Driving during the winter can be stressful and frightening at times, and can be hazardous for both the new or experienced drivers alike. One can leave home on a sunny cold crisp winter day and in no time at all find themselves driving through white out conditions. The best way to remain safe while on winter roads is to always be prepared and know what additional steps you can take to help you arrive safely at your destination.
Pre - Trip Safety Tips
Before setting out on your journey, whether it is just a few blocks away or several miles, there are some preparation steps that you can take to enhance your winter driving safety. Take the time to prepare your vehicle for winter driving because not having to worry about the safety components of your car during winter driving allows you to focus more on your driving techniques. Make sure your vehicle is prepared for what winter may throw at it by:
- Keeping up with necessary vehicle repairs and maintenance. If your car does not sound right or is not performing properly, make sure you have it inspected before setting out, even a short trip
- Ensuring that your battery is working efficiently. Your local mechanic can test the strength of your battery
- Making sure your heater is in good working order
- Ensuring that you have topped up your windshield washer system and it contains de-icing components
- Checking that the tires on your vehicle are able to handle the potential driving conditions that you may be facing
- Checking the entire lighting system of your vehicle. Make sure that all lights and signals are working properly, and that they are clean as well
- Topping up your vehicle with fuel, and, as a general rule, keeping the fuel level above at least a quarter tank
General Winter Driving Tips
- Check the weather reports for the area that you are departing from as well as for your destination
Prepare a winter driving kit that contains:
- Warm clothing
- Mitts or gloves and hat
- Winter boots
- Shovel and tow rope
- Booster cables
- Salt, sand or cat litter to aid traction
- Hazard warning light
- First aid kit
- Non-perishable snacks
- Working cell phone
- Dress accordingly: It is natural to want to bundle up in warm clothing during the winter months, but heavy clothing can become restrictive when driving. You may find it helpful to warm up the vehicle prior to setting out, so you can wear lighter attire for the drive. Be sure that you have easy access to your heavier clothing that makes up part of your safety kit, in case you need to get out of your vehicle for any reason
- If you wish to remove your jacket or gloves, be sure to bring your vehicle to a full stop before doing so
- Adjust your seat: Make sure your driver’s seat is fully adjusted so you can reach the pedals comfortably and have a full view of your windshield, and mirrors. Also, you want to make sure you are comfortable, so you are not distracted. For more on seatbelt safety, check out Seat Belts: The 2 Second Fix That Could Save Your Life
Winter Weather Conditions
Depending on what area you are in, winter weather can vary from a cold rain to ice, sleet and snow. While the general safety tips are applicable to any of these conditions, there are some additional steps you can take to keep yourself safe for each specific weather event.
Dealing with the rain means you are going to be dealing with slick roads.
- It is important that you use your windshield wipers at the speed in which it takes to keep the windshield clear so your view is unobstructed
- Reduce your driving speed
- Make sure you leave additional room between you and the vehicle in front of you
When temperatures are beginning to drop and there is moisture present black ice can form. Black ice is difficult to see because it blends in with the pavement of the road. If you do hit a patch of black ice:
- Don’t panic as this will cause you to over react and oversteer
- Take your foot off of the gas and let your car de-accelerate
- Keep your foot off of the brake
- Concentrate on keeping the steering wheel straight and look where you want to go
If you begin to feel the back end of the car starting to slide gently turn your steering wheel in the same direction as you are sliding towards. If your slide continues and you find it is necessary to use the brakes:
- If your car is equipped with an ABS system, which is a anti-lock braking system, as soon as you apply pressure firmly to the brake pedal the ABS system will automatically perform a pumping action for you as you are in the skid
- If you do not have the ABS system then you will need to gently perform a pumping action on the brakes as you ride out the skid
Once the black ice has passed you may feel a bit rattled, and may want to find a safe place to pull over for a few moments before you continue your journey. Be sure that you are pulled far enough over, and if possible wait until the next rest area to pull over for additional safety.
Ice and Snow
Driving in icy and snowy conditions can be tricky. The snow can hide dangerous ice patches, or even barriers and potholes.
- If necessary, drive below the speed limits
- Try to avoid getting yourself into a position where you might have to brake quickly or steer sharply, as this can lead to losing control of your vehicle and put you into a spin
- Try to anticipate when you are going to have to brake and begin to reduce your speed and apply your brakes gently
- Pay particular attention to your speed when progressing into bends and corners
- You not only have to worry about your driving skills, but those of others who are on the road. Pay more attention to the vehicles around you
- Make sure you remain highly visible, and keep your lights on
- Pull over in a safe place when necessary to clean the snow off your lights, license plates, windows and mirrors
If you do end up stuck in snow don’t become agitated and try revving the engine to get you free, as this will probably only dig you in deeper by creating ruts.
- Try rocking the vehicle slowly by applying the gas gently then taking your foot off the gas pedal several times
- Try using the sand or cat litter in your emergency driving kit. Sprinkle some around all tires to help with traction
- Use the shovel in your emergency kit to help dig yourself out
- If you have ended up in a snow drift, then remain in your vehicle and use your cell phone to call for assistance
Once you have managed to drive through the worst of the storm don’t let your guard down. Even if the snow has stopped and the sun is coming out, you may still have to deal with intermittent hazardous road conditions. The best approach to avoiding hazardous winter driving conditions is to avoid them when at all possible. If there is any indication before you start out on your journey that there is going to be inclement weather to face, then, if at all possible, change your plans, departure time or your travel route. If you have already started out and run into bad weather, then consider finding a place where you can stop over until the weather improves. Remember, safe winter driving starts with you!