How to Drive in Snow

Unless you live in Miami, Florida or San Diego, California, chances are that you've had to drive in the snow at some point in your life. For many of us, piloting a vehicle through the white stuff is a fact of life at least five months out of the year. Likewise, we've all seen drivers blast by during a snowstorm and thought, "That guy's gonna wind up in a ditch or worse." Nobody wants to be that guy.  Now, you don't have to be.
Even if you have spent a lifetime driving in snow, you can always learn new ways to stay safe on the roads during the winter months. According to the American Automotive Association (AAA), snow-covered roads account for nearly 500,000 vehicle crashes per year and over 2,000 deaths each winter.

Tips for Winter Driving
We have researched the best tips for winter driving and come up with the following list to make sure you will manage driving in snow, sleet, hail, you name it, and get where you're going, safe and sound.


Before winter, always check to see that your windshield wipers are in good condition. You will need them. Check to make sure your windshield wiper fluid is full. Make sure you have a kit with emergency supplies and a blanket in case you get stuck in the snow. Your emergency kit should include:
  • Non-perishable food
  • Bottled water
  • Flashlight
  • First-aid kit
  • Jumper cables 
  • Boots and gloves.

Vehicle Traction Mats by companies like GoTreads are a great invention to get your car unstuck in mud, snow or sand. They are light and fit in your trunk. Having a snow shovel is a great idea, too. Also make sure your car is full of gas. You don't want to get stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic in the middle of a blizzard and run out of gas.
If you live in a part of the country that experiences frequent snow in winter, get a set of winter tires for your car. These will offer far greater traction on slippery roads than all-season tires when skids occur. If you don't have snow tires, make sure you have tire chains in the trunk.

Before you Drive

You look out your window to see a white blanket of snow covering your car, or worse, a blizzard is coming down and you still have to get to work. Trudge on out with your window scraper and brush, start your car, crank up the heater to maximum so it gets toasty inside and turn on the defroster front and back.

Use the brush to remove accumulated snow on the roof, hood, and trunk. Then get to work with the ice scraper to remove ice from all the windows. Make sure you have an unobstructed view in all directions. Make sure the inside window glass is clean too.

Before you set out, take a few seconds to breathe and calm yourself. Driving in snow can be stressful and dangerous. Accidents are caused when drivers are in a panic to rush about doing holiday shopping. 

Take your time.

Driving in Snow Tips

When driving in snow, I always imagine that I'm piloting a boat. I mean, it feels similar. A little too much throttle or steer and you start to go sideways. The real key to being in control of your vehicle in snow and ice is to accelerate slowly and evenly and make small adjustments with the steering wheel. Don't do anything rash. The same goes for braking. Never jam on the brakes, you'll just skid out of control. Apply the gas and brakes gently and evenly. A friend once explained that he always pretends that there is a big bowl of boiling hot soup in his lap and that he has to drive in such a way as to not spill a drop. Good advice.
When driving in winter weather it is always best to stay sharp and focused. Slow down and take your time. Don't be in a rush to get someplace. Give yourself plenty of time to get where you are going and put plenty of distance between you and all other vehicles. Remember that it is easy to slide around on ice and snow, especially on bridges and overpasses.

Pay attention to how your car feels on the snow and stay focused because the risk of an accident increases greatly in foul weather. Don't be distracted by the radio or your smartphone. Everything else can wait. Remember that everyone else on the road may not be driving as safely as you are.
Driving in snow takes a lot of concentration. Keep your eyes focused down the road in front of you and use your peripheral vision to watch for drivers coming from the side. According to Car and Driver, the slipperier the road conditions, the farther down the road you should look and think. Anticipate your next move. Allow double the normal stopping distance on wet roads and triple that distance in snow. Slow way down before you take a curve or turn for a corner.
During the day, the sun and ground temperature will thaw ice and snow but then at night when the temperature drops below freezing, that water turns to ice on the road ahead of you. Your headlights will pick up what looks like dark, wet pavement but this is actually black ice. Try not to travel over black ice if possible. If unavoidable, be aware that you will have no traction on this slippery stuff.
Cruise Control may work great in the summertime on a dry road, but no so much in the winter in snowy conditions. Cruise Control just can't react to the loss of traction. Besides, driving in snow takes a certain amount of very human finesse when it comes to the use of the accelerator and brakes. Cruise Control is useless in snow, ice, and slush.
As my instructor told me in BMW Performance Racing School, "Look where you want to go." Humans are designed in such a way that we will steer where we are looking. If you look where you want to go, your body will react to get you there. This is also true in a skid when your car is out of control. Look where you want to go, not where the car is skidding at the moment. Race car drivers are good at getting out of skids because they know that you end up going where you're looking.

Imagine you are driving along and hit an icy patch of highway. The car starts to go in a direction that you don't want to go. First, do not hit the brakes, that will only make matters worse. Take your foot off the accelerator and turn into the skid. In other words, if the rear of the car is skidding to the left, turn the steering wheel to the left. If you are skidding to the right, turn to the right. As the rear wheels regain traction, steer in the direction you want to go on the road. Once the skid has been managed, slowly apply the brakes.
On the other hand, if you are in a situation when you need to stop quickly to avoid a collision, use your anti-lock brake system (ABS) - even in a skid. The system utilizes an onboard computer to optimize your vehicle's braking. If your car is losing traction but you must stop right away, push the brake pedal down HARD and don't let up until you have stopped. Your ABS will make sure each wheel is braking as aggressively as possible, using sensors to monitor the available traction. Note that the brake pedal will "pulse" as the ABS works. That is because the system pumps the brakes hundreds of times per second. Keep your foot pressed down on the brakes even when you feel the pedal shuddering under your foot. Keep steering as you slow down.
Having a vehicle with all-wheel drive for four-wheel drive can fool you into thinking that you are immune from loss of traction. That is not the case. Sure, all-wheel drive adds traction compared to front-wheel or rear-wheel drive cars, but it won't make you invincible. No matter what you are driving, just slow down and drive safely. All-wheel drive will not necessarily help you to turn or stop in icy conditions.
When you see a snowplow coming, give it the right of way. Slow down and let it pass. Think of it in the same way you'd regard an ambulance or fire truck. Snowplows and their drivers are out there to clear the road for you, but the driver's vision may be limited due to flying snow and ice. Keep your distance and give snowplows plenty of room.

When in Doubt...
Let's go back to the beginning of this article. You look outside at that blizzard and ask yourself if you really have to go out in it. Listen to your weatherman. If he is telling you to stay home, you probably should. Don't be a hero and end up stuck in the snow, or worse, skid out of control and become a statistic. It's not worth it. Sit back in your cozy home and have that cup of hot coco.