Written by Alice Stevens | Last Updated February 24th, 2020Alice Stevens has managed the health and life insurance content for Best Company since 2018. She’s passionate about conducting good research and understanding the details you need to know about insurance. When she's not writing and researching, she enjoys good food and travel.
Winter weather brings hazardous driving conditions: snow, sleet, black ice, and snow banks. It’s important to prepare your car for winter driving and have emergency essentials on hand, just in case.
Once your car is as prepared as it can be, the next step to avoiding an accident is to practice safe driving techniques:
- Slow down
- Brake gently
- Allow a generous following distance
- Beware the “phantom shoulder”
- Use headlights
- Avoid cruise control
Slow and steady may not always win the race, but it does mean that you’ll usually reach your destination safely.
Grant van der Harst, Managing Director at Anglo Liners, advises, "Winter car travel involves a lot of potential hazards, particularly from the harsh and wet weather, that affect the road surface and, consequently, your driving.”
While drivers are not able to foresee all the hazards they’ll encounter on the roads, driving at a slower speed will buy them more reaction time in the event of an emergency.
Richard Reina, Product Training Director at CARiD.com, says, “Never drive too fast for conditions; this is a common mistake that many drivers make, especially if they have winter tires or all-wheel-drive.”
Drivers should think about winter tires, all-wheel-drive, and other winter car changes as safety enhancements, not the first shield of protection.
Reina adds, “In snow and ice, no matter what type of vehicle you have or how confident of a driver you are, always err on the side of caution. Increased traction does not always give you improved handling and braking. The laws of physics still apply on icy roads!”
Tight curves in the mountains or on highway entrances and exits can be especially hazardous if there is ice.
“If it’s icy, be sure to slow down on bends,” van der Harst says.
Brake and accelerate gently
Nicholas Smith, Founder and Director of CompareNewTyres.com, warns, “In the winter time your car tires find it harder to grip the road surface, due to the colder temperatures. You need to remember this when you’re setting off from junctions or driving up hills because the harder you accelerate, the less likely your vehicle is to grip the road surface. If you accelerate and brake steadily, you’ll significantly increase the chances of your vehicle gripping the road.”
Smith’s advice is worth following, even if you have winter tires on your car.
The Carlson Law Firm cautions to avoid braking at all when you begin to slide because in order to correct your car you need to be able to turn the wheels freely and without the disruption of the brakes.
Allow a generous following distance
“Remember that it takes longer to stop on wet, slick, or icy roads — so increase your following distance to give yourself plenty of time to slow down and stop before an intersection,” George Sink, CEO of George Sink, P.A. Injury Lawyers, says.
Having a safe following distance can help prevent you from rear-ending someone and from becoming part of a more serious accident.
Beware the “phantom shoulder”
Sink adds, “Snow plows often push snow, ice, and slush to one side of the road, making it seem like the road or shoulder is wider than it is.” This phenomenon is what Sink calls the “phantom shoulder.”
“Be aware that this snow may be covering a ditch or drop-off. If you get a wheel in that ditch, your could lose control of your car and go off the road,” he says.
Staying on the road can be tricky, especially if snow is covering the road markings, but avoiding the shoulder will help you maintain control and be safe.
Winter weather brings fewer hours of daylight and the weather conditions can also decrease drivers’ ability to see. Using headlights when driving throughout the day is another way to be safe on the roads in the winter.
A spokesperson for Hankook Tire, cautions, “While some cars come fitted with automatic headlight settings, many also have the option to turn on a dipped beam setting. This will not only improve your vision on the road, but will also help other drivers better see you in the snow.”
Headlights increase visibility for all drivers on the road, especially during storms.
Sink says, “A common rule of thumb to remember: anytime you need to turn your wipers on, you should turn your lights on as well.”
Avoid cruise control
Cruise control is the best friend of people making road trips or driving often on highways. Cruise control is also becoming more and more robust, especially with the advent of self-driving cars.
However, many improvements still need to be made with that technology. There is also risk when using cruise control in the winter.
Steve Long, Co-founder of The Travel Brief, says, “It might be tempting to use cruise control on a car trip because of the unavoidable long stretches of highway, but this can be dangerous in the winter. When driving over patches of ice and snow, the cruise control can unexpectedly speed up the wheels, and many drivers will slam on the brakes in response. This can cause your car to skid and you to lose control of your car.”
Following the tips above will help you stay safe on the roads this winter. If you’re planning to road trip for the holidays, view expert tips on how to prepare.