Even in years that haven’t experienced a Polar Vortex, ten percent of U.S. vehicle crashes are due to snow, sleet, ice, and slush, according to the Department of Transportation. That’s a lot of slipping, sliding, and insurance claims that might be avoided if more drivers knew how to operate their vehicles when the weather turns.
As a general rule, if you live in a part of the country where it snows and you can see your breath, you should have winter tires that offer more grip when the going gets slippery. A set of winter tires lasts about four winter seasons and will set the average driver back about $1,000, but the payback is potentially significant. A driver could pay that much in a deductible if she lost control of her car and cracked a fender. Or worse.
If you live in a part of the country where it snows and you can see your breath, you should have winter tires that offer more grip when the going gets slippery.
I have just been schooled in the benefits of winter tires at the Bridgestone Winter Driving School in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, where I spent a half day wheeling various Lexus vehicles around two snow-packed tracks, each with multiple types of turns and inconsistent surfaces. Designed to improve drivers’ inclement weather skills while simultaneously promoting the use of winterized wheels, regardless of what brand is stamped in the rubber, the school starts at $495 for a half day. One- and two-day schools are also available with passenger’s-seat coaching in the techniques that will keep a car where it belongs: on the road.
After that eye-opening experience, I made this list of five techniques to remember when the roads are coated with snow:
1. Slow down.
Speed is not your friend when a road is coated with snow, slush, ice, or even worse—a combination of all three. Lighten up your lead foot, and you’ll be rewarded with more control.
2. Avert your eyes from that hulking snowbank.
In fact, keep your eyes off any other object you’d like to avoid. The surest way to make unwanted contact with a ditch or another driver’s bumper is to fixate on it. Look where you want to go, and the car is more likely to do the same.
3. A little steering goes a long way.
When you’re steered into a turn and the car still isn’t going where you’d like, the temptation is to steer in the same direction even more. The opposite action is needed. Steer less when entering a turn. And if you’ve already steered too much, unwind the wheel slightly to straighten out the car and try steering again—gently.
4. Don’t attempt to steer when accelerating or braking.
In slick conditions, steering, accelerating, and braking should be separate actions. Brake and accelerate in a straight line, and keep your foot off the pedals entirely when turning.
5. No sudden moves.
It might work on dry pavement, but sudden movements, such as manhandling the steering wheel or abruptly pressing the brake and accelerator pedals, are magnified by snow or ice. Handle the car as if it was a newborn baby, and you’re less likely to fishtail or spin out.