“The one thing that unites all human beings, regardless of age, gender, religion, economic status, or ethnic background, is that, deep down inside, we all believe that we are above-average drivers.” Dave Barry, Dave Barry Turns Fifty
I bet you don’t read statistics about car accidents! If you do, it either scares you to death or comforts you.
Keep in mind that statistics lump us all into one category. There are subcategories of drivers, but you do have some control over the category you fall into! More about that in a future article!
For now, I want to share my own observations about safe driving that I’ve gleaned through a lifetime of driving. Today I’ll discuss driving in snow and ice since there’s a lot of that out my window and yours today!
Snow Driving Tips From Canadians
I was born in Quebec. My family emigrated to the U.S. in 1963 when I was 7 years old. But I learned snow safety from my parents. Rarely does snow stop a Canadian. I remember one trip to my grandmother’s house on rural back roads when my two siblings and I were around 5 and under.
It was snowing and the depth of the snow kept rising, yet my father kept driving. I remember the car stopping so that he could put chains on the tires. Then he just kept on until the snow was so deep, the car got stuck. We waited in the car until my father returned with horses and a cart.
He lifted us up onto it, covered us with a blanket and we went across the long covered bridge, listening to the sound of horses clomping along, echoing across the river until we reached my grandmother’s house.
So, that explains the first tip in this list for driving in the snow:
- Don’t drive through deep snow unless there are horses available.
- If there’s ice, just don’t drive!
- Stay home if at all possible! Playing in the snow is safer than snow driving!
- Before heading onto the freeway, fill your tank. If you get stuck, you’ll be able to stay warm longer.
- Always travel with at least one blanket. Small fleece throws work well or those thin aluminum blankets.
- The most dangerous time for snow driving is when it has just started snowing. So don’t rush out. That thin film of snow is slippery and the trucks haven’t been out to treat the roads yet. So wait it out. A little bit of depth actually gives you a little traction.
- Never drive in snow without snow tires. Make acquiring them a routine part of your seasonal preparation for winter.
- If you live on a hill and can afford it, make your next car a four-wheel (all-wheel) drive.
- Check with your sheriff’s office to see if there are level two or level three warnings. You’ll know whether snow driving today is considered safe.
- Drive slowly, and don’t stop suddenly. Slow the car down gently if necessary. Sudden braking will send you into a spin. Add an extra minute for every mile you drive. Ignore this advice and you may find out what it’s like to fly off a bridge, or slam into a guardrail, or flip a few times in your car, ending up upside down. I have seen this happen and ever since I have wondered what it’s like to be upside down in my car.
- Never stop on a hill. You will end up having to back down the hill. No fun. Been there. Done that.
- If you do go into a spin, don’t forget what you learned in driver’s ed. Turn the steering wheel into the direction of the spin. And don’t forget to breathe. Trust me. It works. Same thing if you hydroplane in a puddle of water.
- Never assume there is no ice under the snow. Assume the opposite.
- If you have a rear-wheel-drive vehicle, add a couple bags of cat litter or sand to your trunk for weight. It’s also good to use for traction if you should get stuck in the snow/ice. (This isn’t helpful if your car is front- or 4-wheel drive.)
- Before you leave, make sure your wipers are in good shape (they should be changed every six months), top off your windshield wiper fluid and fully charge your cell phone (and bring a charger).
Survive Snow Driving in a Snow Squall
I just got stuck in a snow squall and realized I didn’t mention those at all! These create probably the most dangerous snow conditions for driving!
The worst snow squall I remember getting caught in was about 17 years ago in Connecticut. I was driving to Rhode Island to an airport when I found myself in a severe snow squall. I used all of the tools in my safety tool belt, but I did not feel safe. I also did not see my exit and missed my flight. The worst part was that semis didn’t seem to think slowing down was a good idea, so every time I was able to orient myself to know where the road was so I could stay on it, a semi would zoom by, forcing an extra layer of snow onto my windshield.
So, here are all the tools in my tool belt:
- Don’t panic.
- Slow down… slowly. Don’t slam on your brakes. Squalls create that thin film of snow very quickly. The difference is you can’t choose to stay home!
- Turn on your headlights and flashers so other cars can see you. Do not use brights.
- Very important — you must orient yourself to where the road is. During a squall, wind is blowing and snow blocks your view. In a way your headlights emphasize the snowflakes, so look to the side of the road for signs, traffic lights, shoulder lines. The shoulder line is extremely helpful until the snow covers it. Your eyes must constantly be checking the rear view and ahead of you. It pays to be hyper-vigilant during these brief blizzards. These little mini blizzards usually last 30 minutes or less, but that’s still enough time to cover the line. And if you’re traveling with the storm, it will last much longer. During my trip to the airport, the snow covered signs too, which is why I missed my exit.
- If possible, avoid pulling over. A car or semi could run into you. If you must pull over, make sure you really are on the side of the road and all of your lights are flashing!
- The articles I linked to also have some suggestions. Please add yours!
Check snow levels at Sheriff’s offices. I haven’t been able to find announcements on the sites, but I called to get snow levels:
Washington County Sheriff (740) 376-7070