Winter weather means taking greater precautions behind the wheel.
With winter on our doorstep, now is a good time to go over proper procedures and best practices for driving on ice and snow. We’ll hear from driving expert, Jim Earnshaw, who has more than 50 years of professional driving experience as a competitive driver. He’s also an instructor for several driving schools, including the Sports Car Club of America and Better Ohio Teen Drivers.
As an attendee of the Audi Club’s Winter Driving Experience in Seefeld, Austria, Earnshaw learned winter driving safety tips firsthand by driving on a frozen lake. While most of us won’t be doing that this winter, Earnshaw’s skills and expertise can still be applied to everyday driving.
Check the Tires
First things first: Earnshaw advises that you check your tires to make sure they aren’t worn and are at the correct pressure level. Winter tires can further protect against slippery roads. These season-specific tires contain unique tread patterns and rubber compounds that combat the ice and snow to improve road traction.
If you can’t see beyond the inside of the car, you’re putting yourself and others at risk. Make sure the car’s windows, mirrors and lights are free of snow and ice, and that the windshield wipers clean the glass smoothly with each swipe.
Having control of the vehicle is key to safe driving, especially in the colder months. This includes being able to start, stop and maneuver safely. However, what sounds simple can prove to be quite difficult in high-risk situations.
Every time you move the steering wheel or tap the brakes, you shift the car’s weight from front to back or side to side. This balancing act can result in sliding in adverse conditions, such as when water, ice or snow are on the road. Whenever there is anything between your tires and the road surface that reduces traction, you’ll have a harder time controlling the car.
Maintaining control also requires being aware of other drivers, the weather and road conditions, the vehicle’s capabilities, its configuration (i.e., rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive) and your ability to stay composed and respond properly.
Ensure a Proper Fit
A proper driving position is essential to staying in control. Drivers make functional contact with the car at three points: their body in the seat, their hands on the wheel and their feet on the pedals. Your body needs to be firmly planted in the seat and secured by the seat belt. Your hands should be at the 9 and 3 o’clock positions on the wheel, and your feet should reach the pedals without stretching.
Just like the road surface and tires, anything between your hands, the steering wheel and feet on the pedals can be a detriment to control. Bulky gloves and heavy-soled boots may make it harder for you to have the most feel for the road conditions. So, leave the extreme winter gear for outdoor adventures only.
Leave Room Around You
Finally, it’s important to increase the space around the car. Be sure to slow down and leave plenty of space between you and other cars on the road. Be deliberate with your actions and maintain balance, and you will maintain control. A good way to remember this is to be like a CAT — concentrate, anticipate and tolerate.
AAA’s Best Tips: Driving on Ice and Snow
We highly recommend taking Earnshaw’s advice, as well as the following quick tips for how to drive safely in wintery road conditions:
- Don’t drive if you’re tired. Getting plenty of rest before driving in winter weather reduces accident risks.
- Slow down. Allow at least three times more space than usual between you and the car in front of you at all times. Accelerate, turn and brake gradually.
- Watch the traffic ahead of you. Slow down immediately at the sight of brake lights, skidding vehicles or emergency flashers.
- Never use cruise control on slippery roads.
- Avoid unnecessary lane changes. This increases the chances of hitting a patch of ice between lanes, which could cause you to lose traction.
- Don’t power up hills. Hitting the gas on snow and ice-covered roads may result in spinning your wheels.
- Try to brake on ice as little as possible. Brake early on clear pavement to reduce speed and maintain control.
- Stay calm during a skid and try to control it. Slamming on the brakes can make the skid even worse. Continue to look in the direction you want to go and steer your vehicle that way.
- Don’t brake and turn at the same time. Brake first, then turn and then accelerate.
- Know your brakes. If you have anti-lock brakes (ABS) and need to slow down quickly, press hard on the pedal. It’s normal for the pedal to vibrate when the ABS is activated.
- Never text or engage in distracting activities while driving. If you’re with a passenger, ask for their assistance with this.
Driving on ice and snow can take a toll on your car. Schedule an appointment at your local AAA Car Care Plus or Approved Auto Repair shop to make sure your vehicle runs smoothly all season long.
Gina Zammit is a freelance writer based in Connecticut.