How To Drive in Snow

by Rob Schermerhorn on December 27, 2011

Separation of Controls will help you here

Separation of Controls will help you here

As a performance driving school owner I get asked all the time what’s the best way to drive in snow. I have a “secret” technique to share with you: Separation of Controls will help save your life and property when driving in snow!

What is “Separation of Controls?”

We’ve all seen the phenomena of the first season’s snow-fall and cars spinning wildly into the ditch; it’s as though the previous seven months of warmer weather completely erased any memory of how to best drive in slippery conditions.

Here’s my technique that I guarantee will improve your safety: Separation of Controls.

What “controls” do you have?

  • Brake
  • Gas (throttle)
  • Steering

By using only one control at a time you dramatically improve the effectiveness of your tires! Why you ask? Because a tire only has so much grip (determined by a number of different tire properties), and once you exceed the maximum grip level that can be achieved given the road you’re driving on that instant, the sliding (skidding) tire now has much less grip.

If you’re using 100% of the tire’s grip for braking, how much grip remains for turning? Zero! That’s the beauty of Separation of Controls, it helps you from CREATING SKIDS! The majority of skids that you will experience in your driving life will be created by you!

350Z taking a short cut to work!

How NOT to drive in snow!

Now you’re asking me to elaborate on the Separation of Controls technique; here goes:

  1. When braking, don’t steer
  2. When steering, don’t brake or accelerate (except for “maintenance throttle”, very light pressure on the gas pedal to overcome driveline friction)
  3. When accelerating, don’t steer

It really is that simple to say (type/ read), much more difficult to apply as it takes instruction, feedback and practice prior to becoming your new good driving habit.

Okay, more explanation…

“When braking, don’t steer” assumes that you’re slowing enough so that when you remove your foot from the brake and then begin steering into the corner that the tires will have enough grip to actually turn…. So this is where you develop awareness and feedback techniques; if the tires don’t grip as you begin turning YOU’RE GOING TOO FAST! Many of you will say “duh!” <palm face> at this statement but let me tell you, after training over 10,000 drivers in my career it’s not intuitive, this feedback MUST BE LEARNED!

“Maintenance throttle”, what does that really mean? If full throttle is 100%, then maintenance throttle is 5%, just as much as if you’re driving through a crowded shopping mall parking lot looking for a space.

Advanced Technique Lesson

As you refine this new technique you’ll notice that when cornering, as you begin to transition from the turn to the straight road you can begin to add more throttle in direct proportion to moving the steering wheel toward pointing straight ahead.

Also as you practice you may find you can continue to hold very light brake pressure as you first begin turning the steering wheel from straight ahead to turning into the beginning of the corner.

You’ll see you’re developing a direct connection between hands turning the steering wheel and feet applying pressure to pedals:

  • More steering, less pedal (brake or throttle)
  • More pedal, less steering

(Here’s another secret: this is not just a snow driving technique, it’s a safe driving technique, a race driving technique, an autocross technique and a performance driving technique…  )

Finally, make good choices on where you drive! A pro racer’s focus is the search for best grip from the tarmac; the focus when driving in snow is the same! Why drive on the shiny black stuff when there’s fluffy white stuff only six inches away?

Test the surface condition regularly using conservative brake application (check mirrors first) to see how much brake pedal pressure has what effect like ABS brake actuation.

Do you have questions on this Separation of Controls technique? Please add your comments or send me an email. If you find this interesting please click the Google Plus and/ or Facebook share buttons!


Thomas Roszkowski December 4, 2013 at 12:05 pm

Clean ALL of the snow off of ALL of your windows before you start driving.

Rob Schermerhorn December 4, 2013 at 12:31 pm

Right on Thomas! Nothing worse than seeing a lazy driver peering nervously through the “port hole”.

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