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Navigating Wintry Roads

Navigating Wintry Roads

Fort Rucker, Alabama

Operating a military vehicle in snowy or icy conditions can be a challenge for any driver, especially if they’re not trained in winter driving techniques. Fortunately, a little preparation will go a long way toward helping you, as well as others on the road, avoid becoming a winter driving statistic.


Good all-around visibility is a must for safe driving in winter conditions, so make sure you can see what’s going on outside your vehicle. For optimum visibility, remove all ice, snow and fog from all windows and mirrors before operating the vehicle. Use defrosters and windshield wipers to keep the windshield free of ice, sleet, snow and fog while driving. The inside and outside mirrors should also be clean and properly adjusted.

To ensure other drivers see your vehicle on the road, use headlights during periods of reduced visibility. It’s also a good idea to increase following distances between vehicles because exhaust gases can cause ice fog. Use a ground guide when backing the vehicle or where assistance is required in picking a trail in deep snow.


Good traction is another important factor that can help keep your vehicle on the road. When driving in deep snow or on ice, tire chains will help increase traction during starts and stops. Placing brush and burlap under the wheels can also help a vehicle move through snow. If the vehicle does get stuck, try rocking it back and forth by shifting between a low gear and reverse. Never spin the wheels; that will only dig a deeper hole. If rocking the vehicle doesn’t work, a little sand or gravel around the tires may provide enough traction to free it.


Braking in snow and ice can be tricky and requires special techniques. When stopping on an icy road, apply the brakes gently. Never slam on the brakes, which can cause the vehicle to skid. If the vehicle does begin to skid, turn the front wheels in the direction of the skid. The momentum of the vehicle will carry it in a straight line parallel to the original path, and you should be able to regain control.

Truck and convoy operations

Drivers must also exercise caution during cold-weather truck and convoy operations. Improper operation through or over brush, branches, stumps and rocks may damage vehicle radiators, tires, lights and undercarriages. If unsure about the conditions of a stretch of road, stop and look at the situation before proceeding. Let the lead vehicle go through before driving more vehicles into the same spot. If the lead vehicle becomes stuck, it may have to be pulled out backward. Vehicles that bog down in or break through ice should be recovered as quickly as possible to prevent them from freezing to that spot.

All vehicles should also be equipped with the driver’s personal gear and field equipment; vehicle maintenance tools; operational rations for emergency use; extra engine oil, fuel and antifreeze; tow and tire chains; pioneer tools; strip maps; fire starters; highway flares; and safety kits. You never know when you might need to remove snow from around the wheels or cut some brush to aid in traction.


Snow and ice can make any trip more difficult and require a vehicle operator to have the skills to safely navigate the road. Use extra care when you encounter adverse weather so you can arrive alive at your destination. For more information on preparing for cold weather vehicle operations, as well as maintenance and service, see Army Techniques Publication 4-11, Army Motor Transport Operations. See Training Circular 21-305, Training Program for Wheeled Vehicle Accident Avoidance, for training requirements and safety rules for driving under adverse weather conditions.


When materials essential to motor vehicle operations are exposed to low temperatures, the following occurs:

  • Rubber becomes stiff and brittle. Radiator and heater hoses may crack and break if handled roughly.
  • Water freezes and expands. This expansion could split radiators or crack engine blocks.
  • Canvas becomes stiff and brittle, making it difficult to fold, unfold or use without damaging.
  • Glass conducts heat poorly and may crack or shatter if subjected to a sudden increase in temperature. Do not apply sudden, intense heat to clear or deice vehicle windows or windshields.
  • Engine oil becomes thick and flows poorly.
  • Grease becomes hard and thick and loses lubricating properties until it is warmed by normal operations.

Source: Army Techniques Publication 4-11, Army Motor Transport Operations, and Training Circular 21-305, Training Program for Wheeled Vehicle Accident Avoidance.

  • 1 November 2021
  • Author: USACRC Editor
  • Number of views: 730
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