Winter Driving Tips for Desert Dwellers

If you’re used to driving somewhere relatively warm and sunny (like right here in Arizona), driving in winter weather can be intimidating and even scary. But it doesn’t have to be that way. With some knowledge, practice and care, you can learn to stay safe in all types of road conditions.  

Here are our top tips for safe driving when the temperature drops. 

Confirm your car is winter-ready

Winter driving conditions require that your vehicle is well maintained and properly equipped. Before you head for roads that may be wet or icy, make sure you conduct all required maintenance. At a minimum, check your tire pressure and tread, windshield wiper blades, battery, lights, and fluids (including anti-freeze/coolant and gas). 

Just stay home

Driving on snow-slicked roads can be risky, so only venture out in bad weather if you absolutely must. If a big snowstorm is brewing or you’re thinking of heading out in the middle of a blizzard, avoid driving and use it as an excuse to hunker down with some hot chocolate instead. 

Slow your roll

One of the very best ways to stay safe when driving in snow and ice is to slow down. This is because your tires have less traction on snow-covered or icy roads, and the faster you go, the quicker you can lose complete control of your vehicle.

Beware black ice

Black ice is sometimes called clear ice because rather than appearing white, you can see the asphalt under its transparent surface. Not being able to see it is exactly what makes black ice truly treacherous. It forms most commonly at night or in the early morning areas, and is found on parts of the road that don’t see a lot of sun and that aren’t frequently traveled on.

Cancel your cruise control

Relying on the cruise control is a great energy saver under normal circumstances, but when road surfaces are slippery, using cruise control actually gives you less control. Opt for manual driving instead. 

Drive with care on hills

Even though it’s tempting to pedal-to-the-metal up a hill, doing so in the snow will only cause your wheels to spin. When going downhill, drive slowly so you maintain control. You should also avoid stopping on a hill when driving in winter weather. 

Use your brakes correctly

Realize that you need a much longer stopping distance on wet roads, and that distance increases with the presence of ice and snow. While on a dry road, you might need between 60 and 100 feet to stop (depending on your vehicle), you’ll need 10 times that — 600 feet or more — on an icy road. When you do need to brake or stop, do so gently, and keep the heel of your foot on the floor while applying steady and firm pressure with the ball of your foot to the brake. This is important to do whether you have antilock brakes (also known as ABS) or not. 

Practice extra caution around other vehicles

When it’s actively snowing, visibility is seriously diminished, making it hard for you to see other vehicles and vice versa. Give trucks and snow plows a wide berth for two reasons: they blow a lot of snow around, and conditions make it hard for their drivers to see you. Take great care when passing any vehicle, and consider not passing at all. 

Pack winter survival supplies

No one plans on getting stranded on the side of a highway in bad weather. But if something does happen, you can plan to be ready with the items you and your passengers need to stay safe and comfortable. Pack a kit with items such as an ice scraper, first-aid kit, cell phone charger, jumper cables, a shovel, flares and kitty litter or sand. Add some nonperishable food, some water bottles, and blankets.

Would you like to increase your confidence and skill driving in all kinds of conditions? We can help! Learn more about Stop and Go Driving School’s courses.