Tips for Driving in Snow

Updated on January 10, 2010
C.W. asks from Naperville, IL
14 answers

We just moved here and I have never driven in snow before. I read some general stuff online but was hoping for more advice. I feel like I'm driving a lot slower than everyone else but frankly, I'm terrified I'm going to slide off the road! Is there some kind of etiquette to driving in snow? Are people going to be mad that I'm slow or is that normal? I have to drop my husband off at the train station each morning. Thanks!

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answers from Chicago on

You should drive at the speed you are comfortable with, expecially in newly fallen snow. You will get more confortable. You came at the perfect time since it is the beginning of the season. I was born and raised in Chicago and some people drive dangerously in bad weather. I have seen people spin out because they were going too fast for conditions (I mean at least 35 in a 25 zone with a foot of fresh snow). Horrible. Better for you to be safe.

We were talking about this today since it is so slippery out there and lake snow is expected. A coworker of my husband put sand bags in her trunk. She has a light car that tends to slide a bit when the streets are not cleared yet. This has helped her gain traction since it makes the car a bit heavier. A plus is that she has the sand available if she needs it to get out of a pile of snow. Might be hard to get sand now but cat litter would work too.

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answers from Chicago on

Practice driving on snow-covered roads that are not all that busy and do this at a time of day when traffic isn't heavy. Find an big parking lot that isn't plowed all that well and give it a try. I'm not suggesting that you just go out joy-riding; but it is important for you to figure out how to do the snow driving, just in a less-stressful environment.

*Don't put your hazards on. Everyone knows it is snowing and going slower than normal. Hazards indicate an emergency, not "slow".

*Resist the urge to slam on your brakes. If you leave enough following distance between yourself and the next car, you will have plenty of time to stop. Slamming on your brakes will do two things: cause you to slide even more and if the person behind you isn't paying attention, they'll rear end you pretty hard.

*While you should allow space between yourself and the car in front of you, 17 car lengths is not necessary. A few car lengths would be appropriate, otherwise you set yourself up for the idiot drivers cutting you off.

*Try to drive as normally as possible but at a reduced speed. Usually about 5-10 miles below the speed limit should be sufficient.

*When turning, if the car gets a little slippery, GENTLY turn your wheel and gently back off of the gas. If you're making a turn, particularly a right-hand turn and you start to fish-tail or skid and you hit your brakes, you're going to make it worse. Just gently back off the gas and let your hands guide the car using the steering wheel. Your car will right itself just fine - no slamming on the brakes because you're scared you'll skid off the road.

*Stay in the right-hand lanes unless you need to be in a left-hand lane for turning.

*If the roads are really bad but you still have to drive, try to keep your wheels within the already-established tire tracks on the streets.

*If you start to skid or slide, turn your wheel IN THE DIRECTION of your skid. Do not turn away from the skid.

*If you have to go up a hill, do not at any time apply your brakes. I'm not saying "gas it and go" but if you start sliding while going up the hill try your best to keep moving up that hill and gently, gradually give it a little more gas (don't floor it). If you hit your brakes, you will #1 start to slide backward, #2 find it almost impossible to get started again and, #3 might possibly hit the people behind you.

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answers from Chicago on

I'm sorry but your request is funny to me! I completely understand your feelings and respect them, but my husband always says, "People act like they've never driven in snow!", and here you are! My advice to you is to go at a pace that you're comfortable with. You will eventually feel more comfortable to go faster. Yes, people do get impatient with slow drivers, but don;t let them pressure you. If you get anxious, you're more likely to have an accident. Be careful out there!

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answers from Chicago on

Keep driving slow, and if you feel yourself slid, DO NOT SLAM ON THE BRAKES. Just take your foot off the brakes and slowly right yourself again.

I learned that lesson many years ago, when I did a full 180.

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answers from Chicago on

You've got great advice here! The only thing I can add is something my dad taught me years ago- if you DO start to skid or slide out, don't try and turn the wheel hard the other way to 'correct' yourself! Just allow it to turn into the slide a little, then gentle pull it back over.

