How to drive in the snow if you’re not from Colorado (or if you are, but forgot how)
For non-natives (and though we hate to own up to it, plenty of natives) Colorado’s winter roads can be a challenge — not only driving safely yourself, but driving to keep others safe, as well.
Whether you’re from the Midwest, with packed ice and weeks of cloudy days, or the South, where an inch of snow can cause a panic, sometimes we all forget or have been incorrectly taught safe winter driving habits.
Sgt. Mike Heck of the Greeley Police Department traffic unit said his No. 1 piece of advice is to maintain a safe following distance, even in four-wheel- or all-wheel-drive vehicles.
“They all take the same amount of time to stop,” he said.
One of the most frequent incidents Heck said he sees in Greeley when the weather turns rough is rear-end crashes from following too closely. No matter the vehicle, he said, maintaining a safe distance is key to avoiding a wreck.
Here are some more tips from Heck on driving this winter:
- Stay back — When measuring the amount of space between cars, Heck said police officers can use a radar that will say how close vehicles are to each other. At least 2 seconds should be between each vehicle, but Heck said sometimes people will be less than a second apart. People have an average reaction time of three-quarters of a second, so if you’re following someone too close you won’t be able to stop.
- Slow down — Everything takes a little longer when it’s snowy out, Heck said. Like with all other winter driving tips, use your best judgement. If you go 25 miles per hour on the highway because it’s snowing, but there’s no snow built up on the ground yet, that’s not safe because others will likely be going much faster. But if there is snow built up, Heck said, going slower is the smart thing to do. You can turn on your blinkers, he said, if you feel the need to let others know you’re going slowly.
“No matter what the speed limit is, if you’re going too fast for conditions it’s a violation of the law,” he said.
- Accelerate gently — If you start accelerating too quickly, Heck said, or you “lomp” on your gas pedal, you’ll start spinning out and could also start to slide, which could create a major issue at an intersection.
“If you don’t do it very slow and smooth, you’ve already lost the battle,” he said.
- Don’t pump the brakes — Most newer cars have antilock brakes systems (if the ABS light goes on in your car, that’s probably what it’s referring to and you might want to get it checked out). The system will adjust the pressure of the brakes for you. If you have a car without ABS, AAA recommends applying pressure to the brakes but not all the way, so the tires won’t lock up.
Here are some more from an AAA Colorado news release:
- Use extreme caution on bridges and overpasses — Black ice typically forms first in shaded areas of the roadway and on bridges and overpasses that freeze first and melt last. Although the road leading up to a bridge may be fine, the bridge itself could be a sheet of ice.
- Move over — Move over one lane for law enforcement and emergency roadside assistance personnel assisting motorists. It’s the law. If you can’t move over, slow down.
- Don’t power up hills — Applying extra gas on snow-covered roads just starts your wheels spinning. Try to get a little inertia going before you reach the hill and let that inertia carry you to the top. As you reach the crest of the hill, reduce your speed and proceed downhill as slowly as possible. Never stop while going up a hill.
- Carry a winter weather kit in your car — Contents should include a fully charged cell phone (and a car charger), ice scraper, blanket, warm winter clothing, flashlight with extra batteries, jumper cables, a bag of kitty litter, reflective triangles/flares, shovel and cloth/paper towels.