Winter can be a beautiful time of year, with snow laying on tree branches or dancing through the air as it falls to the earth. But, hidden beneath this beauty is the potential danger that winter can present. While you can help mitigate some of the risks by preparing your home for winter storms, there are some things you can’t control. If you’re still driving, winter presents its own specific risks that you need to be aware of. Nobody can completely prevent misfortune on the road (since we share it with other drivers); however, by following these six tips, you may be able to increase your chances of staying safe while you’re driving this winter.
When in doubt, if you’re nervous about driving in specific conditions or during the winter in general, don’t go out. Unless it’s a matter of life and death, it’s better to stay off the roads. Scared drivers can be as dangerous as reckless ones, in the wrong conditions. Not only can you be a danger to yourself, you can put others at risk. There’s already evidence that anxiety or panic can impair your driving in regular conditions. Now, take those and put them on an icy road, and you have a recipe for disaster. If you know that winter driving makes you anxious, either figure out a way to have someone drive you where you need to go or stay at home.
Prepare Your Car for Winter
Preparation for winter driving can also go a long way toward keeping you safe when winter storms hit. Most of the steps are ones you can do before winter starts. For example, you should get your car inspected and serviced to ensure that everything is up to code and ready for the winter. This is also a chance to talk to your mechanic about ways to make your car winter-ready. Specifically, discuss your car’s tires with the mechanic to make sure they’re safe for the winter or if winter tires would be a wise investment. You should also discuss what type of brakes your car has.
The final step for preparing for winter driving is to pack a winter car safety kit.
Throughout the winter, you’ll also want to keep an eye on your car fluids and ensure they’re all checked and in good shape. It will be key to keep your windshield washer fluid topped off, since road salt or dirt can easily limit visibility in the winter. The final step for preparing for winter driving is to pack a winter car safety kit. It should be made up of basic items that can keep you safe in the case of an emergency during the winter. Consider including things like blankets, warm clothes, road flares, flashlights, and a first aid kit. You should also have jumper cables and anything else you may need if your car breaks down or if you get stuck in traffic.
Research Your Route
Before you leave the house to go anywhere, you should research your route a bit. One of the easiest ways to do this is to check traffic reporting. Some apps, like Waze, will even update you about accidents and conditions along your expected route. At the same time, you should look into which roads around you have been plowed and cleared of snow. Generally, highly traveled roads are cleaned first, though the order is decided locally. You can sometimes call your local township or Department of Transportation to learn which roads will be favored. All of this research can allow you to pick the safest route to take to your destination.
Watch for Black Ice
A danger you should be on the lookout for this winter is black ice, transparent ice that lies on roadways and is practically invisible. In other words, you could be driving on what seems like an otherwise clear road and hit an icy patch and slide off the road! This is why you should be aware and wary of these dangerous slick patches. Vigilance is key!
Black ice will appear slightly darker and duller than the rest of the road and is more common on bridges and overpasses. Since black ice patches can be tough to spot (and you’ll have plenty of other things to be watching for, too), it’s good to always drive safe and assume there could be ice.
Drive Carefully, But Confidently
That leads us to arguably our most important tip. When you’re on the road at any time of year (especially in the winter), you should be alert and cautious, but also confident. Specifically, in the winter, you’ll want to give yourself extra time to drive, break, and park. A good rule of thumb is to give yourself five to six seconds of space between you and the car in front of you. To gauge this, pick something they’ve just passed in their car. Start counting. You should reach five or six before you pass it. This should help give you enough time to react and stop, without losing control of your car, should there be an emergency stop in front of you.
A good rule of thumb is to give yourself five to six seconds of space between you and the car in front of you.
In general, you should turn, accelerate, and slow down at an even, gentle pace, since quick changes in speed or direction can cause your tires to lose traction on slick roads. This is especially true when you’re on hills, since this adds gravity into the equation. If your visibility is at all inhibited, either by snow or fog for example, you should also turn on your headlights to help other drivers see you on the road. Just be sure to use your low beams, since they will help you and other drivers see better than high beams anyways!
And If You Start to Slide, Don’t Panic!
If you’re driving and you happen to lose control of your vehicle, either on ice or snow, don’t panic. That’s one of the worst things you can do in that situation. Panicking can often lead to overcorrection, which can easily make the slide worse than it was.
Depending on which type of brakes you have, you’ll need to begin slowing down your car differently while driving during winter conditions. If you have antilock brakes (also called ABS or antilock braking system), steadily apply pressure to begin slowing down. If you don’t have an ABS, you’ll want to pump your brakes by pressing down and releasing. Applying steady pressure to the brakes can cause the wheels to lock up.
If you slide, you’ll want to correct your vehicle by “turning it into the slide.” To do this, slowly, but steadily, turn your wheel toward the direction the back of your car is sliding. This should slowly straighten your car out, though sometimes it can cause your car to overcorrect in the other direction. Don’t panic, simply turn the wheel in the other direction and you’ll straighten out again. All your motions and corrections should be steady and smooth until you ease yourself out of the slide, either by continuing to drive or pulling off the road in a safe place until you stop.
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Driving in the winter can be scary since it presents different types of hazards that you need to watch for. To make matters worse, you need to trust other drivers are being cautious as well. If you need to be on the road when the weather is frightful this winter, these tips can help you stay safe. Just remember, be vigilant, but confident, and don’t panic if your car slides a little. If you don’t feel comfortable, you can always stay at home by the fire, too!