What This Video Of A Cop And A Firefighter Crashing On A Snowy Hill Can Teach You About Winter Driving

Winter Driving Crash

Last week, British Columbia’s interior got rocked with an icy blast of proper winter weather. From what I’ve heard, it predictably led to chaos as everyone tried to figure out winter driving again. Apparently, “everyone” extends to firefighters and police officers, as a TikTok user captured this vehicular centipede of frosty disaster, where not one, not two, but three government-owned vehicles struck a parked pickup truck.

While we don’t see the circumstances that led up to this series of shunts, it’s possible these embarrassing and expensive videos could’ve been avoided if a few winter driving tips were followed. Take it from someone who daily drove a rear-wheel-drive crapcan in British Columbia’s Rocky Mountains, commuting in similar conditions on similar roads to what’s seen in these videos.

Slow Down

@daviddean140 #undercovercop#winterdriving#lovewinter ♬ Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow! – Dean Martin

As in any situation where you don’t have the grip afforded by dry asphalt, it’s best to kick things down a notch or two in the snow. Now, this doesn’t mean go drive 30 mph on an interstate taking up two lanes with your hazard lights on, it means never driving faster than the road, your equipment, and your abilities can safely support.

However, slowing down in winter conditions doesn’t just mean reducing speed, it means slowing down all driver inputs. A common saying in the world of track driving is “slow hands.” Basically, tires only have so much grip and fast steering inputs can often overwhelm the tires past the point of adhesion. Once that happens, a driver will generally experience oversteer, which can result in a spin if not caught, or understeer, which you’re seeing in these videos. Slower, more careful steering inputs can help a driver maintain traction in slippery conditions, a must when driving in snow.

In addition to fast steering inputs, hard accelerator and brake inputs can also cause a vehicle to break traction. When in doubt, drive like a chauffeur with exceptionally smooth and reasonably slow pedal inputs. Generally, this will help keep a driver out of trouble, although the steep downhill in this video calls for another tactic of slowing a car down in slippery conditions.

Engine Braking Is Your Friend

@daviddean140♬ original sound – DaveSellars24

The wheels on all vehicles involved in this shitshow aren’t rotating. Hardpack snow and ice has a very low coefficient of friction compared to asphalt, so it’s best to keep the wheels rotating or else the handling of a vehicle will soon resemble that of a hockey puck. Generally, anti-lock braking systems have an ice calibration that attempts to mitigate locking, but there’s an even better way to slow a car’s roll down a slippery hill than with the hydraulic brakes.

Generally, if you downshift smoothly, engine braking uses manifold vacuum to slow the rotation of your engine. So long as said engine is connected to the drive wheels, those drive wheels will also slow down. Engine braking on long descents is great because it’s gentle and unlikely to lock the wheels. However, if you don’t downshift smoothly, torque to the drive wheels can spike which isn’t great for traction.

Leave Distance

Winter Driving Crash Gap
Screenshot: daviddean140/TikTok

It’s hard to leave any less distance between cars than what’s between the fire department’s K2XX GM truck and that undercover Tahoe. They’re really putting that pushbar to work, right? Anyway, the greater the distance between two vehicles, the more time the trailing vehicle has to stop. Remember the three-second rule from driver’s ed? Take that, throw at least a two-times multiplier on it, and you’ll get a general sense of how much distance you should leave for winter driving. The American Automobile Association recommends a following distance of five to six seconds in the snow. When in doubt, it’s always better to leave extra distance than leave too little.

Tires Matter

Hakka R5 Ev 1500x999pixels
Photo credit: Nokian

While we can’t say for sure what tires the vehicles in these videos were running, it’s worth reminding everyone that winter tires are one of the best changes you can make to a vehicle for winter driving. Let’s start by looking at how winter tires help you stop on hardpack snow and ice.

On dry pavement, the limitation of single panic stop distance isn’t typically a car’s brakes. For any car that can lock its brakes up, tires are the limiting factor. See, when a driver locks up a vehicle’s brakes, that means the friction between the brake pad and brake disc is stronger than the friction between the tire and the road. So, how do we fix this? Just like how switching to an ultra-sticky set of tires can shorten dry braking distance, switching to a proper set of winter tires can shorten braking distance in winter conditions. Sipes bite into the snow and ice, deep channels clear slush out from under the tires, and a soft compound keeps everything flexible when the going gets cold.

This bite on the frozen stuff during braking directly translates to increased cornering ability and better traction under acceleration than with a comparable set of all-season tires. As a bonus, running dedicated winter tires means you can get fun, sticky summer tires for fairer seasons. Of course, even the best set of winter tires can’t overcome the laws of physics, but a better grip on the road could be the difference between avoiding a collision and having one.

While it’s not always possible to avoid snowy road conditions, good practices, good equipment, and a cool head can go a long way towards reaching your destination safely. Now bolt on those winter tires, re-torque after 60 miles, get your car undercoated with Fluid Film, Krown, or a similar product, and feel good about driving through Jack Frost’s backyard.

