Safely Navigating Winter Driving Conditions Expert Article

In this article, automotive engineer Steven Malek provides a number of suggestions for improving driving safety in winter conditions.

Winter Driving Safety Expert Witness

Safety Tips on Winter Driving from an Automotive Engineer

Winter weather affects much of the country, extending commutes, closing roadways, and contributing to countless crashes and fender benders. Even if you are not directly affected by the winter weather, you likely know someone who could benefit from these safety tips.

The over-arching message is that if you have the option, stay off the roads altogether. Winter weather adds various potential hazards that are best avoided, but for those of us who must brave the frozen thoroughfares, read on.

Winter Driving Safety Checklist:

Tire Placement – Ensure that your tires with the most tread are on the rear wheels. We occasionally get pushback on this topic from “car guys,” but the fact of the matter is that if you lose traction, you are less likely to enter an uncontrollable spin if your best tires are on the rear.

Tire Inflation – As the ambient air temperature drops, so does the air pressure in your tires. Check your tire pressure, it is likely that you’ll need to add air.

Air Conditioning – Ensure that your A/C unit is charged, when most cars are set to defrost mode, the A/C unit will work to dry the air in the cabin and reduce fogging of the windows.

Clean the Snow Off Your Car – It’s important to clean not only your windows, but also your headlights, hood, and roof. This practice will not only improve your visibility, but will also help to prevent snow and ice from your car blowing onto other motorists. It is also important to ensure your grill is clear of snow; it may be counterintuitive in cold and freezing weather, but a blocked grille can lead to overheating of the engine because there is no airflow over the radiator tubes and fins. In some states it is law that you remove snow from the entire car.

Turn On Your Headlights – Not only to improve your visibility, also to make it easier for other drivers to see you.

Be a Smooth Operator – Avoid sudden applications of the throttle, brakes, or steering. Sudden applications of these primary vehicle controls can lead to a loss of traction and control.

Don’t Tailgate – Tension is already high amongst motorists in foul weather, in lower traction conditions it will take longer to make evasive maneuvers.

Check Your Gauges – Snow and ice may build up on the front of your car, blocking air flow to your cooling system, which has the potential to cause your engine to overheat.

Thermometer - Be mindful of the temperature outside. One of the most dangerous times to be on the roadway is when there is precipitation out on the road surface and the temperature outside hovers around the freezing point, 32° F / 0° C. As the temperature starts getting down or below those numbers, ice starts to form and will create a slippery driving surface.

Fluids - This is a great time of year to check some key components on your vehicle. The coolant (antifreeze) level of your vehicle. When this gets too low, your cabin heater will not work as efficiently which can cause your windows to ice or frost up and create an unneeded distraction while driving. Windshield washer fluid is the other very important level to check. Weather conditions can change rapidly, and not being able to have your windshield clean via the wipers and washer fluid can lead to a dangerous condition.

Windshield Wipers – As mentioned above, in combination with washer fluid, winter wiper blades are critical for snow and icy driving conditions. It is best to install a new set of winter wiper blades at the start of the winter season. Winter wiper blades differ from summer wiper blades as the mechanism of the design differs. Winter blades are more costly, but they are designed to do a better job at preventing freeze-up. Snow and ice build-up on windshield wipers prevents the rubber wiping portion of the blade from making sufficient contact with the windshield, which affects performance.

Ride in the Tracks of the Vehicles Ahead of You – Unless those tracks have turned to ice, riding in the tracks is likely to provide better traction. Some of the snow and slush in the tracks has been dispersed, allowing your tires to make contact with the road surface. If the tracks have formed compacted ice, you may find better grip on fresh snow.

You Can Turn or Stop in Snow, but not Both – In many snowy conditions there is enough traction to turn or stop, but trying to do both at once will often force the vehicle into a slide. If you find yourself sliding towards an obstacle, it may help to release the brakes and steer around it.

Reduce Your Speed – By reducing your speed you can increase the amount of time available for evasive maneuvers.

Getting Unstuck – If you do get stuck in the snow, it may be helpful to turn off your traction control system. In some scenarios, the additional wheel spin will help to dig through the snow, allowing your tires to make contact with the asphalt and gain traction.

Be safe out there.

Vehicle Crash Investigations

From complex crash reconstruction to developing demonstrative evidence for court testimony, the transportation experts at Robson Forensic are well equipped to assist in your investigation. The vehicle experts at Robson Forensic are more than just mechanical engineers and reconstructionists, they are automotive engineers with industry experience in the design, development, and manufacturing of gasoline and electric vehicles.

For more information, submit an inquiry or call us at 800.813.6736.

Featured Expert

Steven K. Malek, Automotive Engineer & Crash Expert

Steven K. Malek

Automotive Engineer & Crash Expert
Steven Malek is an expert in vehicle engineering and heavy vehicle towing with specialized expertise in heavy truck repair. He applies his expertise to vehicle crash investigations, and vehicle towing… read more.


View All Articles

Winter Roadway Maintenance

By Thomas Lyden
Expert Article

In this article, Civil Engineer, Thomas Lyden provides an overview of winter maintenance operations. His discussion includes two strategies for snow and ice control, anti-icing and de-icing, and how…

Road Weather Information Systems & Winter Maintenance Operations

By Thomas Lyden
Expert Article

In this article, Civil Engineer, Thomas Lyden provides an overview of Road Weather Information System in winter maintenance operations. His discussion includes identifying the sensors that are often…

Determining if a Tire Failure Caused a Crash

By Richard Sherman
Expert Article

In this article, tire engineering expert, Richard Sherman discusses the process by which forensic engineers investigate failed tire events. His discussion includes a checklist of information that…