The Tips and Tricks of Safe Driving in Winter


Photo by Ben Schumin

Rooftop view of Lake Shore Drive alongside Lake Michigan in winter.

Avery Martin, Managing Editor of News

Driving—it’s one of the scariest moments of a parent’s life, and one of the most exciting for a teenager. Yet the dangers of winter driving are often overlooked by new drivers. 

   First, it’s important to clarify that even if someone has been driving for over a year, they are still considered an inexperienced driver as it takes years to get used to driving safely. In Illinois, winter is host to a range of weather conditions—all of which present varying degrees of safety. Thus, it’s important to keep in mind certain tips while driving in the winter.

   According to a registered student driver list kept by Lake Forest Academy’s Dean of Students Office Manager, Teresa Zaiff, the school has approximately 135 student drivers. This is about ¼ of the LFA student body. According to Illinois Top Driver, drivers should plan to leave earlier to give enough time to drive safely to school or other destinations. Drivers should also completely remove snow and ice from the vehicle to improve visibility. While in the car, all controls and gears should be operated gently, and a safe following distance should be kept. If you end up in a snowstorm, use your car’s daytime running lights to improve visibility. Also, try to travel on highways or popular roads as authorities will salt these roads first.

   One of the most dangerous parts about driving in the winter is black ice—an invisible yet possibly fatal surface. First, it’s important that you drive slower than you usually would. Try to drive in areas that allow more traction, such as snow covered spots, sandy areas, and textured ice. It’s crucial in these conditions that drivers don’t slam the brakes, and give time to slowly and safely slow down and come to a stop. Vehicles with ABS will automatically pump your brakes for you if you begin to skid, but if your vehicle doesn’t have ABS or antilock, moderately applying pressure to your brakes can help maintain control. 

   Additionally, Zaiff described a tip that can help identify if there is black ice on the road. When the road appears wet, if the car ahead of you is spewing water off of it’s back tires, then the road is simply wet. However, if the road still appears wet, but if nothing is spewing off the back tires of the car in front of you, the road has black ice on it.

    If you begin to skid on black ice or snow, it’s possible the vehicle will begin to fishtail. This  is when your vehicle’s rear wheels lose traction, causing the back wheels to move in a fishtail pattern. If you begin to fishtail, remain calm and drive slowly in the direction of your tires’ skid. At the same time, remove your foot from the pedal to reduce speed. It’s crucial to not try and steer your vehicle into the opposite direction, or you may lose control. 

   Knowing these tips while driving can save both your own and other lives, and can make you feel safer on the road. With experience, drivers will become more and more comfortable driving in these conditions. Remember that it’s also always an option to get a ride with parents, or take the train to school if the conditions seem too difficult to drive in. Happy winter and safe driving!