Oliver: Winter driving tips can help drivers take control

Joan Oliver
Joan Oliver

We live in the Midwest, so dealing with inclement winter weather goes with the territory.

Last weekend’s brush with what could have been a very bad storm was bound to happen sooner or later. Good thing we didn’t get the 8 to 10 inches of snow some forecasters were predicting.

Still, trying to deal with even a little freezing rain makes me nervous. Snow, I can handle, but ice, no thanks. More than a few of us no doubt heeded the warnings from our area police agencies to stay off the roads.

We still have a few more months until spring, and despite having a pretty snow-free season so far, we aren’t out of the woods yet.

Now is a good time to remind ourselves of all those winter-driving techniques that we probably had to remember on the fly over the weekend.

These tips for driving on snow come courtesy of the AAA; more tips can be found at

• Accelerate and decelerate slowly and smoothly. Applying the gas slowly to get going is the best way to avoid skids. Allow extra time to slow for a stoplight or stop sign. Remember, it takes longer to stop on icy and snow-covered roads.

• Give yourself extra time to maneuver. Everything – stopping, starting, turning, etc. – takes longer than it does on dry pavement.

• Increase your following distance to six to eight seconds on icy roads from the usual dry-pavement following distance of three to four seconds. This gives you more time to stop.

• Know your brakes. The best way to stop is threshold braking, even if you have antilock brakes. Keep the heel of your foot on the floor and use the ball of your foot to apply firm, steady pressure on the brake pedal.

• Try not to stop, if possible. It’s easier to accelerate when you’re already moving than when you are at a full stop. If you can slow down enough to keep rolling until a traffic light changes, do it. (Just don’t run a red light or miss a stop sign.)

• Don’t power up hills. Applying extra gas on snow-covered roads just starts the wheels to spin. Try to get a little momentum going before you reach the hill and let it carry you to the top. As you reach the crest of the hill, slow down and proceed downhill as slowly as possible.

• Don’t stop while going up a hill. There’s nothing worse than trying to get moving up a hill on an icy road.

• Always look and steer where you want to go.

• Stay home if you really don’t have to go out. Remember that even if you are a skilled winter driver, not everyone around you is.

I’d also add that it’s not a good idea to brake hard while going down a steep hill. It’s far better to decelerate slowly and maintain control.

Also remember that if you are using your windshield wipers when it’s snowing, you need to have your headlights on, even if it’s during the day. That’s the law, and it applies for rain, too.

Be aware of the snowplows. Don’t make those drivers’ jobs harder. When they can do their job, we all benefit.

Here’s hoping that we don’t have an extra-snowy stretch, one where we’re forced to use all of this information repeatedly. Though, no doubt, we’ll need it at least a few times before spring.

Let’s be careful out there.

• Joan Oliver is the former Northwest Herald assistant news editor. She has been associated with the Northwest Herald since 1990. She can be reached at

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