Did you know that vehicles can take up to 10 times as long to stop when there is ice or snow on the roads? In 2022 more than 116,000 people in the U.S. suffered injuries, and 1,300 people died resulting from icy, snowy, or slushy road conditions.
Because this is such a high risk for today’s drivers, it’s critical to know a few driving precautions that can minimize your risks.
Driving in Snow
Even a dusting of snow on the roadways increases the risk of a car or truck accident. The most important driving precaution in the snow is to SLOW DOWN. It will take longer for the vehicle to react in these conditions.
Braking in snowy conditions is harder to do, which means you need allow 8 to 10 seconds longer before your car will stop. Stay much farther behind the car in front of you on ice and snow to give your vehicle plenty of time and roadway to stop.
Avoid stopping on hills or inclines as the risk of skidding is higher in these areas. If the vehicle begins to skid due to a slick spot, don't panic. Don't slam the brakes! Instead, ease off the gas if the front wheels are skidding. This should allow the front tires to regain traction. If the rear wheels are skidding, turn the steering wheel in the same direction as the skid. Ease your foot off the gas but don't hit the brakes. Once the rear wheels get some traction, you'll then need to steer the vehicle back on course.
If there are blizzard conditions and you’re on the roadway, here are some tips to react quickly and safely:
- Try to get off the road if you cannot see in front of you to drive.
- Take the nearest exit and wait it out if you can.
- Drive even slower.
- Your car will spin out if you are going the speed limit in a blizzard.
- Turn on your headlights AND your hazard lights so other drivers can see you.
- If you cannot get off the highway, pull to the side of the road and keep your lights on, flashing.
- Stay off the shoulder and give plenty of space in case another drive runs off the road.
Driving on Ice
Driving precautions for ice are extremely important. You cannot see all the ice that forms on the road – sometimes it can appear the roadway is only wet when it's actually a solid sheet of ice. There are several things you can do to improve your outcome, though.
When the roadways are icy and slick, put plenty of extra space between you and the car in front of you - as much as 10 times the space you normally have. It's good to remember that going downhill will cause you to speed up no matter the conditions. In this instance, ease your foot off the gas and try not to use the brakes too much if at all. That will help your wheels to maintain a better grip on the pavement.
Move your car into a lower gear. These lower gears can help give you more control over dangerous road conditions.
Black ice is highly dangerous and hard to see. If you believe it's on the roadways you're using, follow these tips:
- Learn to spot it.
- Black ice isn't black but clear, and it functions in the same way any other type of ice on the roadway will.
- It typically forms right at the freezing point and is most common at night or early in the morning.
- If you hit black ice and the vehicle starts to skid, don’t overreact.
- Do as little as possible and allow the car to simply move over the icy patch.
- Don’t hit the brakes but keep the steering wheel as straight as possible.
- If the car starts to move towards the left or right, steer the car in the same direction gently.
- Trying to turn the wheel in the opposite direction will lead to spinning out.
- Slow down by taking your foot off the gas – don’t touch the brakes.
When you encounter ice, follow these steps. Then, try to guide your car towards an area of pavement that seems to have more traction, such as one that’s snow or salt covered.
Driving on Sand
Driving safely on sand is a bit different than driving in other conditions. If you are driving on sand, there is less compacted soil under the vehicle, which can make it harder to control. You also have to consider if the sand is wet or dry, as each has different challenges.
Follow these tips to help you drive on sand safely:
- Wet sand is dangerous. Avoid it at all costs!
- Use four-wheel drive when you are going over areas of compacted, hard sand.
- Don't make sudden or sharp turns with the wheel, as that will make it harder for the wheels to maintain traction.
- Always drive slower than you would on the road.
- If you have to stop while driving on sand, it can be much harder to get moving again.
- If you must stop, try doing so on a downhill grade. This will help getting the car moving again.
If you find yourself on sand with spinning tires, remove your foot from the gas. Then, slowly accelerate while turning the wheel slightly to help gain traction in any direction.
NEVER 'gun it' to get the car moving again! This approach is almost guaranteed to fail and dig your car deeper into the sand.
Take It Easy & Drive Safely
Driving safety is the responsibility of ALL people sharing the road. One of the most important safety factors is having the necessary skills for any road condition. This knowledge will also encourage good road confidence and increase your expertise.
Take these driving precautions seriously and follow your instincts. If the roads are too bad or you don’t feel safe, don’t drive on them.