If you were one of the lucky North Americans who got hit by your first winter storm of the year last night, you probably woke up to terrible driving conditions.
It’s inevitable that the first storm of the year will be met with terrible drivers who have forgotten how to drive in the winter. Here are some things you can do to ease the pain and stay safe.
1. Proper winter tires are a must
Even the crappiest winter tires are better in cold, snowy conditions than good all-season tires. The difference is in how much grip you’ll get. Simply put, winter tires use rubber that’s more effective in the cold and have special tread that gives you more grip. And having all-wheel drive doesn’t mean you’re invincible in the snow – you still need winter tires because AWD does nothing to help you stop faster.
2. Clear the damn snow off your car
It’s dangerous when drivers don’t clear the snow and ice from their cars. It reduces a driver’s visibility out of the car, and the ice and snow can blow off and pose a risk to other drivers on the road. Take the few extra minutes to clear all the snow and ice off your car before you get going.
3. Smooth driving is safe driving
Try to keep your inputs smooth. Don’t be jerky with braking, acceleration and turning. Any sudden movements will increase the possibility of upsetting the car’s balance and losing control in slippery conditions. If your car has a snow/winter mode, use it. It will usually start the car in second gear so you won’t spin your tires when you try to accelerate from a stop. Leave yourself ample room to brake, do it very smoothly and progressively, and never follow people too closely.
4. Never use cruise control in bad conditions
You should only use cruise control in dry conditions because cruise control is meant to maintain a wheel’s speed regardless of the conditions. You need to be in full control in bad driving conditions so you can make faster decisions. Also, if you hydroplane, having cruise control engaged can make the situation much more dangerous. When you hydroplane, you need to take your foot off the gas to reduce momentum, and if cruise control is on, it will have the opposite effect and you’ll have to press the brakes to disengage it. Mashing on the brakes will increase the possibility of losing more control (see #3).
5. Don’t drive faster than you’re comfortable
This seems obvious, but if you’re not comfortable driving in the snow, don’t do it. If you need to drive slower, move to the right lane so people can pass you. If you feel uncomfortable, the best thing is to just slow down and don’t panic.
6. If you’re losing control, look where you want to go
If you find yourself losing control, don’t mash on the brakes and close your eyes. Take your foot off the gas, look where you want to go, and smoothly steer in that direction.
Good luck and stay safe this winter!