Lead photo credit: daviddean140/TikTok

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45 Responses

  1. You’re all saying how it should be done.
    Meanwhile i’m just happy to hear about drivers that can tolerate *some* slipperiness and not crash instantly.
    Driving standards in my country are ***king appalling.

  2. Growing up in northern IL, we did the opposite: in snow/ice we would put it in neutral coming to a stop to negate the pushing effect of the engine. I still use this technique when the white stuff flies.

  3. Thanksgiving dinner conversation with the brother in law who is always right:

    “I don’t need winter tires, I have 4WD and all season tires”
    “I don’t need winter tires, I have 4WD and all terrain tires”
    “It never really snows and all season or all terrain tires are fine even at freezing temperatures on cold pavement.”
    “I have traction control, that shortens braking distances”
    “So it takes an extra metre or so to stop, big deal. What am I going to hit anyway?”*

    *answer, that thing that was a metre or so closer.

    :ROLL:

    Also, engine breaking is a particularly good reason to recommend a manual transmission for winter driving, especially because it makes it easy to moderate via the clutch. It’s also much better for skid control responses.

    Man, I’m old and fun at parties…

    1. It’s bizarre to me how hard it is to talk people who’ve never driven with snow tires into buying snow tires. I’ve got one friend in particular who lives in a snowy area, has plenty of money and garage space for a spare set of tires, gets completely stressed and anxious driving on snow all winter, and yet just will. not. consider it. “Nobody I know has snow tires! I have AWD!”

      1. It’s also really hard to justify spending $1000+ on a second set of wheels and tires that sit unused for most of the year. In an urban/suburban area that only gets hit with this kind of weather a couple times a year and the roads get cleared quickly, simply slowing down and keeping your head on straight or just staying home for a day and not risking it are perfectly acceptable alternatives.

        1. If you use your car a lot every year, you are only really buying an extra set of wheels and steelies are cheap. Your summer tires will last longer so you won’t be replacing them as soon. Barring damage to my tires, I’ve had only one set of each for the lifetime of most of my vehicles and I keep my cars for a long time.

          Also, people don’t seem to get that once temperatures drop below 5C/40F, you need winter tire compounds for grip. Summer/all season tires harden up. It’s not just snow and ice that are a factor.

          Finally, maybe not a factor where you are, but I get a discount on my insurance for using winter tires.

          1. Eh, all seasons do better in the dry than winter tires. Even when it’s cold.

            Everyone wants to shit on all seasons (lol no seasons) but they absolutely excel in two seasons – autumn and spring. When temperatures can vary wildly and pavement is wet but not snow covered or frozen – all seasons are ideal.

        2. For what it’s worth I’ve never bought extra wheels, I’ve always just gone to the tire store in April and November and had them swap the tires out. And on the small cars I usually drive, you can get a brand new set of Blizzaks for under $500.

          But yeah, if you live in an apartment somewhere it only snows twice a year, snow tires are probably overkill. And “never be in a hurry” is the best winter driving advice no matter what kind of tires you have.

      1. Agreed. You can easily get away with AT tires (especially 3 peak rated) in certain areas. For example much of the non-coastal west gets very dry snow that isn’t very slippery and tends not to ice over. Really just depends on local winter conditions.

        A combination of careful driving and not freaking out when you do slide goes a long way…

    1. Actually dumbasses getting in the way to film videos really is less than worthless. I thought the music choice was great. But really early October winter caught everyone. I also was caught driving an AWD SUV at 15mph up to a stop sign at 12mph . Hit the brakes did a 360 very slowly. No other traffic. Got the winter tires put on the next day.

  4. In Victoria BC it snows occasionally, I was there for one of these events and even with 4 studded snow tires my car slid like a demon. The ground is warm so you get a layer of water, then a layer of ice and then some snow, it is the perfect storm of slippery. But it doesn’t last so that is better than northern Alberta where I am excited that it is -8 this am so I can go and change the starter in the car, on the street

  5. Big cringe watching this video. My instinct was to yell get off the brake, ya idjit, and drive around the truck in your path.

    If those guys just let off the brake pedal and steered gently to the left, they wouldn’t have hit anything. You’d think cops in B.C. would be more tuned into the whole “you can’t steer and brake at the same time on ice” thing. Apparently not.

  6. If you are driving a 4wd vehicle (and I mean a real 4wd, not an “on-demand” system or with a center diff) then engine braking is good but if you are driving a 2wd vehicle or an “on-demand” AWD system do not down shift, shift into N whether it is an Auto or manual and let the ABS do its thing. Otherwise you are asking to loose control when the driven wheels start slipping due to the engine braking that is only occurring at one end of the vehicle.

    1. I would divide it by model year. Pre 2008 ABS was not required by regulation. There was also less sophistication in the control software.
      Post 2010/2012 just use the brakes. Modern cars have interaction where the brake module in ABS or ESC takes control of torque – meaning engine torque goes to zero, and the brake module has the ability to modulate brake pressure to each individual wheel and adjust 8-12 times per second. And this is calibrated whether in Neutral or Drive for automatic transmissions. The same habits for turn, brake, accelerate slower and one at a time help the system (and you) control the car better still apply. If you never break traction the system never intervenes.
      TLDR; the computers are better at controlling vehicle yaw and wheel slip than you can ever do it with more precise control than you have available to you.

