lights on and b) the speeds at which people wanted to drive even though we were passing cars that had spun out on the side of the freeway.

    In addition to “don’t make extra trips” — which is good advice — plan your trips so that they’ll be more efficient (e.g. hit up all the stores that are in the same general area at one time) and consider (if you have space and funds) stocking up on more items than you normally would so that you don’t have to take all this little trips to the store to get one or two things you’re suddenly out of.

  24. One addition to the safety kit – a portable charger/jump starter. I personally keep one because my car doesn’t have an audible alert that my headlights are still on. I couldn’t begin to guess how many times I’ve drained the car battery as a result. If you’re sitting with a disabled vehicle trying to keep warm, that portable charger could be a godsend once the battery drains. I purchased one that had an additional lighter-jack style power port so I could use it as additional power inside the passenger compartment if needed.

    A very well organized and thorough listing. Thank you!

  25. Great advice! Having lived in the desert majority of my life I can say that tips like these really help me out when going places that have snow, something I am unfamiliar with. I am a prepared person in my opinion and I believe having a well thought out emergency kit in your vehicle is essential. If I am traveling (out of the city to another destination) with more than 4 people or for more than 5 hours, I toss an extra gallon of water in there, some extra food, and an extra blanket. I also try to tailor my emergency kit to my travel itinerary. So If I am going to or driving trough someplace cold I will pack extra jackets, extra blankets, etc.

    My bare bones emergency kit consists of:
    a blanket, glow stick, candle, matches, first aid kit, fire extinguisher, puzzle book with pen, freeze dried food, a gallon of water, a sewing kit, a drinking cup, a pair of socks, a pair of shoes, one husbands shirt, small toys for kids, an old cell phone and a charger, a fully stocked bag of overnight toiletries, a jacket, a tool kit, some plastic bags, a towel, twenty dollars, an extra pair of glasses, a pocket knife, and baby wipes.

  26. Some very excellent tips! I don’t live in a snowy location but many would apply to our rainy seasons. It never fails – every rainy season someone tries to cross a wash when the water is running and they get swept downstream or stuck. Sometimes the rain is so bad you can’t get out of certain neighborhoods. A little preparation before any type of severe weather is wise! Thanks for the reminders.

  27. One “do unto others” type of tip which might apply to some here — if you drive a high profile vehicle (pickup, large SUV, etc.) please make sure you have sufficient mud flaps before the slushy winter driving season. Otherwise your higher vehicle will spray road slush onto others’ windshields, decreasing their visibility and making the road less safe for everyone. Many car makers have quit making flaps as standard equipment, probably to save costs.

  28. As I drove home today and it started snowing, I thought of this list. :) Esp since it NEVER snows here. Which is actually scary because it means no one has a clue what to do. That and they are pulling over and taking pics of the snow (yes, I am comnpletely serious on that)

  29. Nice common sense, all the way around. Now could you make sure that guy who was going eighty in the far right lane of the highway yesterday gets a copy?

  30. Great advice. I need all the help I can get. I live in Southern Arizona, but often drive to Utah around the holidays. Ha ha…throw the driver who freaks when it RAINS in cold weather right into the snowy driving conditions.

  31. Great tips. We were out the other day in limited visibility weather, and I couldn’t believe the number of cars who didn’t have their headlights on.

    Another tip I learned recently that I think most people do not know is don’t drive on icy or wet roads with your cruise control on. If you start to slip/hydroplane the cruise control will read it as slowling down, and it will make the wheels spin faster, making the situation even more dangerous.

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