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Tips for driving in the snow and ice

If you don't have to drive in the snow and ice, please don't. But if you do have to, here's the best way to stay safe.
Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

SEATTLE — When it comes to snow in western Washington, we've developed a bit of a stigma. Either people are too scared to drive because they don't know how to navigate the snow and ice, or they think they know how to drive in it but, in reality, they don't.

It's not surprising. We don't often get enough snow that it affects driving conditions. But icy roads can happen whether snow falls or not.

Regardless of your experience, if you cause a collision, insurance companies aren't likely to be forgiving just because the roads were slick. So your best defense is knowing how to drive in this stuff.

Here are some basic tips:

Give yourself extra time: You can prepare for driving in the snow before you even get in your car. Before you leave, clear snow and ice off your vehicle, and know more than one route to your destination in case one is closed.

Also see | 5 steps to winterize your vehicle

Slow down: This should go without saying, but you still see people trying to go 60 mph when it's below freezing on wet roads.

"Pay attention, leave space, and don't drive too fast for the conditions," said Jordan Cassidy, an instructor with Defensive Driving School in Seattle's University District.

Increase your following distance: If you're a tailgater, good luck if the person in front of you has to slam on the brakes while on ice.

Cassidy said a 10-second following distance is sometimes necessary for icy conditions.

"Normally you want four seconds, but in icy conditions, more is always better," he said, explaining to pick a fixed point, like a stop sign, and when the car ahead of you reaches it, then start counting until your car reaches the same point.

Braking: When you see you're about to come to a place you need to stop, don't wait until the last minute. Take your foot off the gas and, if you can, shift to neutral so it takes power away from the drive wheels. Brake slowly and gently.

"You never want to have sudden braking or sudden acceleration," explained Cassidy.

All-wheel-drive: Having an all-wheel-drive vehicle does not make you invincible. If all four wheels are on ice, you're going to slide.

Let your windows defrost: Don't try to navigate through a pinhole-sized opening in the frost on your windshield.

Drive with your lights on, even in the daylight. This is good practice even if it's not snowing.

"One of the biggest problems people get into in snowy conditions or any other sort of conditions, is they have the exact same driving habits as when it's nice outside," said Cassidy.

Check your tires: The best move is to get snow tires. But if you decide against that, be sure your regular tires have plenty of tread. You should also make sure your tires are properly inflated.

Also see | Tips and tricks for putting chains on your tires

Replace your windshield wiper blades: Make sure your washer fluid is full with nonfreezing fluid and replace your windshield wiper blades if they're worn.

Check your antifreeze: Make sure it will protect your engine in sub-freezing temperatures.

Bring survival supplies: Nobody plans on getting stuck in a ditch. That's usually when they get stuck in a ditch. Have some food and water that can last you a couple of days if you get stranded, particularly if you're traveling in rural areas. Keep extra clothing in your car and have a first aid kit.

Have these items ready to go in your car:

  • Flashlight
  • First aid kit
  • Jumper cables
  • Blankets
  • Tire chains (and practice putting them on before you need them)
  • Ice scraper
  • Shovel
  • Gloves and warm clothing

If you end up in a crash or your car breaks down on the road, stay in your vehicle. Don't assume others can see you or will be able to stop for you if you get out.

WATCH: The recipe for snowfall in Seattle

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