Oh No! Oh No! I Can’t Drive in the Snow! Or Can I?

The road trip is a beloved American phenomenon and something Europeans simply don’t understand. They muse, “Why, for the love of God, would you want to drive yourself around when you can hop on a high-speed train?” And they’re right. I’d never wedge my family, the dog and suitcases into a Citroën and then negotiate a stick shift. But here in America we don’t have bullet trains; we do have spacious minivans and a colorful collection of inspiring road tripping all-stars: Hope and Crosby, Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters, Thelma and Louise. Want to avoid a boring weekend? Pack a cooler, plot a route on a map, throw some clothes in a bag and hit the open road. Adventure awaits!

Winter road trip destination Thunderbird Inn, Savannah, Georgia

Non-negotiable components of a classic American road trip include a stay in a somewhat dicey motel and a meal in a diner.

Wait a minute. It’s winter. Don’t we risk death and dismemberment by taking to the highway during the season of snow squalls and black ice? Weigh the risk/benefit – the chance of a slippery skid versus going slowly insane over the next 6 weeks? Thanks for nothing, groundhog. Take a risk. Get out of town.

To increase your chance of surviving, I present some winter driving tips from the New York State Department of Transportation. You can access their brochure here. Some highlights:

Have your battery, brakes, exhaust system, lights, wiper blades and tire treads checked. No tread = no traction = no bueno. Good treads channel the slushy stuff away and increase the amount of tire surface in contact with the road. This is very important to avoid highway slaloms.

Clear all windows, wipers and the roof of your vehicle of snow and ice before you start driving. I’ve done it. You’ve done it. But it’s really a hazard to drive with a roof-full of snow that resembles the fat cap on a prime rib. It’s terrifying when a 4″ high plate of ice and snow hurtles towards you. Take the extra 5 minutes to completely clear the snow off your roof, mirrors and lights.

The safest place to drive is at least eight car lengths behind a snow plow. Don’t pass them either. Their visibility is restricted and the driver’s attention is primarily on objects in front of them. Give yourself a big cushion from all other vehicles too. It’ll give you an opportunity to correct safely should one of your fellow travelers (you know, the guy in the battered Civic with 4 bald tires, one headlight, who’s clearing the ice from his windshield with his hand while doing 90) slip and skid.

And here’s the DOT’s emergency supply list. I’m not a prepper, yet, but I have outfitted my station wagon with several of these items. Don’t call me crazy but you can call me Sheriff Rick (Sorry. I feel a need to float a “Walking Dead” reference every post or two.).

Vehicle survival kit:
flashlight with extra batteries
snow brush/ice scraper
jumper cables
abrasive material for traction (kitty litter, sand)
bright fabric for your antenna
warning device (flares or reflectors)
non-perishable snacks/high-energy bars
extra medication
waterproof matches
empty coffee can to melt snow

I understand if you shiver thinking about a winter road trip or you live in Boston and still can’t push open your front door. In that case, here’s a list of classic road trip films from AMC. Happy trails!

1970's New York man shoveling snow winter road trip

“Get in the car, kids. I’ll be able to back it out in a minute.”

4 thoughts on “Oh No! Oh No! I Can’t Drive in the Snow! Or Can I?

  1. Great recommendations! And driving in snow in Kentucky where they don’t have equipment to clear or experience to know what to do it is a different experience than driving in Minnesota where winter is only winter where there’s at least 6 inches on the ground! 🙂

  2. Ah, but my beloved (now ex-car) Citroen C5 also was a nice car for winter driving with all the family aboard and the dog in the back. Been there, done that :). Though admittedly, road trips in it were more a summer thing. Like the trip to Italy some years ago – where we actually put the car and us on the train you mention on the way there 😛

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