Living in a Chicago suburb, I’ve seen my fill of bad winters. I’ve driven through nearly 36 of them. Here are some of the things I’ve learned.
Stay Off the Roads
The first and most obvious bit of advice is simply to stay off the roads in bad weather. The best way to avoid an accident is to keep off the roads. I know I’m a good driver, but I always think about that kid who just got their driver’s license and is experiencing driving in a heavy snowfall for the first time. It’s scary. Plain and simple. So, I stay at home if I can. Of course, this is not always feasible or possible.
Clean Your Car
If you must go out, make sure you clean the snow and ice off of your car. Again, this seems obvious. However, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen drivers sliding through the streets with half (or more) of their windshield covered with snow. Sometimes the side windows are blocked as they meander into my lane. It’s not only dangerous for them, but it’s also dangerous for others around them.
I know it’s tempting just to drive off because you’re late for work or don’t feel like cleaning off the car. But please take the five minutes required to clear your view. It truly could save your life. In fact, I wrote an entire article about cleaning off your car because I really think it is incredibly important.
Sometimes it’s really hard to slow down. I know. Believe me. But it’s best to take it slow. You never really know how bad the roads are. Sometimes the roads are icy and covered with a light dusting of snow. This is one of the worst scenarios. Before you get too far, and while there are few cars on the road, test your brakes to see how slippery the streets are.
In very icy conditions, turning can be a real problem. Be sure to keep your speed down and turn slowly to ensure you can actually make the turn. Don’t be surprised if the car keeps going straight even though you are turning the wheel. This sometimes happens when the road is a sheet of ice. The main thing to keep in mind is to stay calm. Don’t panic. If you are driving slowly, you can learn to maneuver, even on a sheet of ice.
If you are a new driver, do yourself a favor and practice driving in the snow. After a heavy snowfall, find a place that is safe, empty, and clear to practice stopping, turning, and sliding. Just make sure you have permission to drive there. Remember, you must still follow all traffic laws. Drive in a straight line, slowly, and then hit the brakes hard. Get used to the feeling of sliding. Start from a dead stop slowly. If the wheels spin, slow down. Let the weight of the vehicle push down on the snow to move the car forward.
This can be the most difficult task of all. Be sure to look ahead and start stopping well before you need to. This is especially true on very icy roads.
One thing you can try is putting the car into neutral as you come up to a stop. This disconnects the engine from the driveshaft, so the engine is not trying to push the car forward. The car is now coasting, and it slows under its own dead weight. Remember to put the car back in drive after you stop.
Although drifting can be fun, it’s also very dangerous. If the vehicle starts to drift while taking a corner, slow down and counter steer. That is, turn the steering wheel into the direction the car is drifting. For instance, if you are turning left and the back end of the car starts to drift out to the right, turn the steering wheel to the right – into the direction of the drift. This takes some practice, and it should not happen often. But it is a common occurrence in bad weather.
When going up a steep hill, try not to stop, if you can. Of course, you may need to because of traffic or other conditions, but try to keep the momentum of the car steadily moving up the hill. Don’t accelerate quickly. This is likely to cause your vehicle to fishtail; sliding back and forth. Try to keep your car straight and under control.
Avoid driving in bad weather when you can. That’s the safest bet. But, if you have to drive, clean off your vehicle, drive slowly, get used to steering if you slide, and practice stopping. Being a careful, defensive driver protects you, your passengers, other motorists, and your wallet.