Planning a winter trip? If it has been a while since you've driven in snow, or if you're a first timer, there are a few tricks you'll want to know that will help you and your family stay safe.
I've lived most of my life near Salt Lake City, Utah. We have the Greatest Snow on Earth, but driving safely in it can be a challenge. Here my tips for driving in snow.
Before you leave home
For driving in snow, your car needs good tires and its maintenance should be up-to-date. For city driving or on mostly flat terrain, any vehicle with good all-weather tires may be fine.
If you are driving in a mountainous area, you may need snow tires or even chains. A 4-wheel drive vehicle may be necessary for steep slopes, deep snow or unpaved roads.
A snow storm can be the worst possible time for a breakdown, and cold weather may make mechanical problems worse. Replace your battery if it is showing signs of age. Replace windshield wipers if they are worn and make sure your windshield washing fluid is full.
Here are a few more things to take care of before you hit the road:
- If your car has been out in the cold for awhile, let it run for a couple of minutes before you drive. Do not run your car in a closed garage.
- Clear snow from windows, headlights, hood and roof.
- Keep your gas tank full to prevent the fuel line from freezing. If you become stranded, you may need the fuel to run the car heater until help arrives.
- Make sure everyone has coats and good shoes, and keep snacks and drinks in the car in case you become stranded.
If you master this rule, you're well on your way to reaching your destination safely. Slow down any time there may be ice or snow on the road. Ignore the speed limit and drive at a speed that allows you to maneuver and use your brakes without sliding.
If you are driving a high-clearance 4-wheel drive vehicle, you are not exempt from this rule. These vehicles may be better built for driving in snow, but the laws of physics apply to them too. I've seen plenty of trucks and SUVs stranded on the side of the road in snow storms.
Leave extra space
Leave yourself and other drivers plenty of room for error. Slides can be difficult to avoid on snow-packed roads, even for experienced winter drivers. If you leave extra space between your car and others, it will be much easier to avoid an accident when a slide or traffic slowdown occurs.
Pump your brakes
When roads are covered in snow, you can't always count on your brakes to stop the car. Even at slow speeds, the car may keep sliding when you brake.
Begin your stop well in advance. Put your foot on the brake for a moment or two to help slow the car down. Take your foot off the brake, then put it back on for a moment to slow the car again. Repeat until you slow enough for the tires to grip and stop. The more slippery the road, the more space you will need to stop.
When you slide, steer out of it
If you start to slide, don't panic and DON'T BRAKE (it won't help). Take your foot off the pedals and steer out of it.
A little steering goes a long way, so be careful not to over-correct. If you have been driving slowly enough and are far enough from other cars, you can often regain control quickly and easily.
If you cannot regain control without sliding into an intersection or causing an accident, steer yourself out of traffic as much as you can. Pump the brakes to slow yourself, but don't hold down the brake pedal. Do what you can to minimize injury and damage to yourself and others.
Know When NOT to Go
Even if you are skilled at driving in snow, it is often a good idea to not drive at all.
I once accompanied my husband to a conference in Southern Utah. We drove through a major snow storm for 250 miles, which turned a 4-hour drive into an 8-hour, white-knuckle ride. When we passed a stranded snowplow, we knew we had made the wrong choice, but we were in a rural canyon and it was too late to go anywhere but forward.
We reached our destination safely, but years later, the anxiety from that experience is still fresh. We should have postponed our drive to the next day or stopped at a hotel when we could.
There is no special event or amount of money that is worth risking your safety if weather conditions are unsafe.
Is public transportation an option?
Our family has used Frontrunner, Salt Lake City's commuter train to attend a holiday event on a snowy day. When freeway traffic was slowed down by the snow, we passed by at 70 miles per hour, stress-free.
Salt Lake City has a ski bus that makes it easier to reach popular resorts. Many winter resort towns like Park City have shuttles for visitors.
Like many travel adventures, successful snow driving is about good planning. Make sure your vehicle is up to the task before you leave. Use common sense and stay calm. You can do this.