I’ve driven in many different states during the winter, and I’ve learned something pretty universal: people don’t know how to drive in the snow or freezing rain. Most people drive like it’s just a regular old Tuesday. These are the same people that you see in a ditch later.
The short answer is that you need to express a ton of extra safety during this trip. Your car is going to take longer to stop, will react unpredictably, and will do crazy things when you’re going fast enough. Go really slow and meticulously think through every action. Assume that every other driver is insane to improve your chances of avoiding an accident.
In an effort to avoid an accident and keep you safe during a snowstorm, I put together this guide. I put together 25 tips to help you drive in the snow or freezing rain and arrive safely at your destination.
Understanding the Dangers of Snow and Freezing Rain
I feel like most people know that it’s dangerous to drive in the snow or freezing rain, but do you know why? In reality, safely driving in these conditions all come down to avoiding the most dangerous parts of driving in the snow or freezing rain:
- Limited visibility. The less you see, the more dangerous it becomes.
- Roads have less friction. Friction is the only thing that makes your car go where you tell it to go. Driving on an ice rink means giving up all control and just letting nature do its thing.
- Other drivers are crazy. Never underestimate the stupidity of your fellow driver. They might slide into your car simply from their own crazy actions.
Some Pre-Trip Checks to Make
Before firing up your car and making the trip, here are some things to check. These will ensure you don’t run into any extra issues as you’re on the road.
Check Your Battery
Battery health becomes much more important as the weather gets colder. As you might know, it’s harder to start your car in the freezing cold. If your battery life is low, your car might not start at all and you’ll get stranded.
In some cases, the battery will die on your way home and you’ll get stuck on the side of the road in the middle of a snowstorm.
The best way to avoid this is to check the health of your battery before getting started.
Are You Using the Right Washer Fluid?
Using summer washer fluid during the winter can lead to your washer tank, lines, and spray nozzle getting frozen solid.
Make sure you’re using winter washer fluid before the days get too cold.
Check Your Tires
Before a snowstorm is a great time to look at the health of your tires. This inspection will tell you how safe your tires are to use.
Things like low tire pressure and overly worn tread might change your decision when it comes to driving in the freezing rain.
Remember, your tires are the only thing in contact with the ground. The roads will be especially slippery, so you’ll need your tires to be in tip-top shape.
Inspect Your Lights
As it’s snowing and raining, your car becomes less visible. This is when your lights really come in handy.
It’s a good idea to walk around your car and make sure your headlights, high beams, fog lights, turn signals, hazard lights, and brake lights are all working correctly.
The last thing you want is another factor that makes it more unsafe to drive. If you notice any of these lights are out, you should immediately repair them.
Make Sure Your Emergency Kit Is Stocked
First off, do you have an emergency kit in your car? I put together a guide for making the best emergency kit possible. You’ll need items that will help you survive being stranded in a cold car until help arrives.
Once you have an “emergency kit” built, it’s a good idea to check its status right before winter hits. Make sure the food and water aren’t expired and make sure rodents didn’t eat any of your goodies.
Look at Your Gas Level
Running out of gas is entirely preventable. When it’s snowing outside, it’s something you’ll want to definitely prevent.
If you’re out of gas on the side of the road, it’s going to be harder to get a stranger to pull over and help when snow is falling. It might also be hard to convince a friend to make the drive to you if the snow is coming down hard.
My personal trick is to check my gas level every single time I start the car. I also like to keep it above a half tank during winter so I don’t have to worry about running out when it’s freezing outside.
25 Tips for Driving in Snow or Freezing Rain
My big goal is to keep you safe while you’re driving. If you want to prepare for driving while there’s freezing rain or snow falling, follow these 25 tips.
1. Stay Home (If Possible)
The best thing to do when it’s snowing is to postpone your trip. Whenever it’s possible to avoid driving altogether, you should take that option.
I know that sometimes there are unavoidable reasons why you need to drive, but I would urge you to consider the severity of your situation before taking to the roads. Is your next destination worth potentially getting into an accident and totaling your car?
Can you stay in your location for a few more hours until this all blows over or do you need to leave immediately? If there’s a state of emergency in your area, you might not be able to leave anyway.
2. Don’t Stop While Going Uphill
Hills are going to be one of your worst enemies during this drive. When it comes to uphill bits of the road, make sure you never come to a complete stop.
If you do, your car is likely to start skidding backward out of control. Once you lose grip, you have very little say over what goes on.
On a hill, your car has a lot less grip on the road under it. All it takes is enough snow to get under your stopped tire for you to slide back into the car behind you.
When you start sliding downhill, you won’t be able to hit the gas and start moving again. In fact, that will just make it worse.
