Right before my last semester of college, I decided to drive the long way to campus by myself. It was about a seven-hour drive, but they were all long, calm country roads dotted with plenty of rest stops. It was supposed to flurry a little as I passed through Syracuse, but I wasn’t worried. My college campus was near Rochester, so I was used to driving in snow.
Somehow, the flurry turned into a full-on whiteout. It was the strongest blizzard I’d ever seen, turning day into night, and I was driving through it. Driving in snow can be easy when you’re going along plowed roads through a picturesque winter wonderland. Driving in snow is a completely different story when you’re going through a snow globe that’s been tossed in a blender.
The most important thing to know about driving in snow is knowing when to stop. I kept driving through horrific conditions because I was afraid to miss the first day of the semester. After I passed an 18-wheeler lying on its side in the median, I decided that I valued my life a little bit more than I valued English class. I was able to pull off the road and find a hotel where I stayed for the next two days (it was a BIG storm). Sure, I was bored. But more importantly, I was safe.
Make sure you’re safe the next time you have to drive in the snow with these tips from AAA.
Driving in snow: Be prepared
Before you head off on a long winter drive, watch the weather forecasts carefully. If you can avoid driving in snow, you should. Make sure other people know your route, your destination and your ETA.
Keep snow supplies in your car. My favorite is a collapsible shovel that I use to dig out my car when it gets really buried. Get an ice scraper and a foam broom as well. Bring a phone and charger with you, along with AAA’s number. In case of emergency, make sure you have blankets, gloves, hats, water, necessary medications and nonperishable food items.
Driving in snow: On the road
Do not use cruise control when driving in ice or snow – it’s important that you stay alert and are able to control your speed at all times.
Go slow! It’s easier to control your vehicle when you’re driving at a slow pace, so accelerate and decelerate as slowly as you can to regain traction on the road and avoid skidding off-course.
If possible, maintain eight or 10 seconds of distance between you and the car in front of you. It’s harder to stop in the ice and snow.
The best way to stop while driving in snow is by threshold braking. It’s not just for race car drivers! Plant the heel of your braking foot on the floor, and with the ball of your foot apply firm, steady pressure to the brake.
Don’t stop if you don’t have to. Moving again from a full stop during a blizzard can be difficult and dangerous.
Try to drive in the tracks of the car in front of you – it will make it easier to control your vehicle.
Be patient with the other drivers on the road. This is a stressful situation for everyone, but it’s important to remain calm.
Driving in snow: When you have to stop
Sometimes, the snow is so unrelenting that you have to stop. Maybe you can’t see anything anymore. Maybe you keep skidding across the road. Maybe you’re not sure where the road is, exactly. Most of the time, stopping means sheltering in place.
In this situation, your automobile is your shelter. Do not wander away from the car – you might not be able to find it when you return (and it’s best to conserve your warmth and energy, anyway).
Attach a colorful sash, handkerchief or scarf to your antenna, side mirror or window. It will flutter in the wind and alert any emergency services to the location of your vehicle. Don’t use white fabric – it will blend in with the snow. You can also turn your car’s interior lights on if it gets dark outside. This doesn’t sap much energy from your car’s battery, and it can help emergency services find you.
You may choose to keep your car running so that you can make use of the heating system. Don’t overuse it, though. You want to save your gasoline. If you turn your engine on, make sure your exhaust pipe is kept clear. If it gets backed up with snow, you could risk carbon monoxide poisoning (and potentially death).
Insulate your body heat with anything you have on hand, from emergency blankets to crumpled-up newspapers to floor mats.
When you’re driving in snow – serious snow, like a blizzard or a snowstorm – you need to remain calm and make smart, safe decisions. By remembering these tips and preparing your car with emergency utilities, you can navigate a sudden blizzard without making snap decisions based on panic.
Drive safe this winter! Get more winter driving tips.
Do you have any tips for driving safe during a snowstorm? Share them with us in the comments below!