My wife Robin and I moved to Southeastern Michigan in September 2017 from Southern California, where we had spent the past 17 years. We bought a nice big old farm house on five acres, and prepared for the upcoming winter. Both of us had lived in the Midwest before – Robin was born in Milwaukee, and I went to high school in Wichita, Kansas and Rockford, Illinois. So we thought we were ready for winter. Still, being a researcher by nature and a car guy by vocation, I spent some time digging in to the available information about winter driving.
What I discovered was that there is plenty of information, not all of it helpful or accurate. Asking native Michiganders for their advice resulted in some confusion. I couldn’t get a consensus about some simple driving tips, like the benefits of winter tires and all-wheel drive. A few neighbors and friends insisted that they preferred rear-wheel drive and all-season tires over all-wheel drive and winter tires. Granted, these were the same neighbors and friends who never seemed to wear anything more substantial than a hoodie, no matter the temperature. But still, their voices rang in my head.
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration logo.
I found a government publication from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) entitled “Focus on Safety: Winter Driving Tips,” which goes the other direction with multiple categories of advice for winter driving, most of which focus on research and planning, rather than actual driving.
NHTSA’s first category, “Before You Go,” gives great practical advice for all seasons. They advise you to get your car serviced to avoid a breakdown and to check for recalls to assure that a critical safety issue has not been overlooked. They then suggest that you take the opportunity to practice driving on snow-covered or icy back roads or in an empty parking lot to sharpen winter driving skills, and to familiarize yourself with how your car performs.
NHTSA is big on preparation. They remind you to clean snow, ice and dirt from windows, sensors, headlights, tail lights and backup cameras around your vehicle before driving.
They also suggest that you carry a bunch of supplies:
DMOS Collective Stealth snow shovel.
A company called DMOS Collective, Inc. of Jackson, Wyoming (where they have many opportunities for winter driving) sent me a list of things NOT to keep in your vehicle during the winter. DMOS makes some heavy duty shovels, including a cool Stealth model that collapses into a small enough form to slide under your car seat. Like NHTSA, DMOS of course wants you to keep a snow shovel in your car, but their list of things not to leave in your car is a good one:
DMOS adds a few items to NHTSA’s list, too: A flashlight, an insulated water bottle, a first-aid kit, duct tape, a tarp, road flares, antifreeze and brake fluid.
NHTSA’s suggestions extend beyond vehicle contents and preparation. The agency advises you to plan your travel and route before you head out in bad weather. They want you to:
Tracks of car tires in snow, traffic organization and road cleaning in winter season
Other advice that I found helpful from NHTSA was in their “On the Road” section. The government agency advises you to keep your gas tank full, because a weather-related traffic jam might cause you to need more fuel to get home or keep warm. They want you to avoid risky driving behaviors, like texting, speeding, or driving while impaired – good advice for any weather. Drive slowly, don’t crowd the snow plows or ride beside them, and never drive into a snow cloud.
Perhaps the best advice of all from the NHTSA: “If road conditions are hazardous, avoid driving if possible. Wait until road and weather conditions improve before venturing out in your vehicle.”
There it is. The best winter driving tip is: Don’t drive at all.