Thursday, February 19, 2015

How to Drive in Snow

This winter I’ve driven to work on a sheet of ice, and both during and after the fastest accumulation of snow metro-Detroit has seen in decades. Here in Michigan, we don’t call snow days easily. If it snows 6 inches, you still drive to work on Monday morning. And if it snows 12 inches? You might get away with showing up late.

Between many of my Brazilian students’ impressions of driving and this post about an Icelandic road trip, I’m starting to realize that not everyone views snow the same way I do. If you think snow is beautiful, here is some advice* for taking it on in a motor vehicle.

Be Careful

Drive slowly. If the speed limit is 50, but you can only control your car at 25 miles per hour…. the speed limit is 25. Leave space between vehicles, and leave time between commitments. You want as much time to stop as possible, and you do not want to be stressed on the road. These things are common sense, so make sure to do them.

You use more gas in stop and go traffic, moving slowly, and braking often. Running on fumes is not a choice you can make; especially on a road trip, walking to the nearest gas station could be life-threatening. Top your tank off before you are at one quarter full.

Think about the worst case scenario. Who will you call? Put those numbers on your fully charged cell phone. What if you are stranded? Know if you can safely walk to shelter, pack food in case you can’t, and pack all the warm clothes and flashlights you will need. Keep your winter boots in the car: you will need them no matter what the emergency situation.

Know How to Move

Losing control of your vehicle is normal, especially without four wheel drive. Slipping out is like when your body falls on the ice and your legs “slip out” from the rest of you, except this body is a ton of metal. When you feel it for the first time, you will know and you will probably panic. Don’t Panic. Find a deserted parking lot that hasn’t been plowed and practice.

Start out trying to stop. Figure out how long it takes to stop, and get familiar with the grinding feeling under your foot as you brake without enough traction. Assuming your car has an anti-lock brake system (ABS); the car will release and reapply the brake as long as you keep your foot down. If you don’t already know how, don’t drive in snow without ABS.

Now try to start on snowy and icy ground. If nothing happens,** gently and slowly push the gas and release the gas until you have traction and start moving. You will do this often at intersections. If you hold the gas down, you’ll move too quickly when your car finds traction and go shooting off too fast.

Know Where to Steer

Next, drive doughnuts in the parking lot. Make little circles or figure eight patterns until you slip out. When most people give you advice, they’re all using different words to tell you how to handle this situation. Try all of it: turn the direction you’re slipping, keep the wheel pointed where you’re going, turn towards where the rear of your car is going. Slip out until you panic less, and until you can regain control.

On the road you have basically three choices for where to steer: your lane, oncoming traffic, off of the road. Pay attention; know if there is a brick wall or an empty field off of the road. If you lose control moving too fast, especially if you’re driving on what you consider the “wrong” side of the road, make sure you Do Not steer into oncoming traffic.

Good Luck. 

Have you ever driven in snow? Is my advice helpful? What other advice have you heard?

*Advice. Not a guarantee. You are an adult (or responsible young adult) who makes your own choices. Make your own driving decisions at your own risk, et cetera.

**Some cars have a little light to tell you that there’s no traction. It will appear on the dashboard and look like a car with little squiggle lines coming off of the wheels. Try to feel for the moment anyway.