Oliver: Time for refresher course on Midwest winter driving

Joan Oliver
Joan Oliver

That snowstorm we had last week was a doozy, wasn’t it? Nothing like nearly a foot of heavy, wet snow to remind us that winter is coming (or here).

Then just as quickly, it was gone, melted away by all that rain we had over the weekend.

Ah, just another fall/winter in the Midwest, right?

Or maybe it’s just a little crazier than we remember, depending on one’s point of view.

Despite that, we know it’s going to be at least until late March before we can breathe a sigh of relief and put the snow behind us for another season. That’s probably why I usually hope that the first major snow comes as late in December as possible. You know, put off the inevitable.

Since that didn’t happen this year, now is a good time to remind ourselves of all those winter driving techniques that we probably haven’t thought about for a few months.

These tips for driving on snow come courtesy of AAA; more tips can be found at

• Accelerate and decelerate slowly and smoothly. Applying the gas slowly to get going is the best way to avoid skids. Allow extra time to slow for a stoplight or stop sign. Remember, it takes longer to stop on icy and snow-covered roads.

• Give yourself extra time to maneuver. Everything – stopping, starting, turning, etc. – takes longer than it does on dry pavement.

• Increase your following distance to six to eight seconds on icy roads from the usual dry-pavement following distance of three to four seconds. This gives you more time to stop.

• Know your brakes. The best way to stop is threshold braking, even if you have antilock brakes. Keep the heel of your foot on the floor and use the ball of your foot to apply firm, steady pressure on the brake pedal.

• Try not to stop, if possible. It’s easier to accelerate when you’re already moving than when you are at a full stop. If you can slow down enough to keep rolling until a traffic light changes, do it. (Just don’t run a red light or miss a stop sign.)

• Don’t power up hills. Applying extra gas on snow-covered roads just allows the wheels to start spinning. Try to get a little momentum going before you reach the hill, and let it carry you to the top. As you reach the crest of the hill, slow down and proceed downhill as slowly as possible.

• Don’t stop while going up a hill. There’s nothing worse than trying to get moving up a hill on an icy road.

• Always look and steer where you want to go.

• Stay home if you really don’t have to go out. Remember that even if you are a skilled winter driver, not everyone around you is.

I’d also add that it’s not a good idea to brake hard while going down a steep hill. It’s far better to decelerate slowly and maintain control.

Also remember that if you are using your windshield wipers when it’s snowing, you need to have your headlights on, even if it’s during the day. That’s the law, and it applies for rain, too.

Here’s hoping that we don’t have an extra-snowy winter, one where we’re forced to use all of this information repeatedly. Although, no doubt, we’ll need it at least a few times before spring.

Let’s be careful out there.

• Joan Oliver is the former Northwest Herald assistant news editor. She has been associated with the Northwest Herald since 1990. She can be reached at

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