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How to drive in the snow

Snow plow sign USA

Winter driving safety techniques

Wondering how to drive in winter conditions, now that the temperature has dipped? Maybe you need a refresher on how to drive without winter tires? 

The best advice when bad winter weather is forecast is to not drive at all. But if you are forced to go out, follow these simple winter driving tips and you’ll help reduce the risk of having an accident.

1) Keep your distance

The most basic problem is a lack of anticipation. You can be driving along peacefully but hit a patch of ice and be done in a few seconds. So make sure you look as far up the road as possible, and not just at the car in front.

Being able to spot brake light lights several cars ahead will enable you to slow down before the car in front slams on the brakes. Incidentally, that's a good tip for everyday driving, and is particularly useful on freeways, where braking distances are greater because of the higher speed of traffic.

The majority of accidents can also be avoided if drivers put more distance between them and the car in front; this gives you thinking time if the car in front of you runs into trouble. You can start to slow down sooner and more slowly, even if your car has ABS brakes, or you may be forced to pull off the road.

Freeway covered with snow

2) Maintain momentum when driving uphill

One of the more frustrating things about driving in snow is how most people slow down when they approach a hill. It doesn’t make it any safer to slow down in this situation because you need all the momentum you can get to go up some hills in winter.

Giving yourself extra space between you and the vehicle in front allows you to at least maintain momentum, and if the car in front gets stuck you may still be able to drive around it.

Once over the brow of the hill and heading down the other side, take things dead slow, keeping in as low a gear as possible. Avoid heavy braking and steer into curves earlier than usual to give the front wheels plenty of time to find traction and take you where you need to go. That way you'll be able to bring things to a controlled halt before you get to the edge of the highway.

Learn more about winter tires

3) Use your local knowledge

If you regularly drive the same route, go over in your mind where the upcoming kerbs are and where the normally grassy, flat spots on the side of the road lie. Also remember where water usually collects because these will probably be bad black ice spots.

Think about how the road tilts and how it curves - it's all part of anticipating. Also be ready to do the opposite of what you'd normally do. If a car is coming at you, out of control, concentrate on avoiding it by using whatever part of the road is available - and that may even mean speeding up. Just braking hard will probably get you in trouble.

Overconfidence affects some people. Just because they are driving a four-wheel-drive SUV is absolutely no guarantee they won't get stuck. Too many Jeeps and Land Rovers and the like get stuck off the road, most likely because the drivers were going too fast.

Most people forget that four-wheel drive works only when you are accelerating. When you're off the accelerator, you're just like everyone else.

Google Traffic NY NY

4) Use Google Traffic

Just about all of us own a smartphone these days and you probably use Google or Apple Maps for your navigation or to plan a journey. Both apps have a 'traffic' mode that shows the speed of vehicles on the majority of roads via green (good), orange (slowing), red (slow) or black (stationary) shading.

There may also be 'no entry' markers on the map, as shown above, which signal that the road has been closed. This data is taken anonymously from all of our cell phones as we move around, and Google and Apple can work out if we're in a vehicle and how it's progressing.

Slippery surfaces increase the likelihood of jams and accidents, so make a point of checking your route before you leave home or work, and take a diversion if possible. The last thing you want to do is spend a night parked up on a freezing freeway because jackknifed trucks have blocked it.

5) Keep the windshield fluid topped up!

Finally, make sure you've got plenty of washer fluid in the reservoir – and ensure it's concentrated enough to stay liquid when temperatures dip down to 15˚F or lower.

Also ensure your windshield wipers are in good shape (change them annually) and fill up the gas tank before you make a long journey – if you do end up spending the night in the car you will need to run the engine periodically to use the heater.