I have some readers from other countries who have never seen or driven in snow. So I thought I would write about how we should drive safely (or not drive) in snow, at least here in the Southern States of America, which is the only place I have lived and with which I am familiar. Some helpful hints about surviving icy conditions while driving may help prevent accidents and save lives!
Different parts of the country have different winters. I will speak generally of the Southern States and mountains. But for other regions of the United States, snows and snow depths vary. Depending largely on their proximity to the Canadian Chinook winds and fronts that blow in from the Artic through Canada and sweep into the North, North-western and Plains States, and can extend to the North-eastern and some Eastern states. These areas have lower temperatures and more blizzards more frequently than the southern states. The following post is about my first blizzard in the mountains of North Carolina. https://joyful2beeblogs.com/2021/01/09/the-blizzard-of-1993/
These are some safety tips I learned from experience and from my father’s teaching on safe driving in snowy situations. Of course it is best to avoid driving in snow. But sometimes it is necessary. See post for different snows if you missed it. https://joyful2beeblogs.com/2021/01/07/winter-beauty/
Any time there is snow on the road, there is the potential for an accident or even being caught in snow. Part of the problem is, although snow may be fluffy, it may be compacted by heavy traffic and become hard and slick. So being ready for anything is important. Be certain that your car, tires, and battery are in good condition before heavy snow weather comes. In winter it is always good to check for weather predictions for snow: when it will arrive, what the temperatures will be, and road conditions, especially before starting out in the morning or on the way home.
Keeping emergency supplies in your car in case of an accident or snow situation, could be a life saver, especially if you live in the areas mentioned above. Cars have been caught in drifts; tires stuck in freezing slush, especially in slow moving traffic. In the months of the heaviest snows always stock your vehicle with several warm blankets, heavy coat, cap, boots and gloves; first aid kit, food, snacks and other such items are always good ideas for you, your family (or for others who may have had a break down). A few bags of sand or cat litter can add weight to the car’s rear wheels. This along with the fact that most vehicles now have four wheel or rear wheel drives may help some in preventing skidding on ice.
If you know it is going to snow it’s a good idea the night before a snow storm to lift your wipers off of the windshield so they won’t freeze to the glass overnight. If you leave your wipers in normal postition and find ice on the windshields, check your windshield wipers to be sure they are not frozen stuck to the window. If you try to turn your windshield wiper on when the blades are frozen to the window or frozen stiff from the temperatures they will either potentially tear (if old), be ineffective, or not move. Do not try to clear ice from your windshield with your wipers; it just wears the wipers down. If they tear, they won’t be useful in case it snows and may only scratch your windshield.
Do not let any air out of your tires, thinking it will give you more traction. The air in the tires contract when the air is cold. Better still use snow tires. In the Western states truck drivers have to put chains on their tires for traction, especially if they are driving uphill.
But there are several options. Of course there is the car’s defroster. It takes longer to defrost the side and back windows so while the front windhield defrosts, it saves time in the cold to scrape the other windows and mirrors with an ice scraper. (The edge of a credit card works well in a pinch.) But using the defroster does use gas and time.
Some use canvas or floormats to prevent ice on the windshield overnight. Some use a gallon of lukewarm water (NOT HOT which could crack your windshield) mixed with alcohol to defrost the windows. Some other ways, which I haven’t used may be found in an article by Bob Vila. https://www.bobvila.com/how-to-defrost-a-windshield .
After the snow stops and if the sun comes out, some (or all) of the snow may melt, (depending on the amount of the snow and how cold the temperatures are). The melted snow could refreeze if the temperatures drop again and cause a very dangerous layer of clear (or black) ice. The clear ice may fool the unsuspecting into thinking the roads are clear, since you can see the black asphalt through the clear ice. So people may unawares drive on black ice like they would be driving normally and have accidents. Driving very slowly is essential to safety when driving on black ice, or even snow.
Keeping a greater distance between cars than the state requires for safety during normal driving is vitally helpful. You will need more distance to stop, regain control of your vehicle, avoid someone else who is sliding, and avoid hitting someone else who slams on the brakes and skids! Driving too fast on a slick road is hazardous because your car could lose traction on the ice and be a good example of a 2 ton adult learning to ice skate for the first time: when he hits a slick spot it is hard to control his speed or direction and people can’t get out of the way fast enough! I sometimes pull over if someone is driving too fast or too close on icy roads.
Drive slowly! If the rear of the car starts to slide around towards the right, turn your steering wheel gently in that direction. (Ditto for the left.) If the front starts to skid take your foot off of the gas pedal so the weight of the car may help slow the car down.
Some helpful hints about surviving icy conditions while driving may help prevent accidents. Always leave 8-10 seconds (or more!) distance between you and the next car. Since I don’t always know how many seconds ahead a car is in front of me, I was taught to normally keep a car-length and a half between me and the next car. If the roads are icy and you have to brake fast, you will need much more room to stop safely. Braking on any slick surface should be done very slowly with gentle pressure on the brake pedal to allow the car’s tires more time to grab traction with the road.
Care, preparedness, safety, slow driving, “safe distancing,” being aware of other drivers who are being reckless will keep you safer. Being an experienced driver also makes it safer for you or anyone to drive.