Safe Winter Driving Tips

The National Safety Council offers the Defensive Driving Course in many cities. The following advice is reprinted from pages 35 and 36 of the guide.

By The National Safety Council Copyright © 1992, The National Safety Council Reprinted with permission.

Winter driving can be inconvenient, annoying, even infuriating. But you can offset those aggravations and minimize the special risks of winter driving.

Getting started
Here are some routine precautions to help you avoid starting problems: Get an engine tune-up in the fall. Switch to winter-weight oil if you aren’t already using all-season oil. Be sure all lights are in good working order. Have the brakes adjusted. Battery and voltage regulator should be checked. Make sure battery connections are good. If the battery terminal posts seem to be building up a layer of corrosion, clean them with a paste of baking soda and water. Let it foam, and then rinse with water. Apply a thin film of petroleum jelly to the terminal posts to prevent corrosion, and reconnect. Be sure all fluids are at proper levels. Antifreeze should not only be strong enough to prevent freezing, but fresh enough to prevent rust. Make sure wiper blades are cleaning properly. Consider changing to winter wiper blades, which are made for driving in snow. They are covered with a rubber boot to keep moisture away from working parts of the blade. Don’t idle a cold vehicle’s engine for along time to warm it up – it could harm the engine. The right way to warm up a vehicle is to drive it.

Equipment and supplies
Here’s what you’ll want to have on hand, especially in an emergency: Snow shovel. Scraper with a brush on one end. Tow chain or strap. Tire chains. Flashlight (with extra batteries). Abrasive material (cat litter, sand, salt, or traction mats). Jumper cables. Warning device (flares or reflective triangles). Brightly colored cloth to signal for help. Empty coffee or similar type can containing candles, matches (in a water tight container) or a lighter, high-energy food (chocolate or dried fruit, for example). Sleeping bags or blankets, ski caps, and mittens. First-aid supplies. Compass.

Getting Unstuck
If you should find yourself stuck, here’s what to do: Turn your wheels from side to side a few times to push snow out of the way. Keep a light touch on the gas, and ease forward. Don’t spin you wheels – you’ll just dig in deeper. Rocking the vehicle is another way to get unstuck. (Check your owner’s manual first – it can damage the transmission on some vehicles.) Shift from forward to reverse, and back again. Each time you’re in gear, give a light touch on the gas until the vehicle gets going. Front-wheel drive vehicles, snow tires should be on the front – the driving axle – for better traction in mud or snow.

If You Get Stranded… You may feel helpless, stuck in the snow in a lonely place – but there are things you can do to survive until help reaches you. Stay in the vehicle. Don’t wander and get lost or frostbitten. Run the engine for heat about once every hour, or every half hour in severe cold. Clean snow from around the end of the tail pipe to prevent carbon monoxide buildup. For extra heat, burn a candle inside a coffee can – but don’t set the can on fabric. Make sure the vehicle is NOT air tight, by opening a window a little. Clear outside heater vents. That’s the grill under the windshield. Avoid alcohol. It lowers body temperature and will cause you to become drowsy. Leave one window cracked open. Freezing winds and driving, wet snow can quickly seal a vehicle. Signal to other motorists that you’re stranded by using flares or flashlights, or by tying a piece of brightly colored cloth to the radio antenna.

The information above was reprinted from the National Safety Council’s Defensive Driving Course Guide. It was reprinted by permission and cannot be reused without permission of the National Safety Council at

Winter Driving
Advice from the New York state Department of Motor Vehicles Driver’s Manual

Winter is the most difficult driving season. Not only do you have snow and ice to deal with, but there are fewer hours of daylight as well. Before winter weather arrives, make sure your vehicle is in good condition, especially the tires. Make sure you’ve got good snow tires, and put them on early. Try not to get caught without them in the first snowfall. Never combine radial and non-radial tires on the same vehicle. On front-wheel drive cars, it’s best to put snow tires or “all-season” tires on all four wheels, not just the front. If you must drive, clear the ice and snow from your vehicle, all windows and windshield wipers. Be sure the windshield washer reservoir is adequately filled with a freeze-resistant cleaning solution. Drive slowly. Even if your vehicle has good traction in ice and snow, other drivers will be traveling cautiously. Don’t distrupt the flow of traffic by driving faster than everyone else. In a rear-wheel drive vehicle, you can usually feel a loss of traction or the beginning of a skid. There may be no such warning in a front-wheel drive, however. Front-wheel drives do handle better in ice and snow, but they do not have flawless traction, and skids can occur unexpectedly. Don’t let the better feel and handling of a front-wheel drive car cause you to drive faster than you should. Despite a popular misconception, the best approach to recovering from a skid is the same for front and rear-wheel drive vehicles. If your rear wheels start to skid:

o Turn the steering wheel in the direction you want the front wheels to go. If your rear wheels are sliding left, steer left. If they’re sliding right, steer right.

o If your rear wheels start sliding the other way as you recover, ease the steering wheel toward that side. You might have to steer left and right a few times to get your vehicle completely under control.

o If your car has an anti-lock braking system (ABS), keep your foot on the pedal. If not, pump the pedal gently, pumping more rapidly as your car slows down. Braking hard with non-anti-lock brakes will make the skid worse.

