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Winter Driving Tips

Winter weather inevitably means more accidents and delays on the roads, but drivers armed with these common-sense safety tips can minimize the hazards driving in snow and ice.

But before you tackle the snow, check out our page on preparing your car for winter driving.

Navigate this page with the links below, and drive safely!

General Tips | Freeing Cars Stuck in Snow
Tips for Light Trucks & SUVs | Tips for Parents of Teen Drivers

DEFENSIVE DRIVING IN WINTER CONDITIONS

  • Driving with headlights on low-beam provides better road illumination in snow and fog than using high-beams.
  • Remember posted speed limits are set for ideal road and weather conditions. Slow down when visibility and road conditions are impaired by bad weather or traffic.
  • Avoid sudden starts, stops and turns. Accelerate carefully so car wheels don't spin.
  • The best technique for braking under icy or snowy conditions if you do not have an anti-lock braking system (ABS) is to use "threshold" or "squeeze braking". This is done by applying the brakes firmly to a point just short of lock up, and then easing off the brake pedal slightly. Applying steady pressure is better than "pumping the brakes" and should be practiced on dry pavement prior to driving on snow.
  • If you do have ABS, remember to apply steady pressure to the brake pedal. The ABS will automatically pump the brakes to keep the wheels from locking and the vehicle from skidding.
  • Anticipate potential danger such as ice on bridges, snow-covered lane markings, stalled cars and poor visibility.
  • Adjust speed, increase distance between other cars or change lanes to avoid trouble. Watch out for other drivers who may be unprepared for changing road conditions.
  • In a skid, ease off the accelerator and don't lock up the brakes. Carefully steer in the direction you want the car to go and straighten the wheel as soon as the car begins to go in the desired direction.

General Tips | Freeing Cars Stuck in Snow
Tips for Light Trucks & SUVs | Tips for Parents of Teen Drivers

FREEING A CAR STUCK IN SNOW

The Mid-Atlantic office of the American Automobile Association (AAA) warns drivers that hard acceleration is not the way to free a car stuck in the snow. In fact, it usually makes the problem worse, digging the car deeper into the snow.

Instead, they recommend the following steps:

  1. Clear away as much snow as possible from around the tires and under the vehicle.
  2. To help improve traction, scatter sand, cat litter or some other abrasive material around the front wheels for front-wheel drive cars, and around the rear wheels for rear-wheel drive cars. Special traction mats are also available for this purpose. Floor mats also can be used.
  3. Place the car in low gear (automatic transmissions) or second gear (manual transmissions) and apply gentle pressure to the accelerator. Ease off if the tires begin to spin.
  4. If still unable to move, try slowly rocking the car. Ease forward with the car in low gear (automatic transmissions) or second gear (manual transmissions). When the car will no longer go forward, release the accelerator to allow the car to roll back.
  5. When the vehicle stops its backward motion, apply minimum pressure on the accelerator again. Repeat these actions in rapid succession. If the vehicle remains stuck, do not continue rocking for prolonged periods. Serious damage to automatic transmissions may occur.
  6. If others are available to help, have them push to assist the car's rocking motion. People pushing the vehicle should not stand directly behind the wheels because of potential risk from flying gravel, sand and ice. Also, they should be aware of their own physical limitations. Footing can be hazardous and overexertion can be especially dangerous in cold weather.
  7. If you are unable to get your vehicle unstuck, carefully assess weather conditions before abandoning your vehicle. In extreme cold or in heavy snow, stay with your car until you can be rescued.
  8. As soon as possible, set up reflectors, flares or other signal devices to alert passing motorists.
  9. If you stay in your car, tie a bright cloth to your antenna to alert rescuers. If running the engine for warmth, make sure snow does not block the exhaust pipe, which could cause dangerous fumes to backup inside the car.
  10. If you can leave your vehicle and reach shelter safely, contact your auto club for assistance. Remember that during winter emergencies, high demand for emergency road service can sometimes cause delays in response.

General Tips | Freeing Cars Stuck in Snow
Tips for Light Trucks & SUVs | Tips for Parents of Teen Drivers


WINTER DRIVING FOR LIGHT TRUCKS AND SUVs

General Tips | Freeing Cars Stuck in Snow
Tips for Light Trucks & SUVs | Tips for Parents of Teen Drivers


TEACHING YOUR TEEN TO DRIVE IN THE SNOW

General Tips | Freeing Cars Stuck in Snow
Tips for Light Trucks & SUVs | Tips for Parents of Teen Drivers

SOURCE: American Automobile Association, Mid-Atlantic Office

© 2003 The Washington Post Company