University of Vermont

Cultivating Healthy Communities

Warning: Winter Ahead

A recent snowfall created a nightmare commute for many drivers throughout Vermont. A little bit of snow as well as black ice made driving hazardous. Usually the first snow doesn't come with black ice, but often the results are the same--multiple fender-benders and cars sliding off the road.

Even if you've never had a winter accident, you've probably had close calls or seen others off the road. As winter settles in, here's a quick lesson on safe driving in snowy and icy weather.

First, make sure your tires are inflated to the correct pressure and have good tread. When driving in snow, you need more tread depth because your tires need to compress the snow in their grooves and release it as they turn.

To be safe in snow, your tires need to have at least 6/32-inch tread. An easy way to measure this is with a penny. Put the penny upside down in the tread at several places around the tire. If the top of the Lincoln Memorial is always covered, you have more than the recommended tread depth remaining.

That snow and ice brush that you took out of your car in the spring needs to go back in the car. Before you drive, thoroughly clear your car of snow and ice. This includes your headlights and taillights.

Make sure the windows are defrosted. Turn your headlights on. You need to see and be seen.

Is your windshield washer reservoir filled with non-freezing washer solution? Check it often throughout the winter and refill as needed as you don't want to run out on the road.

For winter driving, slow down and leave extra space between you and the vehicle in front of you--at least three times as much as you would when roads are dry. On icy roads, you need three to 12 times the normal braking distance to stop.

When stopping, gently ease off the accelerator. Avoid braking suddenly. ABS (Anti-Lock Braking System) will help with vehicle control but may increase the stopping distance. If your vehicle does not have ABS brakes, you may need to pump your brakes to keep them from locking up in slippery conditions.

When roads are slick, don't use cruise control. Always approach bridges, overpasses and shady areas with caution as they may be icy while the rest of the road is not. For hills, shift into low gears to keep traction.

If your vehicle is 4WD (four-wheel-drive), don't assume that it can handle any conditions. You've probably seen many 4WD vehicles that have slid off the road. No vehicle is good on ice although studded tires definitely have an advantage when roads are icy.

While Vermont and New Hampshire are among a handful of states with no restrictions on use of metal-studded snow tires, most states have seasonal restrictions or prohibit use of studded tires. Keep this in mind when traveling out-of-state during the winter months.

Winter driving can be dangerous, especially in areas that get lots of snow and ice. Following these recommendations will help you avoid accidents and arrive at your destination safely.