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Basic tips for safe driving in winter weather

December 28, 2016
Winter driving presents its own challenges.

When the weather outside gets frightful, it's not always possible to stay in or forego travel plans. Driving safely in any kind of weather is always essential, but operating a vehicle in snow, ice or just plain frigid weather presents its own challenges. Fortunately, drivers need not be intimidated by any of this, so long as they abide by these basic tips for winter weather driving:

Be prepared

The first step for safe winter driving is a crucial one for every season:  preparedness. As the U.S. Department of Transportation advised, motorists should never leave home without up-to-date auto insurance and a basic emergency kit in their vehicle. Emergency kits can be purchased as a set, or simply assembled from common materials, including:

  • Flashlight
  • Safety vest or flares
  • Spare tire (and tools to remove a flat)
  • Car charger
  • Non-perishable food and water

The nature of winter driving means collisions can happen more frequently. Check on your auto insurance policy and verify that it includes collision coverage to minimize the cost of a routine fender bender.

Know your car

In most cases, there's no need for special equipment to drive in light snow. It just takes some knowledge of your car and how it behaves in these conditions.

  • First, consult your owner's manual or mechanic to check your car's drive type. This indicates which wheels use the power supplied by the engine. As Consumer Reports noted, most modern cars are powered using only the front wheels. Some older cars or certain performance models might be rear-wheel drive, which can increase the chances of spinning out in slippery conditions. Four-wheel drive cars tend to provide the best traction.
  • Understand how anti-lock braking systems work. Almost every modern car comes with ABS standard. ABS kicks in when drivers need to stop quickly but still maintain steering control, as on snowy roads. What not all drivers realize is that ABS causes the brake pedal to shake or vibrate, which might alarm them enough to let off the brakes. This is normal, however, so there is no need to pump the brakes when this happens.
  • Finally, learn how snow and ice changes car handling. Roads will become slick, which means drivers need to drive carefully and leave much more stopping distance than normal. But when they do start from a stop, pushing the accelerator down too quickly can cause the wheels to spin. This is when drivers are most likely to lose control. Use a light touch on the throttle to prevent this behavior.

Practice makes perfect

Perhaps the best way to learn safe winter driving technique is to get acquainted with it in a safe environment. Look into taking a professional course on car handling to get familiar with how your vehicle behaves. Or simply find a wide open parking lot to practice in after a recent snow. Knowing what to expect when winter weather strikes will make you more prepared for how to tackle it behind the wheel.