‘Most people are doing it wrong’: How much salt to use & how slow to drive as first snowfall looms

From AAA to the Clean Lakes Alliance, Madison officials prepare for December snow

MADISON, Wis. — The first snow of the season has Wisconsinites talking about two more phrases: slowing down & salting up.

“We continue to see crash rates and fatalities on the roads increase,” AAA Wisconsin spokesman Nick Jarmusz said. “A lot of that is because people developed a bit of a lead foot during the pandemic when the roads were less congested.”

“Probably the biggest thing I would recommend is to slow down,” he added.

Seems obvious, but how slow should drivers go?

A good rule of thumb, according to AAA, is to increase following distance from the standard three seconds to six when it’s snowing, meaning it should take at least that length of time for a driver to pass a road sign or overpass after the driver in front of them does.

RELATED: ‘We’ve been ready for a while’: Madison Streets Division crews detail plans for winter weather response

“If it’s actively snowing, it’s hard to drive even when our trucks are out,” said Bryan Johnson, who works for the City of Madison Streets Division. “This time of year, wet roads can be slippery roads too. Drivers need to be careful out there.”

That’s where salting comes in.

Once snow begins sticking to the pavement, 32 city trucks roll through the salt routes of Madison. Workers plow and salt roughly half of the city’s traffic lanes, including major roads, bus routes, and streets around hospitals.

Residential roads only get plowed if three or more inches of snowfall, and those are never salted.

“Salt is great for melting ice and keeping everyone safe, and that is very important,” said Adam Sodersten, a spokesman for the Clean Lakes Alliance. “But everything we put on our streets eventually ends up in the lakes. That includes salt.”

Sodersten said most people are using more salt than necessary.

“Something I’ve heard is that if you have an average-sized coffee cup,” he said, holding up a mug, “this is enough salt for the average residential driveway.”

When it comes to salting, the Clean Lakes Alliance said people want to avoid pouring down big clumps. The environmentally-conscious group also recommends clearing all snow from a driveway before salting and trying to remove some of the ice, too.

“It’s not good to do snow and salt at the same time,” Sodersten said. “It’s going to make the salt ineffective.”

Click here for more information about salt & our lakes.