Winter Storm Pax, already labeled a historic winter storm, has forced school districts from Texas to North Carolina to close their doors. The governors of North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama, and Georgia have already declared states of emergency because of expected heavy ice accumulations expected to cause dangerous driving conditions and widespread power outages.
We get the message! Stay off the roads. But what if you can’t?
For those who MUST be on the roads, be prepared. Knowing how to drive safely on slippery roads can mean the difference between life and death.
8 tips for winter driving
1. Stay in if you can! Good advice is worth repeating.
2. Clear the windows — front, sides and back. Yes, it’s cold. I get that. But the few extra minutes it takes to clear the windows is worth it. Unsafe road conditions are harder to manage when you can’t see.
3. Clear head and tail lights and use them. Gray cloud cover and falling snow reduce visibility. Help fellow drivers see you by using your lights.
4. Slow down. Slick road conditions make driving hazardous, especially when turning or braking.
5. Increase assured clear distance. In hazardous conditions, driver behavior is less predictable. Maintain greater space between you and the car in front of you to allow more time to adjust should they spin out or stop suddenly.
6. Understand your brakes. Do you have anti-lock brakes? Apply and hold pressure. Do not pump anti-lock brakes or they can’t do their job. (Don’t just take my word for it. Read your owner’s manual for specific advice for your vehicle.) If you don’t have anti-lock brakes, understand how to pump the brakes and maintain control of your car.
7. Don’t slam on the brakes. Regardless of the type of brakes you have, slamming on the brakes is dangerous.
8. Maintain speed on bridges. Bridges do ice before roadways, because the air passes underneath and cools the surface quicker than regular roadways. To avoid sliding (crashing) on bridges, maintain speed — don’t accelerate or brake. Growing up, I was taught to lower speed on approach of bridges.
If you start to skid
Practicing safe driving in winter weather lessens the risk of a skid. But safe driving alone doesn’t guarantee you won’t skid.
When you start to skid,
1. Take your foot off the accelerator.
2. Steer the car in the direction you want the front wheels to go. If you want to go left, turn left. If you want to go right, turn right.
3. Expect that you might have to recorrect and turn the wheel the other way. (You skid to the right. To correct, you turn the wheel to the left, but the car then starts skidding that direction. Turn the steering wheel to the right to correct it. You may have to do this a few times to regain full control.)
4. Brake to slow your car’s motion, but don’t slam on the brakes. (With standard brakes, pump them as you slow. With anti-lock brakes, apply steady pressure and expect to hear/feel a grinding sensation as the car slows. The brakes pump themselves. Trust them to do their work.)
5. Above all, don’t panic!
Prepare for emergencies
Even experienced winter drivers get stuck sometimes. If you’re unfortunate enough to have your car stuck on ice, you need to be prepared to take action. Always make sure the car is loaded with appropriate supplies to survive being stranded for several hours.
Keep your phone charged longer by dimming the light, closing all open apps and saving it for emergency only.
Keep the gas tank full (top it off when it gets to ½ tank or if weather conditions begin to deteriorate).
For a great infographic on what to keep in your car, read this article.
For practical advice on how to pack it all, read this article (a Family Travels on a Budget reader favorite).
If you can’t avoid winter driving, using these 8 tips for driving in winter weather might help you reach your destination safely.
Be careful out there! Pax may be the name of the Roman goddess of peace. This storm, though, is anything but peaceful!