The dead of winter is upon us and Mother Nature’s snow machine can kick in at any time. While you can’t control the weather, there are things that you can to do to help steer clear of the pitfalls of winter driving.
Before You Leave
Avoiding on-the-road problems in winter start long before you even get behind the wheel. Consider these simple tips:
Drive only when physically rested and mentally alert to do so. Fatigue limits your ability to properly focus on driving and slows your reaction time to the numerous dangers winter weather presents.
Perform a thorough pre-trip inspection, and check your vehicle along the way. In addition to the tires, your lights, brakes, windshield wipers, defroster and radiator are especially important for driving this time of year. The hazards of traveling in winter weather will only be compounded if your vehicle fails to operate properly.
Map out your destination, have alternate routes planned, and allow extra time to reach your destination. If you use a global positioning system (GPS) or navigation app, be sure that it’s designed for commercial motor vehicles and updated with the latest vehicle-specific mapping data. But, don’t allow the convenience and ease of use of a GPS lull you into following commands without applying common sense and the fundamentals of safe driving.
Check the weather forecast before heading out and frequently along the way as conditions can change often. Local radio stations and online tools such Accuweather, the National Weather Service and State Department of Transportation websites can provide invaluable information on the latest weather and road conditions.
Equip your vehicle with a winter storm survival kit. It should contain, at a minimum, a cell phone and charger, a flashlight with batteries, a first aid kit, extra clothing, a blanket, non-perishable food, bottled water, a windshield scraper/brush, lock de-icer, a small shovel, and prescription medications. A lengthy delay will make you glad you are well prepared.
While On the Road
The principles of defensive driving apply all year long, but during the winter season, the potential for accidents is increased because weather and road conditions will impact your driving skills. To help reduce the risks:
Turn on your low beam headlights to see and be seen in wet and wintry conditions. When necessary, stop in a safe location to clear headlights, taillights and reflectors of snow and ice. Beware of other drivers who are not using their headlights. Use your windshield wipers and defroster to maximize visibility.
Slow down on wet, snow-covered or icy roads, even if they have been sanded or salted. The posted speed is the maximum speed under ideal conditions. In adverse weather, a driver can be cited for, or worse yet, cause an accident when travelling too fast for conditions. A slower speed will give you more time to react to hazards. Also, avoid using cruise control in snow, ice or rain as it could cause you to lose control of your vehicle.
Increase the distance between your vehicle and those around you to safely match weather and road conditions, visibility, and traffic. Try to stay away from packs of vehicles, whenever possible. Slow down and back off if you find yourself catching up to a cluster of traffic. This extra space is necessary if you begin to skid or when you have to stop.
Use gradual movements in bad weather to help avoid skidding, slipping or sliding. Sudden starting, stopping, turning, merging or changing lanes, speeding up or slowing down, can quickly cause you to lose control of your vehicle. Use your directional signals to give ample warning to other drivers whenever you are turning or changing lanes.
Be observant. Recognize hazards early by keeping your eyes moving and your attention on the road. Watch for shaded areas, bridges and overpasses that can freeze much sooner than the rest of the roadway and stay frozen long after the sun has risen. Keep an eye out for snowplows and give equipment operators plenty of room to work.
Stay alert for changes in a road's surface that may affect traction. Remember that ice and snow are most dangerous when the temperature is at or near the freezing mark. If conditions become severe, pull over to a safe and legal parking area as soon as you can and wait for conditions to improve.
Remember, accidents happen when drivers fail to adjust their vehicle’s speed and stopping distance on wet, muddy, icy or snow-covered roads. So, buckle up, stay alert, add more space around your vehicle, and above all, SLOW DOWN!
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