Operating a vehicle safely in winter conditions

It may seem obvious, but operating a vehicle in winter conditions is vastly different than in normal, dry conditions. Stopping distances are greater, handling is more difficult and driving requires your undivided attention. You can't be too cautious.

Following are some tips that will help you when operating a vehicle in the winter:

  • Drive at a pace that you believe is safest for your vehicle and your driving abilities. Do not let other drivers dictate your speed. If traffic builds behind you, look for a safe place to pull to the right and allow others to pass.
  • Keep at least three times the normal following distance from vehicles in front of you on snow or ice so you can slow down or brake gradually.
  • Plan ahead to brake smoothly when approaching intersections.
  • Drive with low-beam headlights in heavy snowfall or fog. Keep your headlights, stoplights and turn signal lenses clean. Dirty headlights can cut visibility by 50 percent or more.
  • Hold the steering wheel firmly and avoid making sudden turns. Use a light touch to correct a skid.
  • If you need to install tire chains, look for a safe place away from traffic. Know how to install them properly before embarking on winter travel and practice installing them if you cannot remember the process. Tire chains should be applied to the drive wheels.
  • Never install studded tires only on front wheels; if using studded tires on a front-wheel-drive vehicle, put them on all four wheels.
  • Do not blaze your own trail on unplowed roads or through snowdrifts.
  • When you see deer or other animals ahead, slow down and be prepared to stop until you are safely past them.
  • Watch out for snowplows and sanders as you round corners and curves.
  • Slow down. Plows and sanders will pull over occasionally to let traffic by. It is risky to pass a snowplow because of blowing snow. You should not pass a snowplow on the side where snow is being ejected.
  • If you start to skid, ease your foot off the accelerator. If you have a manual transmission, push in the clutch. Keep your foot off the brake and steer in the direction the rear of the vehicle is skidding.
  • Your owner's manual usually will recommend the braking technique most effective for your vehicle. Information from the National Safety Council indicates that drivers with front- and rear-wheel-drive vehicles with disc or drum brakes should press on the brake pedal with a slow, steady pressure until just before they lock. When you feel them start to lock, ease off until your wheels are rolling, then gently press the pedal again.
  • If you hit an unexpected patch of ice, ease up on your accelerator and let your vehicle "roll" through the slippery area.




Published 11-15-13