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Driving on Ice and Snow

Old Man Winter has arrived, and in many parts of the country he brings with him months of icy, snow-covered roads and dangerous driving conditions. Driving on snow and ice safely demands concentration, awareness, skill, and preparedness. According to the Federal Highway Administration, more than 116,000 injuries and 1,300 fatalities occur in auto accidents on snowy or icy roads each year.

  • Think "traction". Make sure your tires are in good condition. If in doubt, have your mechanic or dealership check them If you have a four-wheel drive vehicle, engage the four-wheel drive when driving on snow or ice. And remember that if a road appears to be wet, it may actually have a thin film of ice ('black ice") coating it. Be especially wary of shaded areas under trees--you could be looking at black ice.
  • Put extra space between you and the other guy. Stopping (if you can stop, that is) takes much longer on ice than it does on a dry road. Drive more slowly than you normally would, anticipate your stops and turns, and approach traffic signals cautiously, in case the signal turns red. Give yourself extra time to reach your destination so you're not feeling rushed.
  • Get a better view. Visibility is critical, and fewer hours of daylight combined with severe winter weather can reduce visibility to near zero. Before starting out, check to make sure that all windows are clear of snow and ice, all lights are operating and visible, the windshield washer fluid is full, and the wipers are in good condition. Use your headlights at all times--even in daylight--to make it easier for other drivers to see you.
  • Beware of bridges. Because they are surrounded on all sides by air, bridges freeze long before the adjacent road surface does. On a sunny day, the black asphalt of the roadway will cause snow and ice to melt, and car tires carry this water onto the bridge. The water forms a thin film of ice on the cold bridge, and after sunset the rapid change in air temperature causes the bridge to freeze. This is a major hazard, so avoid abrupt speed and lane changes when approaching bridges in winter.
  • Stay calm on Black Ice!  If you are caught on black ice you can use the following tips to maneuver past the problem area:

Do Nothing:  Avoid making sudden moves or turning the wheel.  Smoothly  lift your foot off the accelerator and glide across the ice in a straight line until you find traction.

Shift:  If possible, slowly shift to a lower gear for added control.

Brake Wisely:  If you  begin to skid, firmly press on your brakes to activate the anti-lock brake system(ABS).  Or if you don't have ABS, pump the brakes gently.

Avoid spinout:  If your front end is sliding, steer in the opposite direction of the skid, if the back end is sliding, steer in the same direction.

Look toward where you want to go:  Avoid looking where you think you may crash-you might inadvertently veer the car in that direction!


Driving On Ice and Snow has been reprinted from "Safety Check" January 2009.