Safe Driving in Snow and Ice!

Posted on by Defensive Driving Team | in Crash & Burn: Life in the Fastlane

Snow and ice are both among the top twenty-five causes of car accidents in the US. These conditions can easily transform familiar local roads into dangerous hazards. However, with experience, preparation, and patience, you can feel relatively safe in most winter conditions.

If you are a new driver or are acclimating to a new winter climate, take time to practice before heading out into the snow. Have a friend take you to a parking lot or similar space where you can practice snow driving in a safe environment. Wait until you’ve a got a feel for how your car will handle in snow before heading out on the frozen road.

Prepare for winter before it snows. Have the lights, brakes, heating and defrost systems, antifreeze level, and other basics checked. Also consider repairing minor chips in the windshield, as these can expand in winter weather. Coating your windshield with a water repellent will help with visibility when driving in rain and snow.

If you live in an area that experiences severe winter conditions, you may want to invest in snow tires or chains. Snow tires are a special tire made of a slightly softer rubber, making them more flexible in winter, and with smaller tread grooves. Snow chains are fit over one’s wheels to improve traction on very snowy or icy surfaces. These are used in more extreme snow conditions, as snow chains can’t be used on dry roads and limit one’s speed to no more than 30 mph. Installing heavy-duty wiper blades and/or mud guards and flaps will help to keep salt from the roads from corroding your car. Finally, cold weather can decrease your tire pressure, so make sure you keep checking your tires as the temperature drops.

Before the start of winter, make sure your car contains the following:

·        Spare tire

·        Shovel

·        Scraper

·        Jumper cables

·        Salt, cat litter, or gravel (for creating traction.)

·        An emergency kit with first aid supplies, matches, flares, etc.

When on the road, proceed with caution! You may not notice ice on the road, particular if it is “black ice.” The sun’s glare can make ice look like water on the road, so drive slowly when approaching wet surfaces in cold weather. Approach bridges, infrequently used streets, and shaded areas tend to freeze first and stay frozen longer, so approach these areas with extra caution.

Keep a lookout for hazards, particular in poor visibility. Follow in the tracks of cars ahead but allow extra distance between cars. While snow plows and sand trucks may be slow, these vehicles are working to keep you safe. Don’t try to pass a plow, as these trucks often have poor visibility; besides, the road behind a plow is most likely much safer than the road in front of it! Give yourself extra time to reach your destination.

Avoid sudden movements; instead, steer smoothly and brake gently to avoid skidding. [Link to previous blog entry here?] Don’t use overdrive or cruise control, but do use lower gears if climbing hills in the snow. Turn on your low beams to increase your visibility; if your wipers are on, your lights should probably be on too. In real blizzard weather, you may want to use your emergency flashers.

Conditions can change very quickly in the winter, especially with the onset of a bad storm. Be aware of what is happening outside your car and how your car reacts. Then, adjust accordingly. Err on the side of caution. Being late is annoying, but it isn’t life threatening.

To read more on a broad range of subjects from “How To Change A Tire” to “How To Jumpstart Your Car”, visit DefensiveDriving.com’s Safe Driver Resources website!

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