Each year, Buffalo is struck by sheets of ice and mountains of lake effect snow and yet many local drivers struggle to control their vehicles in these conditions. To help explain the challenges of driving in winter weather, we’ve put together this guide exploring three tips for driving safely on icy roads.
Our best advice for driving on snow and ice is to take everything smoothly and slowly. Don’t push the accelerator too hard, as this could cause you to spin out. Instead, apply gradual, consistent pressure until you get up to speed and let off the gas if you find yourself struggling to control the vehicle. On fresh snow, you could even find your wheels spinning in place if you accelerate too fast from a full stop.
Likewise, practice smooth turning. If you turn too sharply or too abruptly, your tires could lose traction on the road, and you could start skidding. Remember that even a normally gentle curve could cause your tires to lose their grip on the road.
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Poor braking technique is one of the most common causes of winter car accidents. Imagine this: as you come up to the stop sign, you apply the brakes and the steering wheel stops responding as the car slides off the street or even into the intersection. By knowing your vehicle and understanding proper braking techniques, you can avoid these incidents.
First, determine whether your vehicle has ABS (anti-lock braking system). If it does, your car will automatically re-adjust whenever it detects skidding. If you start sliding while you slow down, gently apply the brakes with consistent pressure. If the ABS light appears on your dash, it’s working. Be sure to read your vehicle’s manual to determine how exactly ABS works for your model.
If you drive an older car, you’ll likely need to pump the brakes to maintain control of your vehicle. Resist the urge to slam the brakes, even if you start to lose control. Applying the brakes too hard will make your wheels lock and will make it more likely that you’ll spin out or drift into the intersection. Instead, rapidly tap the brakes until you come to a safe stop.
Control the Skid
Skidding on an icy road is terrifying, but it doesn’t mean a crash is imminent. So long as you stay calm and survey the situation, you have a good chance of regaining control. The first thing to determine is what part of the vehicle is skidding: the front or the rear.
If you have front-wheel drive, you are more likely to skid while accelerating through a turn. When the front wheels stop responding, let off the gas. This should help your wheels regain traction (grip) and help you stay in control.
If your rear wheels lose grip, you could quickly find yourself fishtailing across the road. Again, you need to remain calm. A lot of drivers instinctively slam the brakes and simultaneously try to pull out of the drift, but that only increases your chances of spinning out or rolling over. Instead, turn into the drift without using the gas or the brakes. This will help get the vehicle back under control and reduce the risk of a crash.
Remember that driving on snow and ice requires patience and a clear head. Many crashes happen simply because the driver didn’t know what to do, or they did, but they panicked and made the wrong move. If you ever start skidding or find that your car isn’t going where you want it to, you need to stay focused and remember the driving strategies that will help you stay in control.