  7. Snow tires are waiting to go on both cars. One has AWD and is a beast with the snow tires. My manual daily driver often needs traction control disabled to get going. Thanks, stump puller 1st gear. Starting in 2nd is doable if I ride the clutch.

    Also did the annual Fluid Film bath on both cars over the weekend before the weather got too chilly. Popping off the rubber plugs in the rockers, they’re intact. Which is awesome.

  8. CL or Market1place is great to find wheels to add snow tires too. Harbor freight sells the rest of the stuff. Not expensive or hard to do. But people don’t want to listen to knowledge and experience, they trust technology to save them from themselves.

  9. It really depends on local weather, and if you have to drive to work. When I lived in the Portland Oregon area I generally didn’t have snow tires but did have chains, which I last used in 1996. One car had studded tires, but that was for driving in the mountains.
    When I moved to Central Oregon which gets black ice all the time and requires crossing passes to get anywhere I immediately bought good studless tires for the primary car. This still didn’t save our Mazda5 from being totaled by an idiot running a stop sign on the last icy day of the,season. At the moment two weekends of snow right after November 1 (the day winter tire rules start) has a massive backlog at the tire stores of people mounting or buying tires.

  10. “The American Automobile Association recommends a following distance of five to six seconds in the snow”

    How on earth do you make an official recommendation of distance in SECONDS? I get it that varying speeds have an influence on braking distance, but why not just err on the side of caution and recommended a somewhat exaggerated distance in, you know, a unit of length? Since you’re (hopefully) monitoring this visually, I would say it’s easier to estimate your length than stopping time. But I realise this is based on a driver’s ed recommendation, so maybe it’s something that American drivers are just more used to?

      1. I don’t know, to me it feels like something that would distract from driving, but I get it that if it’s something drivers get used to since they start driving, it may become an automatic behaviour. I mean, I sometimes find it weird that people in the USA need training for manual transmissions, only to remember that it’s just the way I learned to drive. On the other hand, I’m terrified that I don’t know what to do if, in an emergency, I find myself having to drive an auto. Literally never even sat in the driver’s seat of an auto. I’d probably find myself searching for tutorials on YouTube.

    1. Because seconds are a universal unit of measurement and length can be either metric or imperial, and we all know the lengths Americans will go to not use the metric system… “The AAA recommends a following distance of 1 refrigerator per mile per hour in the snow…”

    2. “I get it that varying speeds have an influence on braking distance”

      You answered the question yourself. Following distance at 20 mph is drastically different from at 75. How do you sanely represent that to a new driver who doesn’t have an instinctive understanding of following distance? “You need to be somewhere between 20 and 300 feet behind the car ahead depending on your speed” is not a useful statement to make. “Follow 2 (or 3, depending on where you live, apparently) seconds behind the car ahead” is easy to figure out on the fly with no actual math. Other than being able to count to 3, I guess. 😉

      1. Yes, I admitted I get the reasoning somewhat, but what I mean is time still feels like a way harder thing to estimate than distance, which you have a visual reference for. That’s why I mentioned recommending a somewhat exaggerated safe distance, based on top speed to err on the side of caution (a huge range of distance would make much less sense than a fixed time, sure, I just don’t get how you count seconds accurately; most people are probably a couple of seconds ahead they finish counting to six seconds without a time reference). Where I’m from recommended distances aren’t even communicated in a specific unit, you have markings on the pavement and road signs that recommend leaving two markings between you and the car ahead. We also don’t have much snow, to be fair; my example pertains to highways/freeways.

  11. You make an excellent point people who live in snowy areas. Andy very long name doesnt share where the family member resides. I think Andy knows he is wrong lost the argument at the table now just wants to get support so eliminates pertinent information.
    Andy quit tripping where are the people from. You can play people here but sooner or later the smart people will call you on it.

    1. Read the rest of the title? “What this video…can teach you about winter driving” is still a complete phrase although it sounds unusual from a standard command, or subject verb sentence. Feels like a dangling participle?

      The point of the video and subject of the write up is still clear in any case

  12. Yeah that guy look like too close. But of course this was how close he was driving the entire time. It wasnt the 1st car stopping short. Or regular and ice had the 2nd car slide up. In the era of video why are people too stupid to realize 1 picture may not tell the whole story? So many morons or is it idiots or liars?

  13. 1) Tires are the answer. None of the rest of these tips matter much if you don’t have a good set of severe winter rated all-seasons or dedicated winter tires. Don’t cheap out on tires, folks.
    2) Engine braking can be tricky on icy roads. I spun my 1996 Mercedes E-320 downshifting on on the downward side of an icy hill. I also didn’t have appropriate tires (see item 1 above). Luckily, I didn’t hit anyone and I ended up facing backwards on the shoulder with no harm done other than to my pride.

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