Winter driving is tough enough without being steered the wrong way by conventional “wisdom”. In case you think myths don’t exist about the best ways to drive safely when there’s snow and ice and freezing rain on the roads, we’re here to set you straight. One by one, we’re going to dispel some of the most common myths of winter driving in the spirit of helping you survive winter road conditions unscathed.
1. More Accidents Happen During a Snow Storm.
Actually, fewer collisions occur during a snowstorm than after. The reason? Drivers are more cautious when snow is falling than when skies are clear. In fact, roads are at their most dangerous after a thaw and melted snow and ice refreeze. Drivers should be especially wary as winter sunset approaches and temperatures fall. And remember: surface temperatures are always lower than the temperature of the air. Ice can form on road surfaces when the air temperature is as high as 37°F (3°C).
2. Lower Tire Pressure Increases Traction.
Traction – the grip your tires have to keep you on course – is one of the biggest driving safety factors. In winter, colder temperatures make all tires less grippy even without snow or ice on the road because rubber hardens. Some people think making tires less rigid by reducing tire air pressure means you’ll get a bigger surface connecting to the road, and so more traction.
The truth is, most safety experts argue that the minimal extra traction you might gain is more than offset by the risk that your tires will be underinflated. This reduces the control they provide from sidewall stiffness, raises the risk of a blowout and can cause damage to your tires. Remember that, as it is, tires lose about 1 pound of pressure for every 10° F (12° C) the temperature falls.
3. Four Wheel Drive Means It’s Safe to Drive Faster in Snow.
Four-wheel drive helps you get more traction from a standing stop, but it does nothing to increase traction on snow and ice at driving speeds. Next time it snows, check out how many fourwheel drive vehicles have spun out into ditches and onto median strips. No matter how many drive wheels you’ve got, to maximize control on snow and ice drive at half the posted speed limit or less.
4. Anti-Lock Brakes (ABS) Make Braking Distance Shorter.
Actually, anti-lock brakes make stopping distance longer. They’re designed not to stop in a shorter distance, but to keep your tires from losing traction. To do this, they rapidly “pulse” the brakes, just like a driver without ABS who pumps his or her brakes.
5. You Can Always See Ice on the Road Ahead.
Black ice is the bane of the overconfident driver, because it’s just as slippery as white ice, but you can’t see it. In fact, it most frequently forms after most of the white ice has melted. It’s formed by a thin sheet of water that refreezes. Expect it wherever shade covers the roadway: near bridges and tall buildings that block the direct rays of the sun in early morning and late afternoon.
6. Normal Following Distance is OK on Snow and Ice.
The rule of thumb to avoid causing a rear-end collision in good weather is to be at least two seconds behind the driver ahead of you. In foul weather, make that 6 to 10 seconds, because you need extra distance to stop.
7. Steer into the Direction of a Skid.
In the days before front-wheel drive, this was true. But now that most vehicles have front-wheel drive, the universal rule when you begin to slide is to steer toward the direction in which you want to go.