by Tyler Wenzel
In all things skiing, gear will only take you so far. The same applies when getting yourself to the mountain. Snow tires certainly come in handy, but they’re no substitute for technique. As a matter of fact, the EpicSki community reports that the majority of them ride to the ski hill on standard all-season radials. It stands to reason that the best winter drivers are skiers and ice truckers; here are the top tips from the skiers for driving on snow and ice.
1: Leave Yourself Plenty of Room
- To Stop
When we asked the community to share their technique tips for driving safely in winter conditions, the most frequent advice was to leave plenty of space between you and the car in front of you. Many state driver's manuals recommend tripling or quadrupling the distance between cars during snow storms than would be necessary under ideal driving circumstances. Leaving space gives you more time to react. In ideal conditions should something happen you can just stop, on snow and ice that may not be the case. Particularly on highways where a certain measure of speed can be used stopping may take much longer than one would expect.
- To Turn
However, leaving room is not just for stopping. It’s also for evading. Maneuvering will take more time in snow. Turns should be done more gradually, not suddenly. Traction is a valuable—and necessary—commodity in winter conditions. Turning is already going to inherently reduce the traction of your vehicle. The force of a turn will place more weight on the tires on the outside radius of the turn. More lateral force is going to increase the odds of overcoming the coefficient of static friction in the tires and lead to sliding.
2. Leave the Pedals Alone
One tip that was mentioned for turning is to leave the pedals alone. Don’t brake or accelerate when turning. If you do need to do either they should be done as gradually as possible. Being gradual with every movement on winter conditions is essential. In fact extra caution should be used. Dave86 recommended this tidbit of advice:
* If 100 feet of following distance from the vehicle in front of me seems appropriate, then drive with 150 or 200 feet of following distance...
* If I think I can stop in 100 feet, then start slowing downs and braking at 150 feet...
3. Slow the Hell Down
Another thing not to take for granted is speed. They say speed kills, and that is doubly true on snow and ice. Even going straight you can quickly end up sideways. A gust of wind can easily knock a car traveling straight into a ditch. Swisstrader put it quite eloquently:
His point is concise and to the point. Slow down on slick roads. In fact often the seemingly most safe place to drive is actually the most dangerous. Often interstates are among the first to be plowed and treated. They usually are among the straightest stretches of roads as well. It looks great on paper, but in real life that leads to danger.
4. Don't Use Cruise Control on the Interstate
The seemingly safe conditions of the interstate lead to three potential problems. Number one is ourselves. A few comments mentioned avoiding using cruise control. Often the first detection of something wrong is when we feel the car slipping on the gas pedal; the cruise control doesn’t feel that. In general, though, driving on the interstate--especially if it seems like it is in decent shape--can lull us into a false sense of security.
5. Drive Defensively
Even if we remain vigilant there are many dangers. We see crazy drivers on the interstate during normal weather, and they don’t stay home when it snows. In fact the highway tends to be a toxic mix of people being uber-careful driving too slow, and people over confident in their car or abilities and driving too fast. That results in rule number one (space) being compromised frequently—leading to accidents.
Accidents are also danger number three on the highway. If both lanes are shut down you are out of luck. A few winters ago I-80 in Pennsylvania got shut down during a snow storm because of an accident. In the time they took to get the road cleared it snowed so much the cars were stuck in the snow and no plows could get through. People were stuck for three days. Simply put, when an accident happens there is often nowhere to go (or even turn around) on the highway.
That covers several ways to stay safe, but like many things in life we can’t control all circumstances. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention a backup plan. Many posters commented on the first aid kit and supplies they keep in the car. It is important when driving in snow to have warm clothes, basic first aid gear, a shovel, reflecting type warning devices, and more.
For an unabridged consideration of safety and driving tips see the thread this is based on here.