If you’re anticipating a stop while you’re going uphill, try to just reduce your speed rather than completely stop. For example, slowly roll up to the red light rather than come to a swift and complete stop. That little bit of traction could save your car.
3. Go Super Slow Downhill
On the other hand, a downward slope is just looking to make your car go too fast and lose control.
When you’re going downhill, go intentionally super slow. Gravity is a nasty thing when it comes to slick roads. Your car will pick up speed as you slide down the hill, no matter how hard you slam the brakes or turn your wheel.
4. Watch Your Throttle on Hills
Another thing to watch is how sensitive you are on the throttle. Giving it too much gas uphill can lead to a mini burnout which will scrap any traction you have on the road.
This is an even bigger issue for more powerful cars. If your car has more horsepower, be really mindful of your gas pedal application. You want to press it very evenly and slowly.
5. Be Extra Careful at Intersections
Intersections are a great place to get in an accident. At a four-way intersection, a mistake from any of the four cars can lead to a massive accident.
My advice is to be especially careful at any intersection. Assume that the other driver doesn’t know what they’re doing.
This means going slower, stopping sooner, and never assuming that the other person will follow traffic laws. If they slide through the intersection, no amount of “I had the right of way” is going to undo the damage to your vehicle.
6. Stay in Your Lane
Stay in your lane. Not only is it great advice for life in general, but it’s especially important while driving in snowy conditions.
The more lane changes you perform, the higher your risk of crashing is.
If you look at a snowy road, you’ll notice that each lane has a pre-carved melted spot in the middle. The heat from cars passing through the lane will melt the ice and snow and give you a red carpet through the highway.
Stick to this melted area. As you move from one lane to the next, you’ll pass over a snowy bump in the road. This could ruin whatever traction you have and leave you spinning out.
7. Subtract 10+ from Speed Limit Signs
Speed limit signs don’t really exist when there’s snow or freezing rain falling from the sky. Take whatever number is posted and subtract at least 10mph from it. If the sign says 55mph, you really shouldn’t go any faster than 45mph.
Truthfully, you should only go as fast as your car can comfortably go. Sometimes the conditions are so nasty that even going 25mph on the highway makes you feel like you’re on the verge of fishtailing.
No one is going to get mad at you for going super slow. Well, they might — but that’s not your problem.
8. Ignore the Peer Pressure to Speed
There is an overwhelming amount of peer pressure on a snowy road. A super old Honda Civic is going to zip by you going 80mph. Your initial reaction might be, “oh boy, I’m going too slow I should go 80 just like them”.
No. That’s wrong.
Peer pressure on the road will lead you to go faster than you’re comfortable going. It’s not worth getting into an accident just to appease other drivers on the road.
9. Channel Your Inner Grandma
The best way to avoid going too fast is to channel your inner grandma. How is it possible that grandmas feel comfortable going 30 mph under the speed limit every day of the year?
However they do it, it keeps them safe. Following the same logic, going super slow during a snowstorm will keep you safe.
Simply ignore the other drivers and the clear sense of impatience that they have. You’re going to get home safe, and this is the best way to do it. Bonus points if you play old-timey music while driving.
10. Play Relaxing Music or Your Favorite Podcast
There have been a lot of psychological studies that say that music can influence your mood. Playing relaxing music will help you to relax.
Personally, I like playing one of my favorite podcasts so I can focus and forget about all the outside pressure to go faster.
11. Understand That It’s Going to Take Longer
Keep reminding yourself that this isn’t a typical drive home. Sure, it might take you 20 minutes to make this trip on a beautiful Spring morning, but you’re not in Kansas anymore. It could easily take an hour to do the same trip when the snow is really falling down.
It’s going to take longer and there’s nothing you can do about it. Once you understand this idea, you’ll feel less inclined to gun it down the highway.
12. Put On Your Winter Tires
It’s also a good idea to equip some winter tires before the weather gets too bad. These tires have an extra grip to help you stay on the road while it’s snowing.
Don’t get confused about it, though: these tires don’t mean that you can go as fast as you want. Snow is still a super dangerous surface to drive over, regardless of your tire choice.
All it does is help prevent more frequent spinouts and fishtails.
13. Be Even More Careful on Back Roads
Back roads are some of the most dangerous roads to drive on during the snow. Some areas might be completely unplowed and untreated, meaning that the conditions are terrible.
In addition, back roads are notorious for being narrower, having more bends, and having no street lights.
When the visibility is bad, so is the potential for danger.
Also, back roads are less commonly driven on. On a highway, the road heats up as more cars drive along. This heat melts the snow and ice and makes conditions a little safer.
On a back road, you don’t have that same luxury. Black ice is very common on a cold backroad.
Be very careful if you can’t avoid back roads.