If your front wheels skid:
o Take your foot off the gas and shift to neutral, but don’t try to steer immediately.

o As the wheels skid sideways, they will slow the vehicle and traction will return. As it does, steer in the direction you want to go. Then put the transmission in “drive” or release the clutch, and accelerate gently.
To avoid skids, brake carefully and gently on snow or ice. “Squeeze” your brakes in slow, steady strokes. Allow the wheels to keep rolling. If they start to lock up, ease off the brake pedal. As you slow down, you may also want to shift into a lower gear. When sleet, freezing rain or snow start to fall, remember that bridges, ramps, and overpasses are likely to freeze first. Also be aware that slippery spots may still remain after road crews have cleared the highways.

The information above was reprinted from pages 76-78 of the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles Driver’s Manual.

Millions of people drive in snow without incident. Some are lucky, but most drivers avoid problems because they know and use the following practices.

Before moving the car
1. Turn on the engine, heater and/or defroster.
2. Clean all windows, thoroughly of frost and snow. DO NOT RUN WIPERS OVER AN ICY WINDSHIELD, it cuts them, reducing their cleaning ability. **Use a scraper to clean the windows.**
3. Clear any snow off the hood, roof and trunk.
4. Clear the immediate area around the wheels of snow.

Getting started
To go in snow you must have TRACTION. Don’t overuse power.

1. Engage the transmission gently.
Automatic Transmission]
1. Use ‘D2’ or ‘D1’ (in order of preference) to move forward. Shift to ‘D’ (“drive”) on clear roads at highway speeds.
2. Accelerate very gently.

Standard Transmission
1. Use the highest gear at which you can move the car without stalling.
2. Accelerate gently.
1. Four-wheel drive WON’T HELP YOU STOP on snow or ice.
2. Four-wheel drive WILL help you get started and will help you maintain control IN SNOW. **ONLY CHAINS HELP ON ICE.**
3. Short wheel base vehicles (e.g. Jeep CJ’s) have a greater tendency to spin (skid and rotate) than longer wheel based vehicles.

1. DO NOT SPIN THE TIRES. This makes the tires hot. The heat melts the snow which then places a layer of water between the tires and the packed snow: a very slippery condition.
2. Sometimes gently rocking the car back and forth by shifting between forward and reverse gears will help you get over a little hump. However, this is hard on your car. It is BETTER to clear the snow from around the tires.
3. Carry a bag of “Kitty Litter” (cheap clay type) to spread under the drive wheels if all else fails. Birdseed is an alternative.
4. New tires (lots of tread) are very helpful.

1. Keep LOTS of distance between you and the car ahead.
2. Slow considerably BEFORE going into a curve. Don’t take sharp turns at more that 3-4 mph.
3. Try to avoid having to stop while on an uphill grade. Creep until the way is clear OR stop at the base of the hill until the way is clear.
5. If you HAVE anti-lock brakes, firmly depress the peddle. NEVER PUMP ANTI-LOCK BRAKES. If you DO NOT HAVE anti-lock brakes, GENTLY but rapidly pump the brake peddle. DON’T PANIC, freeze-up or hold the peddle down.
6. Intersections tend to be icy because the cars stopping and starting pack and polish the snow. Be careful.

-Also, don’t be a target that sits in the middle of the intersection waiting for someone to slide into you. Be sure the intersection is clear, then get through it as quickly as safety and control permits.

Other hazard spots
1. Under bridges (underpasses): Snow and ice stay on the road longer in a shaded area like this
2. Overpasses: Because the road is surrounded by cold air on these structures, the road surface freezes before the road surface that rests on the ground. Try to be the only car on a (potentially) frozen bridge. Go Slow. Drive in Control.
3. “Black Ice”: Where snow melt or other water has run onto the road, it may freeze, matching the road color. This type of ice is very hard to see, particularly at night. If you don’t know the road condition, SLOW IS BEST.
4. Snow and Ice Chunks: These fall off of the wheel wells of vehicles. Often they are very hard. However, hitting even a soft one with your wheels may cause you to loose control of the vehicle, sending you into opposing traffic or off the road.