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How to drive in the snow like a pro (even if you're very much a novice)

Jack Podlesnik
WGLT file
WGLT got some winter-driving help from an expert: Steve Price, a driver’s education instructor at Normal Community West High School.

This is Anna Twiddy’s first real Midwest winter.

Twiddy moved to Bloomington in late October from central North Carolina, where she grew up, to take a job at Illinois State University’s Milner Library.

Twiddy is nervous about her first season of winter driving. She’s planning to leave her old plates on her car for the time being – so if you see a Toyota Corolla with North Carolina plates inching its way through Bloomington-Normal, you might want to cut her some slack.

Anna Twiddy moved to Bloomington in late October from central North Carolina, where she grew up. She works at Illinois State University.
Ryan Denham
Anna Twiddy moved to Bloomington in late October from central North Carolina, where she grew up. She works at Illinois State University.

“At least that’ll give people a good signal on the road to give me a wide berth if stuff is happening,” Twiddy said. “I mostly just feel bad for other people who have to share the road with me, but I'm trying!"

It’s been a relatively merciful winter so far in central Illinois – other than that pre-Christmas deep freeze. Twiddy was back in North Carolina and missed that, though she got a dose of frigid reality when she flew back to Central Illinois Regional Airport and went to drive home.

“When I came back to my car parked at the airport, my trunk was frozen shut, which I had never encountered in my life before,” Twiddy said. (The trunk unexpectedly popped open the next morning as Twiddy was cruising along Veterans Parkway on her way to work.)

With so many “transplants” like Twiddy moving to Bloomington-Normal, WGLT wanted to gather some tips for safe winter driving. We got some help from an expert: Steve Price, a driver’s education instructor at Normal Community West High School.

1. Slow down

Don’t overthink it: Speed is your No. 1 enemy.

After safely navigating a few winter storms, Price said it’s tempting to want to drive like it’s sunny and clear outside.

But slow down. Take your foot off the accelerator sooner when you’re approaching an intersection, where many accidents occur.

“Normally, you’re using a good 3-second following distance in ideal conditions. You’re going to have to increase that, knowing that when it rains it takes you twice as long to stop. When you throw snow and ice in, there’s really no comparison,” Price said.

2. Clear your vehicle

Take the time to clear your roof, windows, headlights and taillights. Yes, it’s annoying. Yes, it’s time-consuming. But it helps you drive safe and is also good winter-driving etiquette.

“Some people you see going down the road, it looks like a snowstorm itself because they didn’t clear those windows and those rooftops off,” said Price, who also suggests keeping your headlights on when you’re driving in winter weather.

“Your headlights need to be on so you’re more visible. Especially those cars that are white, silver or gray that blend in on these wintry, cold days in Illinois,” Price said.

Anna Twiddy already is practicing this one. She bought herself a “serious” snow brush and ice scraper and is building in snow-and-ice-clearing time in her commute.

“I’m already getting better at my scraping and brushing form,” Twiddy said.

3. Careful on bridges

Bridges can be extra slippery.

“Be aware of those bridges. Where the air flows underneath. They tend to freeze and thaw and re-freeze. Salt is on there, but necessarily there’s gonna be those slick spots,” Price said.

4. If you start skidding…

Let’s say you’re driving slow, but you still start skidding making a turn. What should you do?

“You should definitely turn into the direction of the skid,” Price said. “For instance, if your back end is swinging to the right, you would turn your wheel to the right. However, eventually, you’re gonna have to bring your wheel back to that home position once the car straightens out. If not, and you leave that wheel turned, you’ll begin to fishtail.”

5. Avoid snowplows and salt trucks

If you see a snowplow or salt truck nearby (or their lights), slow down and give them space. Move to the left lane, if they’re in the right lane. It is inadvisable to pass salt or plow trucks.

“When I'm driving that truck, I get people I know coming by, honking at me and calling me – ‘Hey man, I saw you driving.’ I cannot hear or pay attention (to) anything but what I'm doing,” said Kris Blayney, one of central Illinois’ most experienced snowplow drivers for the Illinois Department of Transportation. “Your headlights are in a pile of snow behind me.”

6. Get ready before it snows

Fall is a good time to check out your tire treads to make sure you’re ready for winter. Price said a lot of people don’t do proper tire maintenance, such as rotations, potentially hurting their stopping distance.

Price also recommends preparing a winter driving kit for your vehicle. Here’s what Bloomington-based State Farm suggests you include in the kit:

  • Small folding shovel
  • Tow and tire chains
  • Basic tool kit
  • Bag of road salt or cat litter
  • Flares, battery-powered flashlights and extra batteries
  • Bright cloth to tie on your car
  • Whistle
  • Extra windshield wiper fluid and antifreeze
  • Jumper cables or an external battery charger to start your car if your battery dies.

7. The internet is your friend

The Illinois Department of Transportation’s online Winter Conditions map is a great way to check on the interstates to see if they’re clear or partly, mostly or entirely covered with ice or snow.

The City of Bloomington also offers an interactive map so you can track snow-removal efforts in your neighborhood and citywide. You can report issues using the myBloomington app (iOS or Android).

The Town of Normal doesn’t have a snowplow map. But you can report snow or ice issues online.

8. What’s a collision alert?

When winter weather hits, the Bloomington and Normal police departments often issue what’s called a “traffic collision alert.”

During the alert, all motorists involved in a traffic crash – in which no injuries occurred, and all vehicles are driveable – should exchange names, addresses, phone numbers and insurance information. The drivers are required to report the traffic crash together and in person at the police station within 3 to 5 days (depending on the department).

9. What’s a snow route?

When there’s significant snowfall, the City of Bloomington and Town of Normal often issue a “snow route parking ban” or “snow parking ban.”

In Normal, a parking ban means no parked cars are permitted on any streets in the Town of Normal. Cars must be moved off the streets to a driveway, garage or parking lot. The goal is to allow snowplow crews to clear the entire street, including parking areas.

Bloomington bans parking along marked snow routes, though those who live in areas that are not designated as snow routes are still encouraged to park off the street.

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Ryan Denham is the digital content director for WGLT.
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