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Winter safe driving tips

(U.S. Air Force graphic by David Perry)

(U.S. Air Force graphic by David Perry)


Traveling during this Thanksgiving holiday weekend gave us a small reminder of what is yet to come during the winter season. We have now reached the time of year when we all have to re-evaluate our driving skills and habits. That’s right; winter has managed to sneak up on us. We need to be aware of weather conditions we haven’t seen since last winter such as slippery roads and sidewalks, slush buildup on roadways, black ice, fog and white out conditions.

Hopefully everyone has had their vehicle inspected and the important things like your belts, fluids and tires are winter ready. This time of year it is a great idea to keep a small survival kit in your vehicle. We never know when our vehicle may break down, possibly slide into a snowbank or off the road and we’re forced to spend the night in our vehicle. It would be a very smart idea to carry things like a first aid kit, water, snacks like granola bars or other non-perishable items, blankets and/or sleeping bags. Also, we should carry items in our vehicle to handle common winter driving tasks, as well as any supplies we might need in an emergency. I suggest keeping the following items on board: snow shovel, broom, and ice scraper; abrasive material, such as sand or kitty litter in case your vehicle gets stuck in the snow; jumper cables, flashlight, and warning devices such as flares and markers; water, food, and any necessary medicine (for longer trips or when driving in lightly populated areas); and a cell phone with charger, These items could easily save your life or the lives of your loved ones involved in this scenario. It is extremely important to remember that you shouldn’t sit in a vehicle and run the engine to keep warm if stranded in winter conditions. This may cause asphyxiation from engine exhaust.

The most important thing to remember is to plan ahead and leave earlier than usual to safely reach your destination. Drive slowly! Everything takes longer on snow-covered roads. Accelerating, stopping and turning–nothing happens as quickly as on dry pavement. Give yourself time to maneuver by driving slowly.

AAA recommends the following winter driving tips:

  • Avoid driving while you’re fatigued. Getting the proper amount of rest before taking on winter weather tasks reduces driving risks.
  • Never run a vehicle in an enclosed area, such as a garage.
  • Make certain tires are properly inflated.
  • Keep your gas tank at least half full.
  • If possible, avoid using your parking brake in cold, rainy and snowy weather.
  • Do not use cruise control when driving on any slippery surface (wet, ice, sand).
  • Always look and steer where you want to go.
  • Use your seat belt every time you get into your vehicle.

Tips for driving in the snow:

  • Accelerate and decelerate slowly. Applying the gas slowly to accelerate is the best method for regaining traction and avoiding skids. Don’t try to get moving in a hurry. And take time to slow down for a stoplight. Remember: It takes longer to slow down on icy roads.
  • The normal dry pavement following distance of three to four seconds should be increased to eight to ten seconds. This increased margin of safety will provide the longer distance needed if you have to stop.
  • Know your brakes. If you have anti-lock brakes (ABS) and need to slow down quickly, press hard on the pedal–it’s normal for the pedal to vibrate a bit when the ABS is activated. In cars without ABS, use ‘threshold’ breaking, keeping your heel on the floorboard and using the ball of your foot to apply firm, steady pressure on the brake pedal.
  • Don’t stop if you can avoid it. There’s a big difference in the amount of inertia it takes to start moving from a full stop versus how much it takes to get moving while still rolling. If you can slow down enough to keep rolling until a traffic light changes, do it.
  • Don’t power up hills. Applying extra gas on snow-covered roads just starts your wheels spinning. Try to get a little inertia going before you reach the hill and let that inertia carry you to the top. As you reach the crest of the hill, reduce your speed and proceed downhill as slowly as possible.
  • Don’t stop going up a hill. There’s nothing worse than trying to get moving up a hill on an icy road. Get some inertia going on a flat roadway before you take on the hill.

The most important tip of all: Stay home! If you really don’t have to go out, don’t. Even if you can drive well in the snow, not everyone else can. Don’t tempt fate: If you don’t have somewhere you have to be, watch the snow from indoors.

Let’s all slow down and share the road during this winter season and always drive defensively.