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5 Tips for Driving on Winter Roads

Icy winter road
Winter driving can be dangerous but with the right attitude and resources, you can mitigate the risk.

You may not be ready when your vehicle hits ice or slick snow on the roadway. For one, a thin glaze of ice (sometimes called “black ice”) can be hard to spot, especially at night or on the highway. Keep in mind these few tips from driving pros on how to handle your car in winter precipitation:

  • Slow down! You simply cannot stop as fast on covered roads as you can on clean pavement. Whether you’re driving in town on familiar streets or on the highway where you don’t know what’s around the corner, you should slow your speed on snow and ice.
  • Look where you want to go (you will naturally steer in this direction). If you see other cars in front of you spinning or sliding, you should avoid them. Look for a safe space to drive around or through them instead.

As noted by pro rally race driver Tanner Foust in Men’s Journal, “Mountain bikers and motorcycle riders have to learn this lesson—if you’re riding and you see a snail in the middle of the trail and you’re trying not to run over him, if you stare at the little guy he’s doomed. That’s just how the human body works—and it applies to any sport.”

  • Increase your distance. Don’t tailgate, especially when you are on roads with slick spots. Your stopping distance is going to increase. Avoid a collision by giving that vehicle in front of you more room.
  • Don’t slam on the brakes. Besides potentially locking up your brakes, making quick movements like gunning the gas, steering wildly or hitting the brakes hard can be problematic on snow and ice. The experts at AAA caution, “Whether you have antilock brakes or not, 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.”
  • If you do get stuck, stay visible, keep warm and watch your exhaust. You can wait for help in your vehicle (especially in a storm or poor visibility) but you should make sure that if you run the car, the exhaust pipe isn’t blocked by snow or debris. This can cause toxic carbon monoxide to vent into your car, and has been known to kill passengers who only thought they were running the heater for a while. Watch out for signs of frostbite and hypothermia and stay safe until help arrives.

No matter what, stay safe and warm this winter, and make sure you can safely get to your destination in the conditions. If you’re worried about the severity on the roads or your vehicle, the best advice is to stay where it’s safest — off the roads and at home.