January, typically the coldest and snowiest month for Utahans, is officially here. Forecasters are predicting a fairly typical winter for us here in Salt Lake City, which means plenty of snowfall creating slick conditions on winter roads. While the snow in Salt Lake City makes for great snowboarding and winter recreation, it is a dangerous combination for motorists. Knowing how to navigate the city safely this winter will help prevent accidents from snow, ice, and other winter weather.
Getting from place to place in the snow can take significantly longer than normal. If you have a long commute, allow yourself extra time in the morning to get to your destination. You do not want to be in the position of needing to rush to make a morning meeting or class. Stress from running late makes mistakes more likely, like driving too fast for ambient conditions. Attempting to rush to your destination under any circumstance, especially in the snow, can have dangerous consequences.
One of the most important aspects of driving on snow-covered roads is maintaining traction and control. To do this, accelerate and decelerate with caution. Using restraint as you use your gas and brake pedals is the best way to avoid skidding, which could lead you to lose control of your vehicle. This especially applies to stoplights. Whatever you do, do not attempt to hurry as you make your way through the city. Apply your gas and brakes tentatively, and remember it takes longer to accelerate and brake on winter roads.
Generally, four seconds is considered a safe following distance on dry pavement. It allows you enough time to react and prevent rear-end accidents on roads with typical conditions. However, in the snow, this following distance should be much longer. Typically, following distances of 8 to 10 seconds are enough to prevent running into the driver ahead of you. This creates an additional margin of safety that could make the difference between a complete stop or a rear-end accident.
Cars all have different safety features. For example, some cars have built-in traction control and automatic four-wheel drive. Most vehicles on the road have anti-lock brakes, and some have warnings about ambient conditions. Knowing how adept your car is at handling the snow will help you make important judgment calls during your commute. However, regardless of the type of breaks in your car, threshold braking is the best way to come to a stop in the snow. Keeping the heel of your foot on the floorground, apply firm, steady pressure to the brake pedal using the ball of your foot.
Stopping in the snow can put you in the position of getting stuck, either in a mound of snow or on black ice. If possible, gauge stoplights and avoid stopping so you can just roll through when the light changes to green again. This may require driving more slowly, which is generally safer, anyway.
It might seem natural to power on the gas to get enough steam to go up a hill, but this can be dangerous. Instead, make sure that you have enough power before you start up the hill and let natural forces carry you over the crest. Once you are over the hill, reduce your speed and travel down the hill as slowly as possible. Hitting the gas to crest over the hill could put you on the other side too fast, causing your vehicle to lose control. At the same time, you want to avoid braking on hills because this could lead to your vehicle getting stuck.
Snow in Salt Lake City is an inevitable reality, but the truth is some errands can wait. If you do not have anywhere to be, do not risk your safety and leave the house just because you want to. Wait until the roads are clear before running errands or doing any non-essential out of house business.