Driving in the Snow: 7 Tips for Winter Safety

It can be a little scary to drive in harsh weather conditions, so it’s important to learn how to drive in snow. Read this guide on driving in snow to learn how.
Written by Brady Klopfer
Reviewed by Carrie Adkins
Sep 23, 2021
Driving in the snow is a bit of a scary and intimidating situation. Even cars that are designed to drive well in the winter feel a little hairy when the snow starts to fall and the ice shows up on roads.
For maximum safety and comfort, it’s important to learn how to drive in snow.
We should start with the obvious. The safest way is to not drive at all. Once the cold months come around, try to limit how often you’re driving. Do fewer, larger shopping trips, and take subways and trains if possible. The safest solution is to simply not get behind the wheel.
Of course, that’s not always an option. Sometimes you need to get in the driver’s seat. When that time comes, make sure your car is properly
winterized
, and follow these tips for how to drive in the snow.
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Drive slowly in the snow

Driving slowly is safer, no matter what the weather conditions are. But it’s especially safer when the roads are cold and icy. The faster you drive, the more likely you are to lose traction and veer off the road or
hit an obstacle
.
And the faster you drive, the harder you’ll need to brake, which is a recipe for sliding and losing control.
Always try to avoid driving dangerously slow, but make sure to go slow enough that your car feels fully in control.

Keep a steady brake

When road conditions don’t feel safe, it’s natural to start to ride the brake pedal. Ironically, braking can be one of the most dangerous things when you’re driving in the snow, because it can take your traction away and cause the car to slide. That’s not to say you shouldn’t use the brake pedal, but there are two things you should do.
First, keep your heel on the floor of your car so that you can use a very steady foot to deploy the brake smoothly and consistently. Tapping the brake pedal or hitting it hard can cause your car to go straight into a slide.
Second, when possible, start slowing your car down by taking your foot off the gas before you start braking. Let the car slow itself down naturally before introducing the brakes.

Exercise driving caution

Just like driving slowly, this one sounds obvious. However, everyone needs a reminder from time to time.
When it’s snowy or icy it’s doubly important to practice safe driving techniques. Don’t tailgate the car in front of you. Don’t test the limits of your car around turns. Don’t drive after
drinking alcohol
. Don’t wait until the last possible moment to stop for a light or stop sign.
You should be doing these things anyway, but they become even more important when the roads are dangerous.

Avoid stopping while driving in the snow

One area where your car really struggles to find traction in the snow is when starting from a stop. When your wheels first start moving after being stopped, they often spin. One thing you can do to minimize this is avoid stopping. If you see a stop light, start to slow down ahead of time, and see if you can maintain a slow pace until the light turns green.
Don’t ever avoid stopping when it’s dangerous to do so. But when possible, even driving at 2 mph is safer than starting from a complete stop.

Look far down the road

It’s always a good idea to look far down the road through a
clean windshield
when you’re driving. It will make you smoother and safer behind the wheel.
If you look where you want to go rather than where you are, you’ll naturally take in the road in front of you and drive smoothly. If you look directly in front of you, you’re more likely to make sharp adjustments with the steering wheel or brakes, and that’s the worst thing you can do when it’s snowy or icy.
You also need to be aware of oncoming traffic while the roads are snowy and icy, as any obstacle becomes more dangerous in poor weather conditions.

Don't panic if you briefly slide on ice

It’s easier said than done, but try to avoid panicking if you feel your car losing control. When you drive on snow and ice, you’ll occasionally lose traction for a second here or there. The key is to remain calm and in control.
The most important thing to do is not make any sharp movements. Avoid hitting the brakes or gas hard, and try not to make an aggressive turn or overcorrect.
If you’re driving a front wheel drive car in snow and you feel it lose traction, just let your foot off the gas and don’t move the steering wheel. As soon as you feel the traction return, move the steering wheel to where you want to go.
If you’re driving a rear wheel drive car in snow, let your foot off the gas and turn the steering wheel in the direction of where the rear tires are sliding. Once the car catches, return the steering wheel to its normal position.
Regardless of what type of car you have, avoid braking when you feel your car losing traction, as that will just make it slide more.
Driving in the snow and ice can be tricky, but with these tips, you should be on your way to driving safely in the snow.

FAQs

How fast should I drive in the snow?

If the road conditions are dangerous, drive considerably slower than the speed limit. This may mean going anywhere from 10 to 20 mph in residential areas to driving 30 mph on the highway. It may feel silly to drive that slow, but you're better off being late to your destination than stuck on the side of the road.

How do I drive in deep snow?

Make sure your tires are spinning well in deep snow so you can accelerate off of the snow's traction. Turn off traction control so that your wheels can actually spin.
However, you shouldn't be spinning your tires in deep snow if you're not already moving. If you're stationary, the spinning tires will just put holes in the snow and make it icy.
If you're stuck in deep snow, you may need to shovel yourself out. But if you don't have a shovel, contact roadside assistance.
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