9 Helpful Safety Tips for Driving in a Snowstorm

SUV on snow covered road with a 45 mph speed limit sign

The first winter storm of the year brought heavy snow, strong winds and record-low temperatures to much of the country. Icy roads were blamed for several deaths and numerous car accidents. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) estimates 168,300 crashes a year occur on snowy or icy pavement. If you absolutely must drive, follow these tips for driving in the snow.

1. Maintain a safe following distance

Ensure there are 3 seconds between your car and the vehicle in front of you to give yourself enough time to stop safely and avoid a collision. In slick or icy conditions, double the 3-second rule to 6 seconds.

2. Clear snow

If you can’t see out all vehicle windows, you can’t drive safely. Remove snow and ice from all windows and side mirrors.

3. De-ice your windshield

Keep your windshield washer tank full at all times. Be sure wiper blades are in good condition.

4. Learn how to control a skid

In a skid, help gain control by steering in the direction you want your vehicle to go. Remember, don’t just try to straighten out; steer into the skid against the momentum of the vehicle.

5. Avoid using cruise control

You need to be alert and in control at all times, so save cruise control for normal road conditions. In general, avoid using cruise control any time the road surface is less than ideal.

6. Reduce your speed

Slow down. It can take much longer to stop in snowy or icy conditions. Also, ease your foot gently but firmly onto your brakes. Spiking them quickly can cause you to lose control of your vehicle.

7. Use your anti-lock brakes (ABS) properly

ABS brakes can be effective, but the feeling under your foot and the grinding sound the make can be jarring. Don’t let this startle you; just maintain firm, constant pressure. Your vehicle owners’ manual explains how they work and how they should be used in inclement conditions. If you can, take a drivers’ safety course where you can practice engaging your ABS system. They are less stressful to use when you know the sensation to expect when they’re engaged.

8. Install snow tires

Compared to all-weather tires, snow or winter tires have tread designed to maintain a better grip on icy and snowy surfaces. Experts recommend installing winter tires on all 4 wheels.

9. Avoid certain roads

If possible, avoid driving on roads until they’ve been plowed and de-iced. On roads that have yet to be cleared, slow down, turn off your cruise control, and avoid sudden braking or acceleration and unnecessary stops. If you suddenly feel your tires have lost their grip on the road, stay calm and gently steer in the direction you wish to go without over-correcting. Keep a light touch on the steering wheel; a white-knuckle grip can lead to overreaction and loss of control.

For added peace of mind, see how to winterize your car in preparation for the cold season. Driving in snow increases the chances of an accident, so prepare yourself by remembering these safety tips when you get on the road.