Driving in the Snow
Slow down and stay focused.
Once you’re on the road, make sure you give plenty of distance between your bumper and the car in front of you. Braking distances can be much longer when traction is reduced. Both Stone and Chaney recommend slowing down—a lot. Seitz agrees, but going too slow can also be a problem. “The road can be completely clear, but some drivers are intimidated by huge snow banks on either side of the roadway. If cars are stacking up behind you, you create a different kind of hazard.”
So, how slow should you go? There’s no hard rule. It comes down to reading the road. Stay in your lane and on its most well-traveled section. Put your phone away and minimize all distractions. It’s important to stay focused.
Sliding? Stay calm.
Keeping your cool in the cold is critical. Staying calm will serve you well if you feel your vehicle start to slide or the tires start to spin.
“When people begin to panic, they slam on the brakes and they turn the wheel hard,” Stone says. Instead, keep your eyes on the road, avoid hitting the brakes, and steer straight. Stone and his fellow instructors teach drivers that where you’re looking while you drive is critical.
“Drivers get fixated on where they’re afraid they’ll end up. A snow bank, a mailbox, a tree, etc.,” says Stone. “Look towards where you want to go. If the car begins to slide, aim your gaze down the center of the road. Looking that direction gives you a fighting chance of getting there.”
Use your brakes with care.
Anti-lock braking systems (ABS) can be tricky when you’re on a slick surface. When ABS activates, the brake pedal kicks back and the system growls. “This can startle some drivers and cause them to release pressure on the pedal,” says Chaney, “which defeats the purpose.” Aim to maintain steady pressure on the brake pedal. If you have ABS, you don’t need to pump the brakes, but Stone suggests gently tapping your brakes as you start down a hill to get a feel for how they behave when there’s no grip.