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Winter driving safety

Winter driving safety tips include how to stop, how to make a turn, how to drive up and down hills and how to get unstuck when stuck in snow.


Winter driving safety is all about controlling speed based on the weather conditions and the location of where you are driving to or from.

Stopping a vehicle in winter takes longer. The number of seconds it normally takes (4-5 seconds) is generally doubled to between 8 to 10 seconds.

First, coming up to a stop light, intersection or just having to stop quickly from crashing into a car in front of you requires more time to stop safely. It also requires you to leave extra room between you and the vehicle in front when stopping.

Secondly, you pump the brakes gently several times to slow your speed. If you hit the brakes suddenly, the brakes may lock and you'll start to slide. Not a good thing to do. Anticipating any stop in front of you is half the battle. Slowing down as you anticipate a light change will allow you to stop safely and in time.

How to stop safely:

Coming up to stop lights or a stop sign:

  • Ease off of the accelerator slowly so you can stop safely. Gently, tap the brakes several times to slow and then press on the brake to stop completely.

Leaving the stop lights or stop signs:

  • Accelerate slowly through the intersection because the tires will get better road traction.

When leaving an intersection, applying too much acceleration will cause you to spin your tires needlessly and have the potential to make you skid, fishtail or slide into other vehicles or the intersection itself. There's also extra wear and tear on the tires so the cost of replacing winter tires will be sooner rather than later.

The last thing that winter driving safety means is speeding through an intersection when the light shows amber. This is always a risky and dangerous thing to do anyway but is made more dangerous in winter as the road may not be entirely clear of snow and ice.

Controlling your speed gives you more time to react as well as reducing the risk of an accident. Other drivers may run those amber lights so you need to be aware that this happens, sometimes all too frequently in both summer and winter.

Making turns

Same rule applies with easing off the accelerator slowly and gently applying the brakes to safely make a turn. If you are crossing the oncoming traffic lane, you have to be doubly sure that you have enough:

  • Time and
  • Distance to make the turn safely.

In snowy or icy conditions, you'll need more of both to make the turn safely. That goes for the other oncoming driver/s too if they have to stop. Making a turn may also mean you might have to swing slightly wider because of any snow build up or slushy road conditions you wish to avoid.


What seems like a nothing hill in summer becomes something different in winter. I'm talking about more urban-like rolling terrain that you'll encounter more often in and around where you live perhaps rather than large mountainous areas you'd find out in the U.S. and Canadian Rockies. Here, winter driving safety depends more on using snow chains on tires to get around safely during winter. These are more common and very necessary in this part of the world.

Having the best winter tires you can afford on your vehicle is the best strategy to deal with going up or down a hill. They are specially designed to cope with the winter weather and will give better traction and grip the roads better with their wider tire treads. You'll also have more confidence in driving in snowy and icy conditions knowing you are properly prepared with the right kind of tires recommended for winter driving.

Going up a hill:

  • First, as you approach the hill, get going at a comfortable and steady speed. Let the weight of your vehicle carry you forward, gently apply the accelerator to begin your climb just as you approach.
  • If you press sharply or punch down on the gas pedal too much, all you'll do is spin your wheels, not make any headway up the hill but quite possibly begin to slide backwards - definitely a situation you don't want to be in.
  • Keep a steady speed all the way up. Don't stop going up the hill!

Going down a hill:

  • When you are near the top of the hill, let the vehicle's inertia/weight carry you over and then slowly apply the brakes and proceed down the hill but keep your speed low on a downhill descent.
  • This way, you'll always be in control of your vehicle. Anything less than this, and a ditch, a pole or another vehicle is waiting to make your vehicle's acquaintance and not in a good way.
  • Also remember the pavement may also be slippery or slush-covered so controlling your speed is be doubly important.

Getting unstuck in snow

Getting stuck in snow can happen anytime in winter mostly where you've parked. One reason for getting stuck might be because of a heavy snowfall that's now buried your vehicle. If you think it's too much to get out of, first shovel or brush away the snow behind the tires, then proceed with this next part.

The best strategy is:

  • Move your vehicle forward a few feet
  • Reverse back a few feet then
  • Move forward again.

Doing this to-and-fro motion slowly will give you the best chance of getting unstuck from the snow. What you are essentially doing is rocking your vehicle out of the spot you are stuck in and turning the wheel as you go. Repeat these steps until you are safely out it.

The worst strategy is:

  • Don't spin your tires fast while you are stuck as this guarantees you won't be moving anywhere fast. All you'll be doing is the opposite - just be digging a bigger hole for yourself - literally.

Beyond a certain point i.e. if you've spun your wheels and buried your car deeper in the snow, you may need a tow truck to haul you out of your predicament. This is a costly mistake that could have been avoided with a little patience and persistence.

Part of your emergency car kit should also include a bag of sand or non-clumping cat litter. By throwing a good amount down in front and/or behind the tires will help give you extra traction to move out of the spot your vehicle is stuck in. For a few dollars, this simple winter driving safety technique will serve you well.

Driving times

Winter driving safety is also related to arriving safely at your destination. That's the objective, not to arrive in the shortest time. Driving faster than the weather dictates puts you, your family and other drivers at risk. So, take your time, there's no hurry. Remember, when driving in winter weather, safety is your first priority. Give yourself extra time to successfully navigate any road and weather conditions.

Go to Winter Road Dangers

Go to Winter Driving Challenges

Return to Winter Driving

Return to the Winter Living Advisor from Winter Driving Safety