Washington Law: Drive the Conditions Not the Speed Limit
Driving safely on snowy and icy roads requires unique skills to maintain control of your vehicle. If you’re new to driving in winter conditions there are some techniques you should know and practice. Here are some of the best techniques for driving in snow:
- Smooth and Gentle Movements: Abrupt actions on snow-covered roads can lead to loss of control. Opt for smooth accelerations, gentle braking, and gradual steering inputs. This minimizes the risk of skidding and maintains traction.
- Maintain a Safe Following Distance: Increase the distance between your vehicle and the one in front of you. Snowy conditions can make stopping distances longer, and maintaining a safe buffer allows for better reaction time.
- Use Winter Tires: Equipping your vehicle with winter tires significantly improves traction on snow and ice. These specialized tires are designed to handle low temperatures and provide better grip in winter conditions.
- Brake Strategically: Brake early and with caution. If your vehicle has an anti-lock braking system (ABS), apply steady pressure and let it do its job. In non-ABS vehicles, use a gentle pumping motion to prevent skidding.
- Steer in the Direction You Want to Go: In the event of a skid, steer in the direction you want the front of your vehicle to go. This technique helps regain control by aligning your wheels with the desired path.
- Plan and Prepare: Check weather forecasts and road conditions before heading out. If possible, postpone travel until conditions improve. Ensure your vehicle is winter-ready with proper maintenance and carry chains if your trip includes traveling over the passes.
Practicing these winter driving techniques will enhance your ability to navigate snow-covered roads safely and confidently. Patience with yourself and other drivers is extremely important in Washington. RCW 46.41.400 states, “No person shall drive a vehicle on a highway at a speed greater than is reasonable and prudent under the conditions and having regard to the actual and potential hazards then existing...by reason of weather or highway conditions”. In other words, drive the conditions not the speed limit.
The examples of losing control in slippery weather conditions are all over the internet. One of the most gut-wrenching and shocking examples is a video that was posted in 2012 of a 32-year-old man who lost control of his SUV. The video is on YouTube and I’ve chosen not to embed it in this article – leaving the decision to you if you choose to view it – search “Semi vs SUV”. WARNING: It is extreme and traumatic.
A recent example of driving too fast for the conditions was posted by the Washington State Patrol earlier this month when a motorist lost control on the pass and struck a semi-truck that was pulled over to install chains. Please drive safely.
See Inside This Winter Cabin in the Blue Mountains
Gallery Credit: Paul Drake
Palouse Falls, A View from the Edge
Gallery Credit: Paul Hinkson