Safe driving in winter conditions

  • Published
  • By Troy Weaver
  • 90th Missile Wing traffic safety manager
It is getting to be that time of year again to think about driving in winter conditions. The weather can change quickly here in the West. Driving in snow and ice is serious business, and winter storms can strand drivers for hours before help can arrive.

Driving on snow and ice requires extra care and a lot of patience. Slow down and put extra distance between vehicles. Do not use the cruise control. Roads that appear clear can have sudden slippery spots and the slightest touch of the brakes to deactivate the cruise control can cause a loss of vehicle control. If the vehicle is on ice, do not panic, this could cause even more problems such as going into a skid. If starting to skid, remove pressure off the gas pedal, turn into the skid, and then once the vehicle is under control, slowly apply the brakes and pull off the road.

Stopping on snow and ice requires a much greater distance than normal dry conditions. Anticipate the stop and avoid any sudden maneuvers. Most importantly, don't "lock-up" the brakes. Remove pressure off the accelerator and let the engine slow you down. If the vehicle is equipped with Anti-Lock Brakes, apply firm, steady pressure. With older style brakes, apply steady pressure to the pedal but don't lock the brakes. Also, alternate between applying and releasing the brakes to avoiding skidding.

At 30 F, ice is twice as slippery as it is at 0 F. Ice forms first and lasts longer on bridges, overpasses and in shady areas. If driving across an unexpected ice patch, don't try to brake, accelerate or downshift. Release pressure from the accelerator, keep both hands on the steering wheel, and drive through the icy area. This could also help you if encountering water on the road, because the same steps apply.

While these suggestions will help those arrive at their destinations safely during the winter months, there is much more people can do. Let others know the specific details of travel plans. Plan for shorter days of driving and give yourself extra time, whether driving across town or across country. Check weather and travel conditions before heading out and make sure there is an emergency kit in the vehicle.

If one becomes stranded, stay in the car. Do not leave it to search for assistance unless help is visible within 100 yards. One may become disoriented and lost in blowing and drifting snow. Turn on hazard lights and hang a distress flag from the radio antenna or window. Conserve fuel, but run the engine about ten minutes each hour to keep warm, crack a downwind window slightly to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning. Exercise to maintain body heat but don't overexert. Warmth can also be achieved by huddling with other passengers and using a coat as a blanket. Keep the exhaust pipe as clear of snow as possible. Turn on the inside dome light so rescue teams can see passengers at night, but be careful not to run the battery down.

Once the blizzard or storm is over, one may need to leave the car and proceed on foot. Follow the road if possible. If needing to walk across open country, use distant points as landmarks to help your sense of direction. Making good decisions prior to and during a trip will allow one to make it back safely.