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Winter Driving - Get There Safely

Severe weather can be both frightening and dangerous for automobile travel. Motorists should know the safety rules for dealing with winter road emergencies. Always remember to be cautious while driving in adverse weather.

There are three key elements to safe winter driving:

  • Stay alert
  • Slow down; and
  • Stay in control 

It is best to winterize your vehicle before winter strikes. Schedule a maintenance check-up for the vehicle’s tires and tire pressure, battery, belts and hoses, radiator, oil, lights, brakes, exhaust system, heater/defroster, wipers and ignition system. Keep your gas tank sufficiently full- at least half a tank is recommended. Depending upon where you drive, you may consider using winter tires or tire chains.

Winter driving conditions such as rain, snow, and ice dramatically affect the braking distance of a vehicle. The driver’s capability to complete a smooth and safe stop is severely limited due to reduced tire traction. In order to stop safely, the vehicle’s wheels must maintain traction by remaining on contact with the road surface while rolling, referred to as “rolling traction.” When handling slippery winter roads, they keys to safety are slower speeds, gentler stops and turns, and increased following distances. It is recommended that drivers reduce their speed to half the posted speed limit or less under snowy road conditions.

Sand and salt play a big role in keeping roads safe. The spreading of road salt prevents now and ice from bonding to the road surface, which is why salt is usually spread early in a storm to prevent snow build-up and to aid in snow removal operations.

Unlike salt, sand does not melt and therefore helps by providing traction on slippery surfaces. Sand is often used when temperatures are too low for salt to be effective or at higher temperatures for immediate traction, particularly on hills, curves, bridges, intersections and on snow-packed roads.

Caution must be used when snow plows are on the roadways as snowplows and salt and sand trucks travel much slower than regular traffic. Passing a snowplow can be extremely dangerous as sight lines and visibility near a working snowplow are severely restricted by blowing snow.

The Insurance Information Institute (III) offers the following tips for safe winter driving:

  • Give yourself enough time to arrive at your destination. Trips can take longer during winter than other times of the year, especially if you encounter storm conditions or icy roads.
  • Bring a cellphone so that those awaiting your arrival can get in touch with you, or you can notify them if you are running late. But avoid the temptation of using the phone while driving, as it can be a dangerous distraction, pull over first.
  • Drive slowly because accelerating, stopping and turning all take longer on snow-covered roads.
  • Leave more distance than usual between your vehicle and the one just ahead of you, giving yourself at least 10 seconds to come to a complete stop. Cars and motorcycles usually need at least 3 seconds to halt completely even when travelling on dry pavement.
  • Be careful when driving over bridges, as well as roadways rarely exposed to sunlight – they are often icy when other areas are not.
  • Avoid sudden stops and quick direction changes
  • Be sure to keep your gas take full. Stormy weather or traffic delays may force you to change routes or turn back. A full gas take also averts the potential freezing of your car’s gas-line.
  • Keep windshield and windows clear. Drivers in cold-weather states should have a snow brush or scraper in their vehicle at all times. Your car’s defroster can be supplemented by wiping the windows with a clean cloth to improve visibility.
  • Do not activate your cruise control when driving on a slippery surface.
  • Do not warm up a vehicle in an enclosed area, such as a garage.
  • Keep your tires properly inflated and remember that good tread on your tires is essential to safe winter driving
  • Check your exhaust pipe to make sure it is clear. A blocked exhaust pipe could cause a leakage of carbon monoxide gas into your car when the engine is running.
  • Monitor the weather conditions at your destination before beginning your trip. If conditions look as though they are going to be too hazardous, just stay home.


How to Drive in Snow and Ice

Winter driving isn’t as hard as people think it is. It just takes a l
ittle more concentration and awareness. Drive like you’re tiptoeing on ice, because you might be. Use small, slow motions. Ease on the brakes, drive like there’s an egg under the accelerator, and if you start to skid, steer in the direction you want to go and keep steady, light pressure on the gas. If you’re skidding sideways, the brake is not the pedal to press. It will just make things worse. When you brake in a straight-line and the pedal starts pulsing or chattering, don’t release pressure. Keep your foot in it. That noise means the anti-lock brakes are working.

Most important, slow down. Don’t leave the house unless absolutely necessary (do you really need to go to the 4th holiday party of the season?). Keep your head on a swivel, drive defensively, and absolutely do not get behind the wheel if you are under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Be Prepared

In addition to winterizing your car, make sure you have an emergency kit handy. The ideal cold-weather crisis kit consists of a thermal blanket, ten dollars in cash and two in change, a charged-up flashlight with batteries (or a hand-crank flashlight), an extra ice scraper, a five-pound bag of cheap clay cat litter (to throw under you tires if you get stuck), a small shovel, a charged-up battery booster with an extra cell-phone charger cable, a set of jumper cables, a couple pairs of warm gloves, a warm hat, an extra flannel sweatshirt with a hood, some paper towels, a can of aerosol spare-tire filler, and a few packs of chemical hand warmers like HotHands.