Driving in snow scaring you? Top tips to drive and survive in ice and snow

A snow covered road
Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center in Finland, Minn. had over two feet of snow land on Wednesday.
Courtesy of Pete Harris

As many in the Twin Cities have faced their first days of challenging driving in snow this fall,  Minnesotans new and old may realize they’ve fallen back into bad habits — not remembering how to drive in the snow. Here’s a reminder of some tips for driving and surviving in snow and ice. 

What to do on the road 

  • This one’s simple: If the weather is bad, don’t drive unless you really have to. It is not worth the risk!

  • Go slow. You never know if there is ice below the snow or if you will get stuck, so you want to be prepared. 

  • Keep those headlights on. Even in fog, small flurries and really all of winter, it’s the way to do it. Even MPR News host Cathy Wurzer says so.

  • Don’t overcorrect. If you start sliding, don’t immediately hit the breaks as this can worsen it. Turn your wheels into the same direction you are sliding and ride it out. 

  • Give yourself space. Don’t ride behind other cars It will take you more time to stop in snow or ice than it does in the warm months. Driving bumper to bumper won’t keep you safe. 

On Tuesday we had two polls on our @mprnews Twitter account: Do you use snow tires? And, what are the must-have items in your trunk for a Minnesota winter?

Together, more than 1,500 Minnesotans answered. A surprising 68 percent voted that they do not put snow tires on their vehicles. Many who answered said it depends where you live. People from Rochester, Duluth and Pine County said they do use them.

Another popular response to the poll was advocating for all-weather tires. All tires are expensive, but a new set of winter tires can put you back $1,000 or so. All-weather tires can be a cost-friendly option for those not wanting to buy a second set of tires just for the winter.

Experts including AAA, Car and Driver, Consumer Reports and Popular Mechanics recommend anyone who drives in temperatures below 45 degrees buy winter tires as they are designed to improve traction in snow and ice. 

Yet, as many respondents noted, getting a tire upgrade of any sort is a privilege. 

“Sure I would like to drive safer, but it seems like another luxury that I can’t even consider,” one Twitter user said. 

For our must-have items poll, over half of respondents said a set of warm clothes. Less than 20 percent said cat litter, which is often recommended to dump under tires to help them gain traction when stuck, and four percent said a flare gun. The top tweeted option was a snow shovel. Other tweets included, a laundry detergent container full of sand, matches, a blanket and a portable jump starter pack.

What to keep in the trunk

The Minnesota Department of Safety has a “winter survival in your car” list that includes the recommendation to make your own winter driving survival kit. They suggest using an empty three-pound coffee can to store the following items: 

  • Small candles and matches

  • Small, sharp knife and plastic spoons

  • Red bandanna or cloth

  • Pencil and paper

  • Large plastic garbage bag

  • Safety pins

  • Whistle

  • Snacks

  • Cell phone adapter 

  • Plastic flashlight and spare batteries 

Here’s another tip for something that’s in your trunk but you may not think about often: Brake lights. Jim Hudspeth, who teaches driver’s education in Shakopee and New Prague, told Wurzer that drivers should make sure their brake lights are working and clear of snow.  

“As you need to slow down, sometimes even stop, you want that to be an eye-catching aspect to anyone behind you,” Hudspeth said. “if they are tailgating or semi-tailgating, or even if they're back farther, being able to see that your brake lights are being illuminated as you step on them would be quite important.” 

If you have extra space for some bulky items, these are the best options: 

  • Jumper cables

  • Basic tools

  • Sand or cat litter

  • Shovel

  • Tow cables

  • Sleeping bag

  • Road flares 

  • Snowmobile suit and heavy boots

What to do if you become stranded

If you become stranded, pull far off the road to minimize being hit by passing vehicles, and then call 911. Provide information on your location and the condition of all people in the vehicle. Follow instructions and do not hang up until you know who you have spoken with and what will happen next.

In a snowstorm it is recommended to stay inside your vehicle, but If you must leave your vehicle, write down your contact information and leave it in the front windshield. 

Do you have another tip you think we should add to our list? Email me at

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