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Winter Weather Safety Tips: Learn How to Drive in Snow and Navigate Icy Conditions

A frozen cold icy winter road with a car slowly driving through it at night.

The balmy temperatures of late fall in St. Louis often lead to an abrupt dip in temperature that signals the beginning of the winter season. Bitter cold freezes precipitation on roads and highways, complicating the daily commute and leading to dangerous conditions. Snow showers and heavier snowfall whiteout visibility and slow down traffic. 

Many drivers understand that navigating these conditions necessitates more care and caution, but some drivers never adjust their habits during dangerous weather. Learn how to drive in snow and navigate icy conditions to keep everyone safer during winter weather commutes.

How to Drive in Snow

When snowflakes fall, drivers must be prepared for slippery conditions. Even if the snowfall is light, drivers must adjust their driving habits. There are five important tips for every driver to follow on the roads to maximize safety:

  1. Double the distance between your car and others on the road. Wet, snowy roads cause cars to slide when they attempt to stop. Always allow more space to accommodate slippery and slick surfaces. Following too closely leads to accidents. 

  2. Remember to turn on the headlights. During rainy or snowy conditions, always turn on the headlights. This ensures your car is more visible to others on the road. 

  3. Watch the speed. Don't drive fast in the snow. Remember that the car can be more difficult to control when driving on slick pavement. 

  4. Know how to navigate the skid. Car and Driver advises that drivers watch where they want the car to go when navigating a skid on icy or snowy roads. 

  5. Don't stop in the middle of any road. Pull to a safe location if the snow leads to difficult navigation.

A person wiping the snow off of their windows with a Snow Brush

How to Drive in Icy Conditions

Navigating icy roads leads to scary scenarios when drivers are unprepared. Rainy weather transforms roads into icy, slick hazards when the temperature drops. When drivers wake up to ice-washed windshields, they must assume that the same slickness also covers the roads.

Unfortunately, ice isn't always visible to drivers. When temperatures are conducive to ice, drivers must be vigilant during morning and evening journeys.

Keep speeds slower. This allows more control over the vehicle. In addition, abide by the double-distance rule. Keep more space between other cars to allow room for sliding and skidding on ice.

Going up slippery hills, the car needs more power before the climb. Apply slightly more gas when approaching hills to allow for momentum. Accelerating too late causes the wheels to spin, and the driver loses control. 

Bridgestone Tires explains when the car skids, drivers need to steer into the skid. Don't try to pull in the other direction. Slightly accelerate, steer into the skid, and take back control of the car.

Safety Features in Cars that Aid Winter Driving

Modern cars now feature a variety of safety features that aid control during slick winter weather. Drivers should utilize these features to increase their safety and the safety of other drivers on the road:

Anti-Lock Braking Systems (ABS): When drivers must stop quickly, anti-lock brakes often feel jarring for drivers unaccustomed to the system. Pushing hard on the brakes causes the system to activate; the car's system then adjusts to properly stop when the car is slipping and sliding on ice. The system drops the speed of the car and facilitates proper navigation.

Blind-Spot Warning: During snow storms, visibility is often limited. Blind spot warning systems alert the driver of a car that is approaching. Typically, the system also shows a visible warning light. 

Forward Collision Warning: Separate from ABS, forward-collision warning alerts the driver that the car is too close to another vehicle or an obstacle on the road. This feature can also work with automatic braking features to stop the car and minimize the risk of an accident. Sensors detect when the vehicle is too close to another car or obstacle and apply the automatic braking capability accordingly.

Lane Departure Warning: This feature notifies drivers when the car veers from the lane. The system automatically corrects the vehicle's road positioning.

Winter Road with Black Ice with a car parked to the side.

What Is Black Ice?

One of the most dangerous hazards during winter is a road phenomenon called "black ice." This slick condition denotes a glazing of ice that blends into the appearance of the road. Drivers must be cautious when driving at night and during the winter morning commute.

While black ice surprises drivers, remaining alert about possible road conditions ensures that drivers react to slick areas appropriately and safely. When weather conditions are conducive to the development of black ice, drive slowly and remember to keep a safe distance between other vehicles. Always turn into the skid and lightly accelerate to maintain control during skidding or sliding.

The Benefits of Snow Tires

As fall transforms into winter, drivers often purchase snow tires for their cars. These tires allow for better traction and control when driving in snowy and icy conditions. Prices vary for snow tires, depending on the size and brand. However, snow tires provide optimum grip and traction on the road for those living in areas that experience heavy snowfall or severe icy conditions.

Major highways running through Jefferson County receive regular maintenance to clear and treat snow and ice, but road crews do not clear and treat some rural roads in the county. Snow tires aid safe navigation for those living in rural areas. 

Tire Chains for Snow

Some drivers install specialized chains that fit over their tires and aid traction when driving in snow and ice. Tire chains are more affordable than purchasing snow tires. However, these chains must be removed from the tire when driving on dry streets. 

How to Drive in a Blizzard

Blizzards lead to whiteout conditions. The hazardous weather and zero visibility can happen without much warning, and drivers caught on the road during blizzard conditions might struggle to navigate the roads safely.

When driving in a blizzard, keep headlights illuminated. Often, other vehicles' tail lights and headlights serve as a visible focal point that aids navigation. Drive slowly and always mind the double-distance rule.

Should drivers pull to the side of the road in bad weather? If the weather is too dangerous, pulling to the side of the road potentially allows drivers to wait out the storm. However, drivers should not assume that pulling over is the safest option. Other cars could slide into the vehicle, and the conditions could lead to more dangerous scenarios.

Instead of pulling to the side of the highway or road, try to drive to the nearest exit. Waiting at a gas station, a restaurant, or another location could be the safest option. 

Read More Safety Tips!

Explore more safety tips from the North Jefferson County Ambulance District. Check back next month for another tip, and explore our new archive for additional resources. 

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