It was the first big snowfall of the season and I was out driving on the freeway when it happened. I had been traveling carefully, unsure that my little sedan would be able to keep traction as the snow kept piling up, when a large SUV came flying out of nowhere, attempting to pass me as if the roads were dry. Just as the SUV had gotten ahead of me, the driver lost control. The vehicle spun wildly for a few seconds and then crashed horrifically into the median with a sickening crunch.

Somehow, the driver was unhurt. Many others, however, are not so lucky. Each and every winter, people are injured or killed because they are unprepared or overconfident on snowy, icy roads.

With a winter storm blanketing the Midwest today, drivers could use some reminders on how to drive properly in the snow.

The following rules for driving safely in winter weather are not particularly difficult to follow. Even if you are a veteran driver from a snow belt state, keeping these safety tips fresh in your mind can keep you on the road and in control.

1. Make sure you and your car are properly equipped before you leave.

Do a quick check of your vehicle before you hit the road. Make sure that your car has ample antifreeze, the windshield is clean and you have plenty of windshield washer fluid, the headlights are clean and in working order and the tires have tread and are properly inflated. Also, make sure to have your battery tested, to avoid being stranded in the cold with a car that won't start.

In addition to your vehicle's mechanical equipment, it's important to keep some extra items in the trunk or glove box in case of emergency. Equip your car with a flashlight and extra batteries, a first aid kit, warm clothes, and a blanket. Remember to have sunglasses in the car as well. It always amazes me how many people I see driving in the winter without them. The glare of the sun off of snow and ice can be more intense in the winter than it is in the summer.

One last thing to remember, perhaps the most important of all: Your cell phone.

2. Slow down and drive smoothly.
How comfortable are you driving in winter weather?
Very comfortable. I'm a winter-driving veteran.3085 (34.2%)
Somewhat comfortable. It depends on the severity of the weather.3949 (43.8%)
Not comfortable at all. Get me to warmer pastures!1989 (22.0%)


This may seem like a no-brainer, but even if you're driving an SUV or a four-wheel-drive truck, you cannot safely do 80 mph during a snowstorm. Four-wheel-drive may help your vehicle get going in the slushy stuff, but it's of no use when you're trying to steer or safely stop on a slippery road surface.

It is also important to avoid abrupt acceleration, braking and turns. Doing so can cause your vehicle to lose traction and can launch you into an uncontrollable skid, leading to a collision.

Driving too quickly is the main cause of accidents in winter conditions. Just be patient and accept the fact that it is going to take longer to arrive at your destination.

3. Do not tailgate.

It is important to remember that it takes a much longer distance to stop your vehicle in the snow or ice due to the greatly reduced traction, even with just a light covering on the road. You may think that the driver in front of you doing 35 mph on the freeway is going too slow and needs a reminder in the form of you riding their bumper, but doing so is dangerous. Be patient and stay back until it's safe to pass.

Tailgating often leads to accidents, especially if you are driving in stop-and-go traffic. If the car in front of you stops abruptly and you are following too closely, you can reflexively slam on the brakes and end up sliding into it. The resulting accident may be no more than a fender-bender, but having to deal with it on a busy road in the snow is certainly something that you want to avoid, especially if other cars are sliding around as well. Many serious accident injuries come from a second impact from another car after a seemingly trivial collision.

4. Do not use cruise control.

For some, driving with cruise control has become almost second nature. Sure, it prevents you from getting leg fatigue, keeps you from unwittingly speeding and is great on long trips, but driving with it on in winter conditions can be unsafe. Thus, if cruise control has become a staple of your driving habits, make a conscious effort to ensure that you are not using it in winter weather.

Using cruise control in the snow, ice or even rain is dangerous because if your car hydroplanes or skids, it will accelerate and rapidly spin the wheels since it will be trying to maintain a constant speed. If this happens, it will be more likely that you lose control of your vehicle.

5. Pull over or stay home.

If at any point during your trip -- or before you even leave -- you feel that the weather is too bad to continue driving, simply stay put. If you're out on the road, find a safe spot to pull over and wait until the weather passes or calms to the point where you feel comfortable driving again. If you haven't left yet, stay home and off the roads.

Remember, there is no shame in making the logical decision to stay in when the conditions are bad. You may be late arriving to your destination, but arriving late in one piece is much better than the alternative. Your boss or significant other will understand.