Fresh snowfall brings fresh driving dangers

Here are some tips on how to cope with a fresh snowfall as a driver

Published: January 30, 2013, 5:00 PM
Updated: August 4, 2015, 3:23 AM

Driving in snow

It's been that kind of winter! Just when we get used to the snow, it's gone again and we're back to driving on clear, dry roads for a few days.

Then when another fresh snowfall comes, it seems to catch many drivers by surprise, as if it were the first snowfall of the winter.

The result is typically a major traffic tie-up, even collisions, as people try to readapt to the snowy conditions and remember their winter driving skills.

In case you've lapsed back into a less than winter-proficient driving style, here's a brief refresher on how to recognize and adapt to the reduction in traction that comes with a fresh snowfall:

Make no sudden movements

Most of us can recall slipping on ice or snow while walking and we have learned to do so cautiously. We place each foot carefully on the ground and transfer our weight smoothly and carefully from one foot to the other.

Our inner self remembers that sudden movements can result in nasty and painful results. The same holds true when you're driving.

Adapt to reduced grip

With that knowledge in mind, many motorists will walk very carefully to their vehicles, then drive off in fresh snow seemingly oblivious to the fact the four "shoes" on their vehicle don't have as much grip as they did the day before.

Those tire footprints, the only spots where the vehicle touches the ground, serve the same function as your own footwear. All the control you have over your vehicle depends on the grip you have between those tire footprints and the road.

Have the right tires

If your vehicle is shod with summer or badly-worn tires, it's the equivalent of you wearing a leather-soled dress shoe in snow or on ice.

If they are good quality all-season tires with good tread depth they might be more like a pair of all-purpose, high-top walking shoes – not perfect for the job, but acceptable as long as it the conditions aren't too extreme.

If you have opted for a set of proper winter tires – on all four wheels –you have the right "boots" on the ground. But even then, they don't provide as much grip as you're accustomed to having on a warm dry road.

Recognize the signs and act appropriately

Whether a human body or a vehicle, how it starts, stops and turns on a slippery surface is dependent on the available grip. But it's the relationship between the human brain and that grip that is the key factor in coping with it.

If you're walking, failure to recognize the signs of reduced grip and to act appropriately may means you quickly find yourself on your butt – sometimes painfully.

If you are behind the steering wheel and fail to recognize those same conditions, you run the risk of sliding into another vehicle or object, or off the road.

Don't rely on all-wheel-drive

Having all four wheels driving may help you accelerate in slippery conditions, because it spreads the driving forces over four footprints instead of two. But when it comes time to turn or stop it offers no advantage whatsoever.

You still have the same two footprints trying to steer the vehicle and four trying to slow it as in any other vehicle. Which may be why there always seem to be a disproportionate number of SUVs, CUVs and other AWD vehicles in the ditch or on slippery mornings.

Watch the temperature

Let’s not forget that the temperature only has to change one degree – one tiny little degree – to go from wet to ice, from damp to slippery.

Pay attention to all those factors and you'll substantially improve your chances of coping safely with fresh snowfall – and those that will inevitably follow.