An AAA expert offers tips for safe winter driving to the OUWB community

Luck seems to be running out for University of Oakland Medical School student William Beaumont who have so far avoided having to drive in an old-fashioned Michigan blizzard.

According to the National Weather Service office in Whitelake, a winter storm is expected to affect the area on Wednesday as snow accumulates. This includes an estimated 4-6 inches of snow expected for Pontiac and surrounding communities. Additional backlogs are expected on Friday and throughout the weekend.

Expected snowfall follows a dry winter — Oakland County received 10 inches less precipitation than normal in December, and January was on a similar pace, according to the National Integrated Drought Information System operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

But Michiganders know it’s only a matter of time before the snow rolls in, which is why the OUWB recently hosted a representative from AAA – The Auto Club Group of Michigan, to talk about winter driving and vehicle safety.

“This event is always especially useful for our students coming from out of state, but for any of us it’s a good refresher as we head into winter,” said Katie Torma, Administrative Coordinator of Student Affairs.

She added, “We spend many months of the year driving in icy or snowy conditions, and it’s important to be prepared for a variety of scenarios that may occur.”

OUWB medical students like Cristian Santiago, M1, were among those who attended.

“I’m from Florida and we have absolutely no chance of driving on ice,” he said. “This was a great opportunity for me to really understand the skills I needed to be prepared to travel in Michigan or other parts of the Midwest.”

“a little more seriously”

Rachel Wilson, Head Instructor, AAA – The Auto Club Group of Michigan, introduced the session at O’Dowd Hall at the OUWB.

Even for Michigan’s most hardened drivers, Wilson said the first big snow event of the year can present challenges.

“The first time we’ve been in a snowstorm, we seem to forget how to drive in it,” she said.

Furthermore, drivers new to snowstorms may “have no concept of how difficult it is, and how different it is from driving even in the rain.”

If nothing else, she said, the hope is that everyone will take driving in a snowstorm “a little more seriously.”

Wilson talked at length about one of the biggest problems: low traction.

The key, she said, is to set the speed—the slower, the better the traction.

“I’m talking about varying degrees of how slow you have to go,” she said. “If it’s just gusts, you might have to slow down 5 to 10 percent. If there’s a lot of snow, you might have to slow down so much that it feels like you’re actually crawling.”

Wilson suggests drivers new to snowboarding take care to get a feel for the drive in inclement winter weather. One way to do this, she said, is to find a large, open parking lot where there are no other vehicles, poles, etc., and hit the brakes at certain speeds.

Another tip, she says, is to allow at least 7 seconds of stopping distance between your vehicle and the vehicle in front of you. This allows plenty of room to move in case of an emergency.

“You always want to have a plan B,” she said. “Make sure you can stop in time if the car in front of you suddenly hits the brakes.”

Other tips offered by Wilson include:

  • Warm your car outdoors with the snow removed (especially around the exhaust).
  • Before moving your vehicle, clear all windows – not just one “hole” where you can see a small section of the road.
  • Clear your hood to avoid snow falling toward the windshield and essentially creating a “small blizzard.”
  • If you start to slip, look up and head towards where you need to go.
  • Use safe driving practices, such as wearing a seat belt and staying focused.
  • Don’t rely too much on the vehicle’s technology, such as rear cameras and other sensors that may be covered with dirt, snow, salt, etc.
  • Keep your headlights on so other drivers can see you better.
  • If you have snow/ice buildup on your windshield wipers, move off the road and clean them off.
  • If you get stuck, clear the snow away from your tires and try spreading sand or cat litter near your tires for traction.
  • Prepare your car for safe trips (see graphic below).

For more information, contact Andrew Dietderich, Marketing Writer, OUWB, at

To request an interview, visit the OUWB Communications & Marketing webpage.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International license.

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