14. Don’t Forget to Buckle Up
As careful as you are, you might still get into an accident. While this might be unavoidable, you can do something simple to keep yourself safe: buckle up.
In a lot of states, wearing a seatbelt is a law.
Even if you don’t typically buckle up, you should make an exception during this snowy trip.
15. Ensure Your Lights are On
Make sure your headlights are on before pulling out of your driveway or parking lot to start the trip. Driving in the snow with no lights on is an easy way to total your car.
Other drivers are going to be stressed and the visibility is going to be really bad. Don’t assume that drivers can see you.
16. Double Your Following Distance
Typically, you should leave 2 to 3 seconds of distance between you and the car in front of you. What does that mean? When they pass a landmark, you should be able to count 2 or 3 Mississippi’s before the front of your car reaches the same landmark.
During these terrible driving conditions, you should double this distance. Instead, leave 4 to 6 seconds between the car in front of you. This time is directly correlated to your reaction time. You now have more time to react and deal with any slipperiness of the road.
17. Double The Stopping Distance You’re Expecting
In addition, double the stopping distance that you expect. After driving for enough time, you know about how much space you need to comfortably come to a complete stop.
During a snowstorm, this goes out the window.
A slick road could have you slip a little before the brakes start applying. You could skid while stopping. Rather than running through a stop sign and sliding into the intersection, just give yourself extra time to stop.
18. Keep Your Phone Plugged into Your Car
Most modern cars come with a plug for your phone to charge. No, charging your phone won’t kill your car’s battery.
You should keep the phone plugged in to ensure it has enough juice if you have to make an emergency call. Being stranded on the side of the road during a snowstorm with a dead phone is the beginning of most scary movies. You don’t want to be in one of those.
19. Don’t Count on AWD
Your AWD might be working perfectly fine, but that doesn’t mean that you can drive like nothing’s going on.
Snow and ice tend to disregard your AWD, and you can still easily spin out on slick roads.
You should certainly engage your AWD or 4WD, but don’t assume that you can go really fast since they’re activated.
20. Don’t Drive Distracted
Distracted driving is super dangerous even in the clearest conditions. When it’s snowing, you want your eyes to be glued to your surroundings.
Checking your phone can wait until you get home. All you’re doing is flirting with danger if you’re fiddling with the radio or your phone while driving in freezing rain.
21. Clear All Snow BEFORE Driving
Nothing bums me out more than seeing a car with snow all over it with a tiny window cleared on the front windshield.
You need to spend the time to clear all the snow from your car before driving. Some people assume that the wind or their wipers are going to clear the snow while they drive along.
This can actually blind the drivers behind you and lead to them getting into accidents.
In a lot of states, it’s illegal to not clear snow and ice from the top of your vehicle before driving.
Plus, your visibility is going to be awful while you drive along. If you can’t see your blind spots or look out of your back window, I can almost guarantee you’ll be driving recklessly.
22. Triple-Check Your Tailpipe
If your tailpipe is covered in ice or snow, you could die during your drive from carbon monoxide poisoning. Yes, even if you’re driving on the open road.
A blockage causes the exhaust fumes to travel back into your car and fill up your cabin with toxic chemicals.
Before getting into your car, spend a few seconds clearing out the tailpipe and make sure there are no obstructions.
23. Do a Test Start/ Stop Before Hitting the Road
If you have a little strip of driveway or parking lot, do a start/ stop test before getting on the main roads.
This is a way to see how slick the roads really are. Personally, I like to hit the gas pedal hard then slam the brakes to see what kind of handling I can expect.
This is a gauge to show you how much extra stopping distance you need. It can also confirm whether the roads are truly “drivable” or not. If you are spinning out just from this test, don’t bother finishing the trip — just turn around and go back home.
24. When Skidding, Look Where You Want to Go
If God forbid, your car starts skidding, you don’t want to look in front of you. You want to look where you want your car to go.
In addition, you should turn your wheel where you want to go. This will help you stay on track.
It’s easy to make things worse if you stare where your car is skidding to. Your hands will naturally turn your car into the turn, and you’ll accelerate into the skid.
It’s a good idea to find an abandoned parking lot and practice skidding in a safe, controlled environment. This will help you to understand this concept.
25. Look Way Ahead of You
As you’re driving, you want to expand the area that you look. You want to look way ahead of you, behind you, and around you.
Since driving is so much more dangerous in snowy conditions, you need to make sure you have a full picture of what’s going on around you.
If you see a car way behind you that’s going too fast, get out of their way with plenty of time to spare.
Driving in the snow is a really dangerous undertaking. With these 25 tips, it will be a little safer for you. Remember to use your common sense and stay safe on the road. Read the rest of my blog for more driving tips. I also have a list of products that might make your life a little easier.