Stay safe in winter road conditions
23 Nov, 2010
Driving in winter conditions is necessary when you love snowboarding but there’s always that chance you’ll be driving in a blizzard or storm to get your latest snow fix. It also means the liklihood or more accidents/issues on the road. I’ve been in some sketchy driving conditions from my time in Colorado: Watched cars go off the road in front of me, watched the SUV in front of me flip over down a major highway and being the last truck to make it through before the highway closed which means driving through some sketchy terrain. I’ve hit rough snow, black ice and managed to not wreck my truck when I could have many times. I wanted to give awareness for winter driving in hopes that people can find getting to the mountains a little safer for themselves.
Here’s some of my own tips from driving in winter conditions:
- Pack your vehicle: You should always have winter gear in your vehicle. I always carry a sleeping bag in my truck, blankets, spare jackets plus flares, jumper cables and extra auto stuff just in case. It’s better to be prepared and find yourself having the stuff you need at your hands.
- Go slower: I’ve seen cars/trucks going to the same location as me but hauling to get there. You’re already losing on gas when you go that fast but you’re also risking a lot more. When the snow conditions are bad, I’d rather go slow and make it in one piece alive than risk my vehicle and my life to be a couple minutes ahead of time. There is such a thing as too slow when you hold up vehicles and cause vehicles to brake more often, pull over and let people pass if you can.
- Watch other vehicles: There are two vehicles to watch: the ones coming at you and the ones ahead of you. If you keep your eyes ahead you’ll be able to know when people are breaking and you need more time to stop or if someone coming at you might be out of control. In snowy conditions, you need more time to break just in case there is ice on the road. Slow down, watch for break lights and stay a good distance from the vehicles in front of you.
- Having 4WD does not make you invincible. It helps in snow but it’s the driver behind the wheel who matters more.
- Wear your seatbelt: I shouldn’t need to explain this one.
- Know your vehicle: I know my truck has rear wheel drive and needs weight in the back so that I can grip the snow better in the winter. I know that I can downshift instead of brake on hills and slow my vehicle down without having to brake when I want. I bought my vehicle for clearance and to have a stick shift in winter conditions. It’s good to know your vehicle, what it can handle and how it drives in snow. Take it to a parking lot, brake and gas to get to know how it reacts.
- Visibility: The worst conditions are when you lose visibility on the road especially at night. It helps to use the poles on the side of the road to know that you are still on the road but slow down and take it easy. It’s scary as hell when you lose sight on the road and have to drive blind.
AAA has some winter driving tips that I wanted to highlight as well…valuable information that will help out if you drive in the snow a lot.
AAA recommends the following winter driving tips:
- Avoid driving while you’re fatigued. Getting the proper amount of rest before taking on winter weather tasks reduces driving risks.
- Never warm up a vehicle in an enclosed area, such as a garage.
- Make certain your tires are properly inflated.
- Never mix radial tires with other tire types.
- Keep your gas tank at least half full to avoid gas line freeze-up.
- If possible, avoid using your parking brake in cold, rainy and snowy weather.
- Do not use cruise control when driving on any slippery surface (wet, ice, sand).
- Always look and steer where you want to go.
- Use your seat belt every time you get into your vehicle.
Tips for long-distance winter trips:
- Watch weather reports prior to a long-distance drive or before driving in isolated areas. Delay trips when especially bad weather is expected. If you must leave, let others know your route, destination and estimated time of arrival.
- Always make sure your vehicle is in peak operating condition by having it inspected by a AAA Approved Auto Repair facility.
- Keep at least half a tank of gasoline in your vehicle at all times.
- Pack a cellular telephone with your local AAA’s telephone number, plus blankets, gloves, hats, food, water and any needed medication in your vehicle.
- If you become snow-bound, stay with your vehicle. It provides temporary shelter and makes it easier for rescuers to locate you. Don’t try to walk in a severe storm. It’s easy to lose sight of your vehicle in blowing snow and become lost.
- Don’t over exert yourself if you try to push or dig your vehicle out of the snow.
- Tie a brightly colored cloth to the antenna or place a cloth at the top of a rolled up window to signal distress. At night, keep the dome light on if possible. It only uses a small amount of electricity and will make it easier for rescuers to find you.
- Make sure the exhaust pipe isn’t clogged with snow, ice or mud. A blocked exhaust could cause deadly carbon monoxide gas to leak into the passenger compartment with the engine running.
- Use whatever is available to insulate your body from the cold. This could include floor mats, newspapers or paper maps.
- If possible run the engine and heater just long enough to remove the chill and to conserve gasoline.
Tips for driving in the snow:
- Accelerate and decelerate slowly. Applying the gas slowly to accelerate is the best method for regaining traction and avoiding skids. Don’t try to get moving in a hurry. And take time to slow down for a stoplight. Remember: It takes longer to slow down on icy roads.
- Drive slowly. Everything takes longer on snow-covered roads. Accelerating, stopping, turning – nothing happens as quickly as on dry pavement. Give yourself time to maneuver by driving slowly.
- The normal dry pavement following distance of three to four seconds should be increased to eight to ten seconds. This increased margin of safety will provide the longer distance needed if you have to stop.
- Know your brakes. Whether you have antilock brakes or not, the best way to stop is threshold breaking. Keep the heel of your foot on the floor and use the ball of your foot to apply firm, steady pressure on the brake pedal.
- Don’t stop if you can avoid it. There’s a big difference in the amount of inertia it takes to start moving from a full stop versus how much it takes to get moving while still rolling. If you can slow down enough to keep rolling until a traffic light changes, do it.
- Don’t power up hills. Applying extra gas on snow-covered roads just starts your wheels spinning. Try to get a little inertia going before you reach the hill and let that inertia carry you to the top. As you reach the crest of the hill, reduce your speed and proceed down hill as slowly as possible.
- Don’t stop going up a hill. There’s nothing worse than trying to get moving up a hill on an icy road. Get some inertia going on a flat roadway before you take on the hill.
- Stay home. If you really don’t have to go out, don’t. Even if you can drive well in the snow, not everyone else can. Don’t tempt fate: If you don’t have somewhere you have to be, watch the snow from indoors.
What are some of your own tips for winter driving? What do you recommend to others when driving in snow/ice?