I never learned to drive in the snow. I always tell people I learned to pass an Amish buggy before I learned to drive on an interstate, but despite learning to drive in northeastern Indiana, I never learned to drive in winter weather.
I blame my mother for this lapse in guidance. She was so worried about safety (and probably her own mental health) that my brothers and I were quite simply banned from the driver’s seat in any kind of winter weather. In fairness to my mom, she rarely drives in that kind of weather, either, so she practices what she preaches. And she probably forgot that we were going to grow up one day and have to drive to work in winter. So, you know, moms.
At any rate, I had to teach myself to drive in snow and ice last year. I was visiting my boyfriend’s family in South Bend over the Christmas season and got up early to “go to the gym.” Really, I was bracing myself for my first drive through snow and ice. I made it seem like the whole thing was no big deal, though I made absolutely sure to tell someone exactly where I was going, and when I expected to be back, for the sake of safety. It wasn’t until I got back from a somewhat harrowing experience that I ‘fessed up to my little experiment.
Since then, I’ve learned a lot about driving in a winter wonderland, and if you’ve been putting off this eye-opening learning experience, here’s some tips for you (or anyone you think needs a refresher course.)
- Clean off your car and start it early. Apparently, you can crack your engine if you don’t start it before you try to drive it, so give it at least five minutes before you take off. In the meantime, clean off your car. Your WHOLE car. This includes not only windows and windshields, but headlights and taillights and any accumulated snow on the top or hood of your car. Flying snow is dangerous enough, don’t let it come off your car in clumps to hit the driver behind you. You can’t go anywhere anyway, so do a good job getting it taken care of.
- Expect to take three times as long to get anywhere. I’m not saying it necessarily will take you forever to complete the drive, but it could if you hit an area of untreated road. You need to either leave early, or make peace with your tardiness. This is no time to be in a hurry.
- No sudden movements. You are going to slide. Say it five times, out loud, right now. “I am going to slide.” If you start to slide or fishtail, do not EVER EVER jerk the wheel or slam your brakes. Take your foot off the gas and turn your wheel in the direction of the slide to get control of your vehicle. If you hit your brakes, you will go into a full tailspin. I guarantee it. Stay centered and calm. If you miss your turn or go into the other lane, just take a note from the Beatles and let it be. Do not over correct.
- Slow down. You are not Speed Racer on a good day. So you are CERTAINLY not Speed Racer today. Drive according to the conditions. If it’s really bad, go really slow, and don’t tailgate. If you know a stoplight is coming up, just take your foot off the gas and start tapping the brake. You will not be able to stop your car all at once; you will slide through the intersection if you try to do so. If you have to make a turn, prepare to make it very slowly, or you will fishtail. If you can’t get traction, slowly press the gas pedal, because once you get going, you’ll go. You can’t make a decision and just go with it like you normally would. Assume all of your actions are on a five-second delay, because you’ll need a little longer to execute. That means, think carefully, go slowly, and leave yourself (and others) some room for mistakes.
- Stay home. I may mock my mother, but she definitely has the right idea. If the roads suck, and you don’t have to be anywhere, don’t go. Stay home. Turn on Netflix and go on a David Tennant binge. Not just for your safety, but for others. The fewer cars on the road, the better it is for the drivers who have to be out there.
Hope that gives you some good pointers! Stay safe and warm this winter, everybody! And don’t be one of THOSE drivers. (You know which ones.)