14 tips for driving in the snow
We experienced our first major snowfall this December, and it's expected to get colder and snowier as the month goes on. While the snow can certainly look lovely in the winter, it can be a problem if you're driving to school in it. There's a lot written about the tips and tricks of handling your vehicle in the winter, including articles by the American Automobile Association, Wired, How Stuff Works, and WikiHow. Here's the important parts of driving in snowy winter conditions, mixed in with my own experience.
1. Watch the weather so you can prepare
If you're going to be driving, check the weather online, on television, radio or on an app. If snow's coming, knowing in advance will help you prepare. Even if you're not travelling, a heavy snowfall can change a lot of plans, so keep tabs on winter weather.
2. Give yourself extra time to get where you're going
If you know you're going to get snowed in, and you need to be driving, give yourself plenty of time to get where you're going. Leave early, and be prepared to arrive late if you need to. Everything takes longer on snow-covered roads, and you'll be driving slowly.
3. Get some winter tires
True story: The one time I spun out while driving in the snow, it was because I didn't have winter tires on. They may be expensive, but they make all the difference, because they're designed to cut through the snow, and grip the road underneath better in cold weather.
4. Clean your car off before you go anywhere
I know it's a step you're tempted to skip when you're running out the door in the morning, and think that driving will naturally blow the snow off, but it works less than you'd think. Make sure you have a good brush and ice scraper, and take the time to clear the windows and lights of ice and snow, so you can see everything around you before you pull out of the driveway.
5. Don't leave your car running to warm up, then go back inside
That's how they get stolen (here's an article), and no warm car is worth that.
6. Bring emergency supplies
Aside from that ice scraper, you'll want to leave with a fully-charged cell phone with the CAA's Roadside Assistance number, as well as blankets, gloves, a hat, and any medication you need in your vehicle with you. Did you know the CAA will help non-members, too? There's a flat fee, and during their busiest days, members take priority, but they're still there for you.
7. The highway is usually the best option
If conditions are bad, you might think of taking the side streets to avoid other cars. But the safest route is generally the opposite. Side streets aren't travelled a lot, and sometimes aren't cleared of snow, so you might find yourself plowing your car through snow drifts. Meanwhile, highways are the first thing cleared out after a snowstorm, and have tons of cars cutting through them, stopping snow from accumulating, so they're usually a lot clearer and safer.
8. Drive slowly!
This is the most important rule for avoiding collisions, spin-outs, and other problems: Just slow down. You're not going to be hitting the speed limit, and you should start by slowing it down. There's more to this slowness than just your speed limit. Everything you do should be slower: Steering, accelerating, and braking, too. The reason is simple: Snow and ice means there's a lot less friction on the road, and vehicles need traction for brakes to work properly, so you want to keep that traction by slowing down. Avoid any sudden moves like steering and braking.
9. Keep your distance
Don't drive as closely behind cars as you normally would. During ideal weather, it's recommended you keep a three-to-four-second gap, which in the winter, should be increased to eight to ten seconds. In other words, more than double the space. This is so that if you have to stop suddenly, and start skidding, you have time to avoid the car in front of you.
10. Avoid sudden stops
Speaking of sudden stops, a reason for that distance is you want to avoid making them, since, thanks to that lack of friction, they're likely to send you skidding. So, whatever you do, don't slam the brakes. Instead, let off the gas and slow down gradually, only hitting the brakes when you're at a very low speed. In fact, if you can avoid stopping, and just slowly roll, it'll also help you out when you need to accelerate. Speaking of that…
11. Avoid sudden acceleration, too
If you're trying to accelerate, and can't, don't jam the gas. It'll just start your wheels spinning. Start slowly, and if your wheels start spinning, ease up on the gas and accelerate slower, until your (hopefully winter) tires can find some traction.
12. Know how to deal with a spin-out
There's always a chance that, even if you're being extremely careful, that skidding and spinning out will still happen. If it does, here's how to deal with it: Let go of the brakes, and turn the wheel in the direction of your slide. This is tough advice, because our instincts are to do the opposite, to slam the breaks and steer away from the skid. But when you slam the brakes and they lock up, you actually lose the ability to steer, and steering away from the skid can start you spinning. You need to remember to do the opposite, and steer the car onto the shoulder if you need to, to avoid any collisions
13. Don't leave your vehicle
If you do need to stop for any reason, be it a spin-out, or a mechanical issue, don't leave your car for any reason, and don't try to push or dig it out. People can die in blizzards, and the safest place to be is in your vehicle. Call the CAA instead, and if you can't, just wait there, and bundle up. Your car gives you shelter, and makes it easier to find you in a crisis.
14. If you don't have to drive, don't
This is perhaps the most important piece of advice: If a blizzard is coming, and you can change your plans, do it. If the weather is really bad, Centennial College will close, and let you know by social media, or on the college website. In the worst weather, hitting the road isn't worth the risk. Call ahead: You may discover they're cancelling the event because of the weather anyway.
By Anthony Geremia