Vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death during winter storms. Preparing yourself and your vehicle for winter weather and knowing how to react if you're stranded in a storm are the keys to safe winter driving.
Winter Driving Tips
You should know what your vehicle can and cannot do on snow and ice. It's a good idea to practice driving in an empty parking lot on a snowy day so you know what to expect. Here are some additional winter weather driving tips:
- Drive slowly—it's harder to control or stop your vehicle on a slick or snow-covered surface when you're travelling fast
- Allow at least three times more space than usual between you and the car in front of you
- Apply firm, continuous pressure on the brakes. If the car begins to skid, let off the brake and steer into the direction of the skid (i.e., the direction the back of the car is traveling)
- Don't use cruise control or overdrive on icy roads
- Be especially careful on bridges, culverts and overpasses as they freeze before road surfaces
- Don't pass snow plows and sanding trucks; the road in front of them is likely worse than the road behind
- Don't be overconfident if you have a four-wheel drive vehicle, even they can encounter trouble on snow or ice-covered roads
- If your rear wheels skid, take your foot off the accelerator and steer in the direction of the skid
Prepare Your Vehicle
Installing snow tires can significantly improve your vehicle's winter driving capabilities. All-weather tires can be effective in areas that don't receive large amounts of snow and/or ice. If you plan to use snow tires, check that they have adequate tread and install them before the first snowfall is expected.
Tire pressure drops by about one pound per ten degrees, so check the pressure during cold weather according to your vehicle's specifications (check the owner's manual or the placard located on the driver's side doorjamb).
Visit your mechanic for a tune-up and other routine maintenance prior to the onset of winter weather. Be sure the following items are checked:
- Battery and charging system
- Cooling system and defrosters (front and rear)
- All hoses and belts
- Wipers and windshield washer fluid (keep extra washer fluid in the vehicle)
Keep a windshield scraper and a small broom for ice and snow removal in your vehicle. Take time to completely remove snow and ice from all the vehicle's windows and lights before driving—it's the law in many states.
Check the floor mat installation and correct improperly installed floor mats that may interfere with the operation of the accelerator or brake pedal, increasing the risk of a crash. Never stack mats, as that may cause pedal interference.
Winter Vehicle Survival Kit
In case you become stranded in severe winter weather, keep the following essential items in your vehicle:
- Cell phone with charger
- Flashlight with extra batteries
- Booster cables and warning markers or flares
- Several blankets, extra gloves and a wool cap
- Small shovel and sand or cat litter for traction
- Brightly colored cloth to use as a flag
- Bottled water, food and any necessary medications
If You Get Stuck
If you are stuck or stalled in wintry weather, follow these safety guidelines
- STAY IN YOUR VEHICLE—do not leave to search for assistance unless help is visible within 100 yards; you can easily become disoriented and lost in blowing and drifting snow
- Don't spin your wheels as it will dig you in deeper
- Turn your wheels from side to side a few times to push snow out of the way, use a shovel to clear snow away from the wheels and the underside of the vehicle, pour sand or cat litter in the path of the wheels, and accelerate gradually
- Avoid overexertion—cold weather puts a strain on the heart, and strenuous activities like shoveling or pushing a car can trigger a heart attack or worsen other medical conditions
- Try rocking the vehicle (check your owner's manual first, it can damage the transmission on some vehicles)
- Display a trouble sign by attaching a brightly colored cloth on the radio antenna or window
- Run the engine and heater just enough to keep warm (about 10 minutes each hour), and turn on the dome light while the engine is running
- Beware of carbon monoxide poisoning—keep the exhaust pipe clear of snow and open a window slightly for ventilation
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Disclaimer: This material is designed and intended for general information purposes only, and is not intended, nor shall be construed or relied upon, as specific legal advice.
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