How to drive in the snow

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It always amuses me that people forget how to drive in the snow in less than a year’s time. Living in Ohio means you’ll likely do it at least once a year.

And then there are the hot rods that hate everyone when it snows. Traffic isn’t moving fast enough, no one knows how to drive and it totally ruined their whole day.

To those of you who get nervous in the snow and those of you who already know it all, I have some tips to improve your commute.

Planning and preparation

Incidentally, ensuring your safety starts before the snow is on the ground. Here are things you need to check every fall:

Battery: Cold weather makes vehicles harder to start. Frequently, your battery is to blame. Before the winter weather arrives make sure the terminals are clean and check its fluid level and voltage regulator.

Tune up: It’s a good idea to have a tune up every year to make sure your car is running properly and there are no issues with the ignition.

Heater: Test the heater and defroster to make sure they are functioning properly. If they are not heating efficiently, there are a few things you can check. First, check the antifreeze and radiator. Make sure you don’t have any leaks then add antifreeze. Second, check the thermostat. Third, check any intake vents for a blockage.

Window wipers and washer fluid: Putting it simply, if your wipers are leaving streaks, just replace them. Additionally, make sure you have washer fluid to clean your windshield in the winter.

Tires: Make sure your tires have enough tread to handle winter driving. The minimum requirement in Ohio is 1/16 of an inch. If you plan on using snow tires, put them on before the first snow. After the temperature drops make sure to check the air pressure as a sudden change cause a drop.

Lights: Change burned out headlights, tail lights and turn signals.

Brakes: Check to make sure your brake pads are going to last through the colder months and make sure your entire braking system is in working order.

Gas tank: Always make sure your tank is at least half full during winter to prevent line freeze-up.

Emergency Kit

Here are the items the Ohio Committee for Severe Weather Awareness recommends keeping on hand:

  • Two blankets or a sleeping bag
  • Flashlight or lantern with spare batteries
  • Jumper cables
  • Emergency flares
  • Extra clothing, boots, hats, mittens
  • A steal shovel and rope
  • bottled water or juice and non-perishable foods
  • First-aid kit
  • Sand or non-clumping cat litter
  • A cell phone and car charger

Driving Tips

Before you even hit the road, it’s important to pay attention to weather reports. If you know ahead of time the weather is going to be challenging, give yourself extra time to commute. If you don’t know ahead of time, accept that you’re probably going to be late. Furthermore, if you’re really concerned or if you don’t have to be out on the road, stay home.

For those that do have to make the trip, here are some guidelines to follow:

  • Understand what type of vehicle you’re driving. Front-wheel-drive vehicles will handle better than rear-wheel-drive vehicles. Four-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive will handle better than two-wheel drive. However, all vehicles are vulnerable to skidding.
  • Clean off your car. Don’t be lazy and only give yourself a tiny port hole of visibility. Clear the entire windshield and remaining windows. Also, be sure to dust off head, tail and brake lights.
  • Buckle up. Make sure you put your seatbelt on and require your passengers to do the same.
  • Learn how to brake based on your setup. If you have an Anti-lock Braking System (ABS), be sure to: STOMP — firmly depress the brake pedal. STAY on the brakes — do not pump the brakes. STEER where you want the vehicle to go. If you don’t have an ABS braking system, gently pump your brakes to stop the vehicle and take any corrective action gradually. Additionally, apply the brakes only when you’re moving in a straight line.
  • If your wipers are on, your headlights are on. In Ohio, that courtesy has been required by law since 2010.
  • Don’t tailgate. Braking time increases up to nine times on snowy roads, so make sure you give yourself plenty of time to make a complete stop. Also, be sure to pay attention for sudden slowing traffic.
  • “Don’t Crowd the Plow.” Make sure to leave at least 25 feet (about three car lengths) behind snow emergency vehicles. Never pass a snow plow or salt truck as operators may not be able to see you or you could get caught on a snow-covered plow edge.
  • Don’t text and drive. You shouldn’t text and drive no matter what the weather is like, but because you can lose control even quicker in the snow it’s even more important to stay off your phone.
  • Use caution on bridges and overpasses. They can be up to 6 degrees lower than roads and become icy first as a result.
  • Always let someone know where you’re going. When it’s really bad out make sure to let someone know where you’re headed and give them the following information: your cell phone number, departure time, travel route and anticipated arrival time.

Basic skidding rules

If you start skidding, follow these steps recommended by the Alaska Department of Public Safety:

  1. Take your foot off the gas and leave your foot off the brake. Don’t make any sudden movements until you have control of the steering again.
  2. NEVER jam on the brakes. Gently apply them instead.
  3. Cautiously turn your steering wheel in the direction you are skidding.
  4. Practice skids in a large, deserted parking lot to learn how to regain control, so you can do it instinctively.
  5. If your vehicle has an anti-lock braking system, follow the instructions above.

Resources

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Sara is Farm and Dairy’s online content producer. Raised in Portage County, she earned a magazine journalism degree from Kent State University. She enjoys spending time with her daughter, traveling, writing, reading and outdoor recreation.

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