Dad’s Driving Tips for Winter Weather

February 24, 2011 § 1 Comment

If you’re in the Seattle region, you know that we’ve been experiencing more winter weather in the last 24 hours. Last night, I found myself driving home in multiple inches of white on the I-5 from Tacoma to Seattle. Luckily, I wasn’t panicked because my dad did a fabulous job showing this Seattle-raised-snows-once-a-year-girl how to drive in the snow. I thought I’d share some of his tips with you, dear blog readers.

First of all, the first rule is not to panic! People freak out in Seattle at the mere mention of the s-word (snow) and it is one of my biggest pet peeves. Just because the weather states that it might snow is no reason to cancel school, work, or other events. If you are really that desperate for a day off, then perhaps you need a vacation, not a snow day. Sheesh. Now, I know what you’re thinking, “Laura, when it snows I fear that I won’t be able to get home because I don’t know how to drive in the snow and I’ll be stuck for days and will die from lack of food, water, and entertainment!!” Well, simply read on, dear reader.

Rule #1 Be prepared

Always have an emergency bag in your car with necessary supplies that you would need for a night (or a few hours) if you actually do end up stranded. For me, I actually carry two bags. One is my all-purpose all-weather bag that contains a sweatshirt, beach/park blanket, swimsuit, first aid kit, Swiss Army knife, and warm clothes. From my last experience being stranded (see here for the full story), I have found that I’m usually wearing a fairly appropriate coat and shoes. All I really need in addition to these are warm wool socks and a hat, which I keep in my all-purpose bag. The second bag I carry is my doula bag which includes an extra pair of clothes (including fleece jacket and PJs), shoes, toiletries, my phone charger, and energy bars. I also carry 6 bottles of water in a small cooler…just in case. Also, when purchasing a vehicle, consider the possibility that you MAY need to use it in snow at some point. If you aren’t wanting the expense of 4 wheel drive, think about front wheel drive which does exceedingly better than rear wheel drive in snowy/icy conditions. However, just because you HAVE 4 wheel drive doesn’t mean life is hunky-dory. You’ll still need to drive well in snow.

Rule #2 Stay Fueled Up

Don’t let your tank get below 1/4 of a tank…if you think it’s going to snow, just fill up while you can! No one wants to worry about getting gas while trying to make it up a steep hill or waiting in traffic on the 405.

Rule #3 Slow and Steady

You should always keep at least a 3 second distance between the car ahead of you but slick conditions call for even more space.  Make sure you have at least twice the distance you’d normally need to stop or slow down.

Rule #4 Test the road

When appropriate, test the road with braking or fast acceleration to see how much traction you have. This will give you a good idea of how fast to drive and how to handle the road.

Rule #5 Engine Braking

Try to “engine brake” when you can, rather than using your brakes (which can cause skidding of the tires). In manual transmissions, down shift. In automatic cars, shift out of “drive” into “2” or “1”.

Rule #6 Momentum

Don’t stop unless you have to – be safe but rolling stops are generally OK at intersections with no one coming. You will need your momentum to help you get up hills or to stay clear of getting stuck.

Rule #6 Drive outside the lines

Ok, well, sort of. This mainly applies to large freeways and arterial roads. When possible, try to follow the tracks of other cars on the road. It may not be within the lane lines but it will give you better traction.

Rule #8 Turning into the skid

If your car does slide or skid, turn the wheel into the skid to try to regain control. I find that it’s easiest to watch the road and what my car’s doing rather than trying to figure out which way is in the direction of the skid.

Rule #9 The (Usual) Superfluousness of Chains

I always chuckle when I see cars or buses driving on bare roads with the tale-tell sound “chunka-chunka-chunka-chunka” of chains on their rear tires. Chains are good to have for emergencies but you generally won’t need them unless you’re doing some serious mountain pass crossing or conditions are so terrible, you can’t get any traction at all with your tires. I don’t own any nor do I plan to anytime soon.

Rule #10 Learn and practice!

When it snows, go to a large empty parking lot and experiment with how your car handles the snow. Even better, take a well-experienced driver with you to give you some pointers.

Stay safe and stay warm!


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