Winter Driving Safety Tips

How to Drive in Snow and Ice

When it comes to driving on snow and ice, the first thing you should always determine is whether driving is necessary.  Driving in severe winter weather is inherently dangerous and should be avoided if possible.  If you absolutely have to drive, the below tips can help you stay safe.

Know Your Drivetrain & Tires

Vehicles have different driving characteristics in winter weather based on their driven wheels.  Check out our winter driving page on FWD, RWD, AWD and 4WD layouts to learn the advantages and nuances of each drivetrain.

Remember, a good set of winter tires will allow your vehicle to accelerate, brake and steer more predictably and safely in snow and ice compared to all-season tires.

Test the Road Conditions

Keep in mind conditions often change quickly and sometimes colder conditions can permit safer driving than when temperatures are closer to the freezing point. View our winter driving preparedness tips to make sure your vehicle is up for the challenge before heading out.

Whether it is your first time driving in snow or you are a veteran of wintry roads, determining current conditions will help you know what to expect on your drive. Find an empty stretch of road to test braking, acceleration and steering inputs to get a feel for winter driving conditions.

Winter Driving Tips | Evaluate Changing Temperatures

Even with the best snow tires on the market, changing temperatures affect their ability to grip the road’s surface. Listen to the pros, and know what to expect when the thermometer drops.

Accelerating and Braking on Snow and Ice

Always reduce speed significantly when driving on snow-covered roads.  Leave extra room for braking and have a following distance of 6-10 seconds instead of the typical 3-4 seconds.  Apply and remove pressure to the brake and gas pedals as smoothly as possible. Drivers should be especially attentive to any signs of a loss of traction while cornering, accelerating or braking.

● Braking- By constantly scanning the road and landscape ahead, you should reduce the need for sudden braking and allow ample planning for your next move.  When braking on snow in modern cars, you may feel the anti-lock braking system (ABS) system pulsating in the pedal to prevent the brakes from locking up.  Do not let up on the brakes and keep your foot firmly planted.

● Accelerating- Apply gentle pressure to the gas pedal and take extra time reaching a safe cruising speed. Placing too much pressure on the gas pedal may cause the driven wheels to lose traction and spin, which could in turn reduce your control of the vehicle.

Steering on Snow & Ice

Steering should be smooth and controlled when driving on snow and ice.  Avoid quick movements of the steering wheel and know how to identify and correct both oversteer and understeer. A best practice when driving in winter weather or on dry roads is always to look in the direction you want to go.

● What is Oversteer? Oversteer occurs when the rear tires lose grip in a turn and the rear of the car starts to swing out, resulting in a tighter turn than desired.

Don’t: Slam the brakes or overcompensate with steering

Do: Steer into skid and gently accelerate to regain control of the vehicle

Winter Driving Tips | Oversteer

When your car begins to oversteer in the snow, don’t panic. Take these tips from a pro, and prepare yourself for a possible skid.

●What is understeer? Understeer is a front wheel skid where you turn the steering wheel and the front tires slide, instead of gripping the road.

Don’t: Steer harder into the turn or slam on the brakes

DO: Take your foot off the accelerator and slowly turn the wheel back towards straight until grip is achieved

Winter Driving Tips | Understeer

Before braving the elements this snowy season, take a tip from the experts. Knowing how to correct understeering is essential to keeping your family safe.

Choosing the Best Gear to Drive in Snow and Ice

Particularly for hill descent or when anticipating braking to a stop, manually placing the vehicle in a “low” gear aids in maintaining a lower speed and reducing the amount of braking required via the brake pedal.  In this scenario, engine braking is being used to maintain a lower speed and reduce the chance of a skid vs. using the brake pedal alone.

Automatic Transmission– Modern automatic transmissions are adept at working with traction control systems and adjusting to low traction levels.  Many automatics also provide a manual mode or the ability to manually select low gears (usually 1-3) which can be helpful for controlling speed in snow.

Manual Transmission– Theoretically, a manual transmission allows more control in winter weather because a driver can manually select gears in anticipation of changes in the terrain and ensure smooth clutch release and engagement so as to not upset the balance of the vehicle. Be a bit more careful when engaging the clutch, however -- doing it suddenly while accelerating can result in hard-to-control wheelspin, while doing it when downshifting may cause the driven tires to skid.

The actual gear will vary based on your vehicle and speed, but typically stepping down gradually in a 3-2-1 manner as the vehicle slows will work well with manual and automatic transmissions with manual gear selections.  When cruising on flat roadways, maintaining a higher gear will maintain momentum and make the vehicle’s tires less likely to lose grip.

Going Up and Down Hills

Regardless of transmission, drivers need to focus on making smooth inputs when on hills– braking, accelerating and cornering.  Sudden starts, jamming on the brakes or quick, large steering inputs will often result in the vehicle losing traction and spinning out of control.


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