Staying Safe While Driving in Snow

Driving in the snow requires caution, focus, and a steady hand to ensure you get from point A to B in one piece.
Written by Jason Tushinski
Reviewed by Carrie Adkins
Driving in snow demands caution, focus, and good sense to ensure you get from point A to point B in one piece.
Of course, winter snow and ice can make that easier said than done! Looking ahead, knowing how to handle skids, and ensuring you have the appropriate winter tires can help you have a safe winter drive every time.
Safe driving skills will always serve you well, but things can go wrong on snowy roads. Protect yourself, your car, and other drivers with a solid
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To get the lowdown on how to improve your winter driving skills, keep reading!

Be a smooth operator

And by operator, we mean driver—smoothly accelerating, braking, and steering are vital to ensure you maintain control when driving on snowy roads.
Any sudden movements when driving in snowy conditions can cause your tires to unstick from the road when tire grip is tenuous.

Keep your eyes on the road ahead

In snowy conditions, keep your eyes fixed down the road and anticipate how you may need to adjust your driving.
Is there a hill, a tight turn, or a bare spot coming that may be icy? Always be ready, and always give yourself plenty of extra space to stop in winter conditions.
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Heed flashing lights on your display

If you’re driving in a straight line and you see a small car with squiggly lines behind it flashing on your dashboard, your stability control system is telling you that your wheels are slipping.
Don’t slam on the brakes, but allow your car to slow down and so your tires regain traction. Once they do, the light will stop flashing and you can continue on your way.

Stability control and turning

Your tires may slip as you turn and your stability control system will start flashing again. This means that your tires are sliding from their intended path. Again, ease up on your throttle, and your tires should regain their grip.
Pro Tip When turning in snow, do so slowly and avoid accelerating until you’re out of the turn.

Focus on where you want to go

If you ever find yourself in a winter skid, follow this rule of thumb (and old race car driver trick): focus your eyes on where you want to go. This will help you pilot your vehicle to where it needs to be. Your peripheral vision will help you avoid any objects or vehicles.

Be prepared to manage skids

If you find yourself in a skid, do not panic. Skids can be managed and controlled.

Skids in front-wheel drive vehicles

In some front-wheel-drive (FWD) vehicles, your front tires may lose grip from a snowy road and turn on a wider arc than what you might expect. Ease off the gas and within a second or two, your front tires should regain their grip. During those few seconds, keep your car aimed in the direction you want to go.

Skids in rear-wheel drive vehicles

In a rear-wheel-drive (RWD) vehicles, your back tires may lose their grip and make you feel like you’re going into a spin. If this happens, turn your wheel in the direction that your rear wheels are sliding—if they are swinging to the left, turn your steering wheel to the left. As your rear wheels regain traction, steer in your intended direction.
Pro Tip Use your brakes gently if you think you can straighten your vehicle out without colliding with another car or object. If you think a collision is unavoidable, slam your brakes to avoid it.

Learn how to use anti-lock brakes

If all else fails and you need to slam on your brakes on bad winter roads, your computerized anti-lock brake system (ABS) will kick in. They’ll brake as aggressively as necessary based on the traction your tires have.
Keep your brakes slammed and do your best to maneuver around any vehicles or objects—your ABS will adjust itself and keep working to slow you down as you steer.
Pro Tip When you feel your brakes shudder or vibrate, that means your ABS is working properly.

Be aware of your traction situation

Periodically test your traction situation, so long as you have space and there are no (or few) other vehicles near you.
Here’s an easy way to do it:
  • Gently apply your brakes—if they vibrate, your ABS is kicking in and indicates poor traction and bad road conditions
  • If you can keep pressing down on your brakes, that’s a good sign—it means your traction is solid and road conditions are safer

Remember that all-wheel drive isn’t foolproof

AWD allows you to accelerate with the power of all four wheels without slipping. It doesn’t improve traction or your vehicle’s ability to stop or turn in bad conditions.
Many drivers with AWD are lulled into a false sense of security. They think their vehicle becomes a winterized Batmobile at the touch of a button, capable of slinging around corners with a vice-like grip on the road—but this is not the case.
Having AWD is convenient, but it doesn’t mean you can throw caution to the wind.
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Get winter tires

If you live in an area with bad winter weather, winter tires are your best bet to drive safely and are far superior to the best all-season tires.
Winter tires vastly improve your vehicle’s grip and traction in snowy or icy conditions and widen your margin for error.

What to do if you’re stuck in the snow

If your car is stuck in a bad winter storm, don’t panic. With the following tips, you’ll make it through being stranded safely.

Stay with your car

It may be tempting to set out in search of help, but we can’t stress this enough—you are much safer staying sheltered in your car than walking through a storm where you can be hit by another vehicle.

Stay visible

Keep your vehicle visible by tying a bright scarf to your antenna or held up by a rolled-up window. This is a distress signal and will alert other drivers to either help you or call for help.

Keep your exhaust pipe clear

It’s important to keep your exhaust pipe clear of snow to prevent carbon monoxide from entering into the car’s interior. A running car with a blocked exhaust pipe can lead to poisoning or even death.

Stay warm

If you drive a lot during the winter, stock your car with some warm blankets and heavy clothes. You don’t want to leave your car running indefinitely as this wastes fuel.

Read the road

Know the difference between shiny and shady road surfaces, and dry snow on winter roads.
Shiny roadways indicate ice or water, so use extra caution when driving in these conditions Dry or dry-looking pavement can offer a false sense of security as black ice can be very deceptive—drive cautiously. Snow-covered roads are decent for winter driving as dry snow can actually improve your traction

Conquering hills safely

Getting safely up hills in the snow can be a delicate balancing act. You want enough speed to get up the hill, but not so much speed that you go down the other side too quickly.
When approaching a hill, build a bit of speed and some inertia to power you up the hill. As you reach the top, reduce your speed to ensure you go down the hill’s other side under control.
Don’t stop when going uphill—starting up again in snowy conditions can be very difficult.
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Carry supplies you might need

Keep a shovel, some salt, a tow eye, and some warm clothing in your car when setting out on a winter drive.
Use the shovel to clear snow away from your tires if you’re stuck and it’s safe to do so. Putting some road salt or cat litter under your cleared-out tires will provide extra traction.
If your vehicle doesn’t have a hitch or tow hook, a tow eye attaches to a threaded socket found under the rear bumper. It’s helpful in case your car needs to be towed.

Keep your kids safe

If you’re traveling in the winter with young kids, strap them into their car seat with a sweater but not a puffy jacket. Bulky clothing can cause the restraints to loosen.
If they’re cold, use the jacket as a blanket.

Jerry makes winter driving safe

When you’re driving in the winter—or anytime, really—you want to make sure you’re safe. Buying a
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Plus, you can Pair your car insurance plan with a roadside assistance plan for added peace of mind.
’s plan gives you access to towing, tire changes, emergency fuel deliveries, battery jumpstarts, and more for just $6.99 per month. Who knew that being safe was so affordable?!


What should you not do while driving in the snow?

Never hit the road without winter tires, an emergency kit, and a dose of caution. All-wheel drive doesn’t make your vehicle invincible—you’ll still need to exercise caution when driving.
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