Winter Driving Tips

Updated Jan 10, 2014

Winter Driving Without The Drama

Great tips for that corporate driver safety program

By Larry Walton

Winter driving conditions can be all over the map. Rain can be a hazard in areas that don’t get much while near blizzard conditions are a normal commute for others.

But don’t assume employees know what to do when daylight hours are short, temperatures are low and waters are rising.

With winter upon us, your company’s driver safety program should get a warm-up for the cold ahead.

There are two major factors that make winter driving different from driving during the warmer times of the year.

Reduced visibility is the first safety challenge. Rain, fog, snow and more hours of darkness all add up to decreased visual input. Reduced driver vision means reduced reaction time.

The second major seasonal road hazard is reduced vehicle grip or traction.

Wet pavement, standing water, build-up of fall leaves, ice and snow all interfere with the grip tires have on the road. When grip is lost, so is vehicle control.

The good news: Reduced visibility and reduced grip can both be addressed with equipment, preparation, planning and driving techniques.


Timely Upgrade

Improving the way your vehicle is equipped can help you handle the dark and dreary ahead. Make sure brakes, filters, belts and shocks are up to date. Batteries work harder to start vehicles in cooler temperatures so make sure your batteries are up to speed.

Tires are the single-most important safety item on a pickup. Choosing dedicated ice/snow tires over other styles is a smart move.

Check the engine coolant for anti-freeze protection. Some manufacturers recommend using a lower viscosity oil in the winter so check your owner’s manual before making that next oil change.

Auxiliary lights are a good way to address reduced visibility. Fog lights are designed to illuminate low along the road surface and to minimize reflective glare. Driving lights can reach out to find obstacles far ahead.

Replace wiper blades as needed. Those impregnated with silicone are the best, while any new wiper blades are better than those that have seen more than one summer.

Be sure the windshield washer fluid is filled with the proper product to withstand low temperatures, to cut grease and oil and to prevent ice build-up. A clear view and better lights give you more time to react when you need more time to stop.

Bite Right

Winter tires have softer tread compounds that help them stay pliable in cold temps to mesh with pavement texture, snow and ice.

Increased siping, those grooves in the tread, also increases the biting edges of the tire tread and gives the thin layer of water that forms between tread block and ice a place to hide, which improves the amount of tread that is touching the road surface.

Tougher winter conditions call for studded tires and the worst weather may even require chains to supplement winter tires.


Safety Supplies

Every year we hear news reports of unprepared motorists getting stuck or breaking down in freezing temperatures. The biggest mistake people make is trying to go for help. The best bet is to stay with the vehicle.

Every pickup should carry an extra set of warm clothing for each occupant, along with blankets, food and water. Dehydration and hypothermia are a deadly duo in the winter.

Additional emergency supplies should include a well-stocked first aid kit, flashlights, two-way radios, extra batteries and a small shovel. And it never hurts to have a fire starter of some type.


Route Rewards

Whenever possible, travel when you know that the roads have already been sanded or plowed. Try to go when there’s less traffic to negotiate.

When things get icy, take trouble zones like hills and curves out of the equation.

Use surface streets instead of the freeway. Some freeway corners are so banked that a stopped vehicle cannot stay on the road in the slickest of conditions like freezing rain.

If you are heading into the mountains or into a remote area, make sure someone knows where you are going and when you expect to arrive. Leave as much information as you can at the shop or office to facilitate search and rescue efforts just as a pilot or boater does.


Early and Easy

Start earlier than usual so you can clear snow and ice from the windows, hood and roof of the vehicle. Warm up the engine so defrosters are working well. Turn on your lights to be more visible to other vehicles. Adjust your seat for maximum control – upright and within easy reach of controls.

The most important thing you can do in winter driving is adjust your speed to maintain grip. When grip is limited, mass and inertia are harder to handle. Slowing down makes a big difference.

Wet roads, ice and snow mean your vehicle needs more distance to stop. More room allows you time to reduce speed gradually, which is much better than getting on the brakes aggressively.

If your truck is ABS equipped, you can usually stay on the brakes and let the computer do the rest.

If not, pump the brakes rapidly to stop quickly. Pump the brakes until they lock up and then let off. If you sense that you are sliding rather than rolling, let off on the brakes and then hit them again.


Handle It

Should the steering not respond when you are trying to turn, don’t turn sharper. Instead, straighten up the front wheels until turning traction is regained.

In the event of under steering (when you turn the front wheels but the vehicle keeps going straight), lift off the brake and turn back toward the center until the steering grip is restored.

In an over steer situation, that’s when the back end is coming around, steer into the skid. In other words, look where you want to go and steer toward it while smoothly accelerating.


Avoid Space Invaders

Leave yourself space in every direction when you are driving.

Rather than following close to other vehicles or filling up the lanes beside other vehicles, try to set your pace in the traffic in such a way that you leave a big bubble around you where there are no other vehicles.

Let that cluster of vehicles that are in front of you move on out ahead. When you see a big group of vehicles coming up behind you, make plans to let them pass.

Always leave yourself an out. If you are approaching an area where there is a bunch of vehicles slowing down or stopping, always look for that space that you can fit your vehicle into in case you are unable to stop or a vehicle coming up behind you is ­unable to stop.

On banked to slanted roadways, the best way to maintain grip is to keep moving. So look for those openings that allow you to maintain a slow speed without stopping, if possible.


Slow Tow

When it comes to towing in winter conditions all the other driving techniques apply. Tow slow and leave extra room to stop. Try to get as much space as you can for maneuvering.

If the trailer starts sliding sideways, add some brake to the trailer with the controller while accelerating smoothly with the tow vehicle – and don’t turn into the skid. Keep the tow vehicle’s wheels pointed straight ahead while you add throttle to help pull the trailer back in line.

Try to avoid situations where you are on icy, banked corners. When you go through these corners, make sure there is room to get through the corner before you proceed and try to maintain some momentum. Stopping on the corner could allow the trailer to come around.

Towing or not, a little know-how can get you through a lot of the white stuff. Get a grip, but if you lose it, don’t panic and go with the flow.