I know that sounds hard to do, especially because you can slide out so fast, but it really will work! I remember the first time I did it, I was amazed- but it has kept me out of a couple of accidents! Good luck- don't worry, by the end of winter, you'll be an old pro!

Also- keep a bag of Tidy Cat in the back of your car! If you get stuck, dump some under your wheels for traction! That trick has gotten me out of some plowed-in parking spots in the past.


answers from Chicago on

I drive slow too and I've lived around here all my life. I let the idiots pass me. Soon they'll be in the ditch. You have gotten lots of great advice here. My only thing to add is: keep your gas tank FULL. It adds weight to the car and helps keep it from sliding. It's hard to drive cars in this stuff. I've driven cars, vans and now have a Honda Pilot. It doesn't slide much. Maybe you could look into a heavier four-wheel-drive car someday.



answers from Chicago on

I agree with all the ladies. Also increase your following distance and no slamming on your brakes.



answers from Chicago on

First, welcome!!!

I feel for you, the funny thing is people who've lived here forever still flip out when they see white stuff & drive as if it's their first day behind the wheel. Don't worry about other drivers, most of them are driving way slower, too. That said, leave extra room behind the car in front of you so you can stop in time. If you feel your car start to skid a bit, counter-steer, I mean, if your back end goes right, gently steer left, and if you feel like your tires aren't holding on, don't brake hard because sometimes that can cause you to skid more (my son went off the road that way last year!) just steer to the best of your ability and possibly let off the gas a bit. Most cars have anti-lock breaks nowadays, but if you find you're slipping & slam on the brakes, it can be bad, so pump the breaks.

Jeez I can't think of the other stuff my dad taught me & I taught my son, I had better, I still have 2 other kids to teach eventually. :)

On a side note, if you are trying to get a feel for what there is to do around here, check out there's good info on stuff to do with the family. When I was in the AF in NJ I had no idea what there was to do in an area, wish I'd had something like that site to help me find stuff to do for cheap or free. :)
Good luck!



answers from Santa Barbara on

You're doing what any good new transplant to weather should do. Be cautious. You will become more comfortable as you drive more. A couple things I learned were if you're in a rear wheel drive car, you need to put some sand bags in the trunk for extra traction and snow tires or all weather tires are a must. Native Chicagoans/Illini tend to drive pretty fast despite the weather so even in good weather you may find yourself in the slow lane.
Stay warm and out of the ditches.



answers from Chicago on

Just keep going slow. I've lived here for a long time and always drive slow in the snow, especially now that I have kids.
It never hurts to be too carefull - and I don't worry about my driving - it's the crazys out there in SUV's etc that think their car won't go sliding, that keep going fast - I worry about them hitting me...



answers from Chicago on

DRIVE SLOW!!! That's the best advice, which you're already doing. Most people don't get mad, and if they do, who cares? It's not worth your safety to go faster.



answers from Chicago on

The first thing we used to do when we were growing up is to wait for the first snow and then go to a large unoccupied parking lot (a state office building at night and weekends was a pretty sure bet. :) ). Practice braking, turning, skidding - until you feel pretty comfortable doing it. Then go out on the street.



answers from Chicago on

go slow and let the idiots pass you! you will soon see them in the ditch when you carefully pass by (this always happens to me). slow and steady wins the race!! Also, make sure you have a good set of tires and keep them inflated to the recommended pressure -- that will make a huge difference.



answers from St. Cloud on

Hi Cara! Go the speed you are comfortable with. If a person is upset that you are going slow then they can pass you, no problem!

Don't feel too self conscious! I have lived in Minnesota all my life and if there are bad conditions, I drive safely- even if that means slower than normal.

You are doing better than the silly people up here who think that four wheel drive makes them invincible! I see people in the ditch every day here, just because they are not cautious.

Hang in there!

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