10 Safety Tips for Driving in Snow and Ice

Source: Defensive Driving Org
Updated: Brandon Myers|Last Updated:June 25, 2021
Read: 2 minutes

If you’re a new driver or you’ve never lived in an area where winter weather is a frequent reality, you might not be familiar with some of the difficulties that come along with driving in snow and ice.

Driving on ice and getting through snowy roads can be complicated. Even people who have been braving the snow for their entire lives can get into accidents if they’re not careful.

But how can you avoid disaster when the roads are slippery, and there’s snow-packed around your car?

We want to offer you some advice so you can practice good snow driving safety. Keep reading to learn all of our top tips for driving when the weather outside is frightful.

1. Know (and Don’t Push) Your Comfort Levels

The first piece of advice you should take to heart when driving in winter weather is to know what you are and aren’t comfortable with. This is especially true if you’re new to driving.

It is always better to exercise caution. If you know that you have somewhere that you need to be, but you don’t yet feel comfortable driving in the snow and ice, don’t be afraid to find another way.

If you’re unable to cancel whatever engagement or responsibility that’s going to take you out of the house, look into your public transportation or rideshare options. If possible, see if you can carpool.

The rest of these tips will help you when you’re ready to brave the snow and ice but never feel ashamed to opt-out.

2. Always Remove Snow From Your Car

Many people make the mistake of leaving ice and snow on their cars before they set out. They know that they need to clear off the windshield and windows, but they quit once they have decent visibility.

This presents several problems.

First, if you only remove the snow without thinning out the ice, you’re not going to be able to see as well as you need to. It’s a good idea to let your car warm up before you have to leave.

When it comes to snow, the snow on the top of your vehicle is just as dangerous as the snow on your windshield and windows. It can be dangerous for you and the people around you.

If you come to a sudden stop, some of that snow can slip down onto your windshield, blocking your visibility. What’s more likely, though, is that it will slip back onto the car behind you. Snow could block their visibility, and any chunks of ice can damage their car.

If you can, park your car somewhere that it’s protected from the snow. You can also use a tarp if the snow doesn’t get too heavy.

3. Invest In Snow Gear

If you’re from an area that doesn’t get a lot of snow, you’ve likely never used snow tires or chains. While people who are well-acquainted with snow may not need these things, they’re important safety tools for anyone who needs help navigating the winter weather.

Some tires have studs, while others have different treads that allow them to navigate snow with more security and traction. While you still need to be careful, it will be easier to drive with these tires than it would be with your standard all-season tires.

In areas that get a lot of snow, most auto shops will put these tires on for you and take them off when the snowy season is behind you.

4. Brake Slowly

You will, at some point, experience some skidding when you’re driving on ice or packed snow. This happens to everyone. The first thing that you’re going to do is panic.

Resist the urge to slam on your brakes, even if you’re scared. This won’t help you, and it can cause you to spin out or damage your car.

Instead, gently pump the breaks so your car can come to a slow and deliberate stop.

5. Drive More Slowly

Speaking of going slow, you also need to consider your speed when driving on ice and snow for the first time.

You’re used to driving the speed limit (we hope). You go faster on highways, and you go slower in neighborhoods. This is still true when it’s snowing, but you need to bring your speed down.

Only go as slow as road safety allows. People will understand if you’re going slow because you’re new to snowy weather, but make sure that you aren’t in anyone’s way.

6. Watch for Black Ice

Do you know how to spot black ice?

Black ice is a thin layer of almost transparent ice that blends into the road. While thin, it’s still slippery and dangerous.

This ice forms when the temperature during the day is warm enough to melt ice (or it rains), but the road stays wet. This means that when the weather dips below freezing again, that water freezes and creates a slippery layer over the road.

If you hit black ice, do everything that you can to maintain control of the vehicle. Don’t brake unless you have to. Instead, let your car come to a stop by taking your foot off of the accelerator.

Learning how to spot black ice is difficult. It adds shine to the road, but that isn’t always noticeable. You’ll start to identify areas where black ice is more common as you continue driving in the winter weather, but at first, it’s best to assume that it’s there and drive accordingly.

7. Give a Lot of Space

You should always give the cars ahead of you space in all weather conditions, but it allows extra room when it comes to snow.

Remember that other people are like you. They’re not familiar with the weather, and they may also have problems when it comes to speeding up and slowing down. You want to give yourself (and them) enough room for error.

You also want to make sure that you give yourself room to brake. If you’re too close to the car ahead of you, it won’t be possible for you to brake in a reasonable amount of time. Assume that you might skid even if you know you’re a competent driver. It’s better to be cautious.

8. Avoid Dangerous Routes 

There are always some routes that will be less ideal than others when it comes to driving in poor weather conditions. Take note of these and avoid them when you’re able to.

If you’re planning on taking a long trip, plan your route ahead of time. Avoid any mountain passes if you can, even if that means taking the longer way.

You should also use caution in your own town. Are there any hills that might be too icy for an inexperienced driver to conquer? Are there roads that plows skip because they’re not as well-used as others?

Take note of these things and factor them into your driving plans. It’s always better to be safe rather than sorry, even if that means that you will have to extend your route.

9. Give Yourself Time

Speaking of extending your route, make sure that you’re always giving yourself enough time to get where you need to go. Snowy weather isn’t a good time for rushing and driving last-minute.

You need time to warm up your car, clean off snow, and get rid of ice. This means that you should give yourself a few minutes to warm up your car, so it’s easier to get rid of that thick ice layer.

You also need to account for the extra time that you’ll be spending when you’re driving at a slower pace, as well as any extra time that it will take to take longer routes.

Rushing will cause an accident. Don’t risk it.

10. Practice

If you’re able to, try to practice driving in safe spaces, even if you’ve been driving for a long time. Driving on snow and ice is a whole other ball game.

Empty parking lots are great for this. You can learn how much distance you need for your car to stop and what you can expect as far as control goes.

You’re never too advanced to take time to practice when you’re driving under new conditions.

Driving In Snow and Ice Can Be Dangerous

Never underestimate bad weather. Driving in snow and ice takes practice, and even if you’re already familiar with it, mistakes and accidents can still happen.

Use caution on the road during the winter, and always make sure to know your limits. It’s easy to cause an accident when the weather is bad.

Do you want to be a better driver? Why not take a defensive driving course? Find a course near you or check out online courses and be a safer driver today.