I love winter driving, especially in snowstorms! The snow makes beautiful patterns as it streaks across the windshield and the challenge of keeping the car on the road gets my adrenaline pumping similar to skiing down a mountain. I learned to drive during long snowy Wisconsin winters. This was back in the day when the snow fell in November and didn’t melt until spring. Monster ruts formed along with black ice which would hide under a shroud of fresh snow like a cursed demon, sending unsuspecting drivers fish-tailing or spinning in circles. Of course we all had rear-wheel drive cars back then.
I decided to share what I learned since most people on the road during our last Colorado snowstorm sucked at winter driving! It occurred to me that most of these tips also work for wet road conditions so if you are a friend closer to the equator you could benefit from some of them as well.
#1. If your tires are bald - when you stick a penny into the tread and it doesn’t touch Lincoln’s head - for God’s sake stay home! Taking the bus, taxi, or dialing a friend would be the safest option for you and everyone else sharing the road. No traction = no control. Even with the best snow tires, you may still slide on black ice so imagine the risk you are taking you crazy person!
#2. Slow down before stop lights or signs to prevent sliding into the intersection. No matter what kind of vehicle you are driving, slamming on your brakes to reduce your speed from 60 to zero in a snowstorm is never a good idea and no one wants to test their own driving skills in avoiding a collision with you. Black ice is often hiding underneath snowpack at intersections because idling vehicles melt the snow which then freezes.
#3. If you do start to slide on ice and there is a car in front of you, don’t slam on the brakes, close your eyes, and hope to God the anti-lock mechanism will save your butt. No matter how hard they pump you will keep moving forward. Stop braking and slowly use the steering wheel to guide your car around the vehicle. The car will respond like the sled it has temporarily transformed into. You don’t want to do anything fast. If you crank your steering wheel you’ll crash into that poor guy or gal in front of you and ruin both of your days.
#4. Don’t accelerate or brake over bridges or overpasses since they are notorious for ice buildup. My dad often tells a story about driving back from La Crosse, Wisconsin when he hit black ice on a bridge and spun around 3 times before stopping. Luckily this happened after midnight when no one was on the road. I can imagine my mom screaming, “Oh Eddie! Oh Eddie! Oh Eddie!”
#5. When the light turns green and you begin spinning your wheels, don’t accelerate like an Indy race car driver. I can’t believe how many morons think that if their tires go faster they will be able to get the car moving again. This is snow people, not asphalt! Some drivers must love the sound of squealing tires or watching the engine rev the speedometer up to 120 MPH! Shift your car into low gear and slowly step on the accelerator. Slowly! If you have already spun out, you have probably created ice under your tires. You want to do the most counter-intuitive thing imaginable; back up and then creep forward again.
#6. Make sure your wheels are straight when someone pushes you out. The volunteer who is straining against your bumper will be grateful. Wheels turned sideways will make pushing your car a lot more difficult.
#7. Remember if there are several cars stuck in the snow with you, please stop and help others. I can’t believe the last guy I pushed out just waved and drove off leaving me on the side of the road to fend for myself. I eventually threw my car mats down under my front tires for traction. It worked, but I lost one deep under the snow. I had to wait until the spring thaw to find it again!
#8. If you start driving up a hill, do not stop or you will lose momentum. Even if you are only going 2 MPH it is important that you do not stop! If you only remember one thing, DO NOT STOP!!!
#9. Never text or talk on the phone! You really need to focus. Leave plenty of room between you and the car ahead so you have time to react to the changing conditions. It is easy to space out and tailgate. Talk about your weekend plans later.
#10. Do not drive in the passing lane alongside another car on the highway going 10 MPH. If you are visiting from a warm climate like Texas - Sorry Texas friends; I’m sure you’re exceptional drivers - remember that white knuckling in the left lane while driving your Plymouth Neon will cause those who are equipped for driving in the snow to flash their brights and honk their horns. We want you to have a pleasant stay while you are in Colorado, so for God’s sake pull into the right hand lane for your own safety! It is against the law in this State to impede the flow of traffic in the left lane.
#11. Turn on your emergency flashers if you have to drive slowly so no one rear-ends you. We drive up and down from the mountains frequently and I often flip them on if traffic suddenly comes to a halt right in front of me. They can be seen from quite a distance.
I love winter driving and hope that after reading these tips, you will enjoy it too!
In these following videos there is not a lot anyone could do…
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Photo by K. Lindau