Driving safely on snow or icy roads

  • Published
  • By 412th Test Wing Ground Safety Office
  • EAFB
Unless you're traveling through the mountains of Southern California in the winter, driving in the snow doesn't occur very often. First off, don't assume your vehicle can handle any road condition. Even four-wheel drive vehicles can encounter trouble on winter roads.

However, if you plan on traveling where it does snow or the roads ice up, below are some suggestions to help out.
· Decrease your speed and increase the distance between the vehicles in front.
· Turn on your lights...not just for you to see, but you want the other person to see YOU!
· Use low gears climbing hills to help keep traction.
· Do not use your cruise control. Power may be applied suddenly or at the wrong time causing you to skid. If it is on, use hand controls to turn it off; not the brake or you may start skidding.
· Be especially careful crossing bridges and overpasses. They can freeze first even at temps just above freezing.
· Stay on well traveled roads and be cautious of the shaded parts of the road, you may encounter black ice.

If your rear wheels begin to skid, take your foot off the gas and steer in the direction you want your front wheels to go.  If you have standard brakes, pump them gently. If you have ABS, apply gentle steady pressure; you may feel them pulsate, but that is normal.

If the front end begins to skid, shift into neutral; don't steer immediately. As the wheels skid sideways, you will gradually slow and regain traction.

Now let's say your vehicle is stuck in the snow. Try turning your steering wheel a few times side to side. This will push the snow out of the way. Don't step on the gas, instead a light touch to ease your car out. Consider rocking the car out in a forward and reverse motion. Again, don't dig yourself in by spinning the wheels. If you know you are going to travel across snowy areas, other than the obvious on what to pack such as blankets, water, flashlight etc., keep a shovel on hand. Even a small collapsible one you can purchase at a sporting goods store is better than using your hands. Keep either a bag of play sand, kitty litter or salt in the car and poor it out into the drive path to help regain traction. 

If all else fails and you are just hard stuck, stay in the car and do not wander off unless you know for certain help is nearby. Crack the windows open and run the engine for about 10 minutes every hour. Make sure the exhaust pipe is clear too. You do not want carbon monoxide building up inside the car.

The key is to plan ahead, map out your course and check the weather and road conditions before you drive off.