Safe Driving in Snow and Ice
Tips for Safe Driving in the Snow
- Don’t. If you can avoid going out until after roads are plowed and salted, it’s always better to avoid taking risks.
- Make sure you have the right equipment. If you have access to snow tires or chains, put them on. If not, double check that your tires have plenty of tread.
- Clean your car. Driving your car with snow on the windows or covering the lights is dangerous. Driving with snow piled on top of your car can pose a threat to other drivers as it flies off; in fact, in many states, it’s even illegal.
- Maintain a safe following distance. In ice and snow, you should keep a following distance 3-5 times longer than you would in dry conditions.
- Slow and steady wins the race. Adjust your speed and avoid jerking start-stops, especially when going up hills. Slamming on the breaks can cause you to spin out or skid forward.
- Take extra caution while turning. If you start skidding during a turn, steer in the direction of the skid, not against it.
- Don’t pump your brakes if you feel yourself losing control. If you drive a modern vehicle, chances are you have an anti-locking brake system, which will keep the wheels from locking in the first place. Pumping the brakes will only make it take longer for you to come to a stop. Press firmly and hold, instead.
FWD vs. RWD vs. AWD vs. 4WD
Most passenger vehicles in Washington are two-wheel drive (2WD), which means that the engine powers only the front or back wheels and the other two spin freely. 2WD vehicles are lighter and more fuel-efficient than their counterparts below but perform worse in snow and ice.
Most 2WD vehicles are front-wheel drive (FWD), meaning the front wheels are the only ones that receive power. Many pickup trucks or sports cars use rear-wheel drive (RWD), which provides better traction when hauling heavy loads in back or when accelerating quickly.
In all-wheel drive (AWD), the engine powers all four wheels. Directing a portion of power to all corners gives your vehicle more stability in slippery conditions like snow or ice, because it can get grip and traction from any of 4 wheels instead of just 2. If two or three of your wheels are stuck, the other wheel(s) can get you un-stuck. In a 2WD vehicle, you are limited to the wheels that receive power. Four-wheel drive (4WD) is like AWD, but more robust. 4WD is often found on off-roading vehicles.
It is important to know whether your car drives with 2 or 4 wheels so you can know your limits in snow and ice. 4WD and AWD vehicles are excellent in snow, slush, and ice, and FWD vehicles can handle moderate snow and slush, but RWD vehicles are notorious for poor winter performance. If you’re driving a RWD vehicle, consider adding weight in the back for better traction.
If you’re driving an AWD or 4WD vehicle, remember that it’s not four-wheel stop. The easy drive and acceleration in AWD/4WD vehicles can fool you into underestimating your stopping difference and rear-ending someone.
Check out the best cars for snow here – your best bet is an SUV that rides high off the ground, like a Subaru Forester or a Honda CR-V. And, of course, one that’s equipped with AWD.