Avoid Wintertime Woes by Avoiding These 5 Common Snowy Driving Mistakes

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winter-driving-header Knowing how to drive under a variety of conditions is not only important; it could easily save your life. All too often those of us with big trucks tend to forget that while we can drive over just about anything, we’re not invincible. Since it’s currently winter in the US, and most of the country has seen some snow this year, it’s a good time to go over some common winter driving mistakes. With thousands of people stranded on highways in Atlanta, the need to be safe when driving in snowy weather is important, even if you live where it’s usually warm. Check out these 5 commonly made mistakes when driving in the snow and stay safe.

1. Not Being Prepared

winter-driving-prepared (Photo courtesy of flickr) This is easily the most important tip in the list. It can’t be stressed enough how important it is to be prepared when it’s cold and snowy out. Being prepared for snow means first getting your truck mechanically ready for the snow. First, make sure your tires are rated for snow and that you have good tread on them and that you’re alignment is spot-on. Next, make sure all your fluids are topped up and that your battery is working as it should. The easiest way is to go to an auto parts store and have the battery tested. If it’s not strong it should be replaced. While your at the parts store, replace your wiper blades and get some antifreeze washer fluid. Part of being safe is seeing where you’re driving in a snowstorm that means a clean windshield. After you’re mechanically sound, you need to prepare the inside of your truck. That means a collapsible snow shovel, kitty litter or sand in case you need a little extra traction, and a standard safety kit that includes a flashlight, flares, and jumper cables. You should always have a tow chain or rope too, in case you get really stuck or someone else does and you can help.

2. Believing that 4WD Will Always Save You

winter-driving-4wd-issues (Image courtesy of flickr) While four-wheel drive will get you through the mud and muck on a trail, when the weather gets cold 4WD can make you over-confident. To be clear, 4WD is great when there’s snow on the ground. The extra traction is exactly what you need to get going, but what it doesn’t do is help you stop quicker or deal with icy conditions. When it’s icy out 4WD just means four tires sliding instead of two. It’s easy to get a little over-confident when your truck is going through snow like it’s a little glitter scattered on the road, but when you hit an icy patch that traction all goes away. Basically just because you CAN go fast in the snow doesn’t mean you SHOULD. Too many trucks are lost over hillsides and totaled because their owners didn’t respect the snowy conditions. 4WD definitely helps in the snow and makes you safer, but it doesn’t make you invincible.

3. Hitting Your Brakes at the Wrong Time or Too Quickly

winter-driving-braking   (Photo courtesy of flickr) Quick driving lesson: At any point in time your truck can only give 100% traction. This means that when you’re driving that 100% is split between friction between tires and the road as well as turning, braking, and accelerating. Add in snowy conditions and the friction aspect requires a greater portion of the 100%, leaving less for braking. Going over 100% means sliding, which means possible disaster. If you brake too quickly you will start sliding and it’s a lot harder to stop sliding that to never start it. The same goes for braking at the wrong time. As we’ll mention in the next two mistakes, you can stop yourself from having to brake due to reacting to other drivers by keeping your distance and slowing down. By doing these tips, you stay further from other drivers and won’t need to hit the brakes for them or for obstacles in the road. When approaching a turn, brake going into the turn, not while you’re actually making the turn. This will give as much of the 100% traction to braking and turning separately. Lastly, if you have ABS, don’t pump your brakes. This isn’t so much a problem today as it was when ABS first came out, but it’s still worth mentioning. If you don’t have ABS, quickly pumping your brakes will keep them from locking up and sliding.

4. Following Too Closely

winter-driving-distance (Photo courtesy of flickr) Everyone has been guilty of this before. Tailgating is dangerous in any weather but when it’s snowy out it can make a bad situation worse. Since your stopping distance is greatly increased on snowy roads, you need to keep your distance. When it’s snowy out you should double or even triple your normal following distance. A great formula for this is for every 10 MPH you’re traveling at, give yourself 4 car lengths between you and the car in front of you. So, if you’re going 35 MPH that means a distance of 14 car lengths. This might seem overkill, but not following this tip is why you hear about 25-car pileups in winter. Add to the increased stopping distance the fact that a lifted truck can be top-heavy, and you get even more stopping distance in the snow. Eep your distance and stay safe.

5. Going Too Fast

winter-driving-traction (Picture courtesy of flickr) The last tip is pretty self-explanatory, but it’s worth mentioning. Like we mentioned with 4WD trucks above, just because you can go fast in snow doesn’t mean you should. While your tires and 4WD can get you moving pretty well in the snow they will do little for getting you to stop quickly. The same goes for reacting when something happens in front of you, like a car without good tires or 4WD spinning out and coming into your path. Speed is one of the biggest causes for accidents on snow-covered roads. Remember that the speed limit is considered the safest possible speed for that road in perfect conditions. While there’s some debate on whether that’s true or not, the conditions part stays true. A highway with a 55 MPH speed limit means it’s safe to do 55 when the weather is perfect. If there’s snow and ice, 55 MPH is far from safe. There’s no perfect speed to drive or equation for reducing your speed. Drive as fast as the conditions will allow and no faster.


It’s easy to get carried away and think you’re invincible when you’re in a lifted 4WD truck, but that feeling that you can drive through anything can be very dangerous. Make sure to resect snowy weather and remember that no matter how good of a driver you are, you’re only as safe as the worst driver on your road. (Header image courtesy of flickr)

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