Most of us understand the importance of preparing our vehicles for winter ̶ making sure tires are in good shape, wipers are good, brakes properly serviced and snow scraper in the car. We diligently address the mechanics in anticipation of expected winter extremes.
But it’s just as important to prepare ourselves for winter driving. We must be ready to adjust our habits to better face the unpredictable challenges that often come with winter driving. Please consider the following tips before driving during inclement weather:
- Conduct a pre-trip check. These are extremely important during the winter. Get into the habit of making sure windows and mirrors are clean and wipers are cleared before you start out. Clean all lights; make sure your heater and defroster are working properly. Carry an extra jug of windshield washer fluid.
- Carry a blanket and/or extra clothing in your vehicle. Pack a water bottle and some high energy food bars in case you become stranded. Always ensure that your cell phone is fully charged prior to heading out.
- Give yourself plenty of time. A 30-minute trip in good weather conditions may require double or triple that time in poor conditions. Warm up your vehicle so that windows are clear and you’re not looking through an “ice tunnel” in the windshield.
- Have an exit plan. If conditions become hazardous, get off the road at the nearest exit, gas station or other safe place and wait out the storm. Let someone know where you are.
- Be prepared to be stranded. In most cases, it’s better to stay with your vehicle. Keep a window cracked for ventilation, and make sure the exhaust system is clear of snow. Ration fuel if faced with the prospect of a long wait for rescue.
- Beware of “snow hypnosis.” Driving and continuing to stare into onrushing snowflakes can cause a state described as the “1,000-yard stare,” when the eyes become unfocused and mental alertness wanes.
- Take it easy! If your mind and body are telling you it feels safe at 40 mph, drive at 35 mph. Drive 5 mph below what you think or feel is safe.
- Make gradual directional and lane changes. Signal well in advance, then slowly complete the maneuver. Extend the distance interval between yourself and the vehicle in front of you; it takes longer to stop in sloppy weather.
- Pay heed to road conditions. Remember, condensation freezes on bridges, overpasses and shaded areas before the rest of the roadway. Avoid lane changes in these areas as well as in intersection zones.
- Know your brakes! Antilock (ABS) brakes respond and feel different than standard brakes. If you begin to skid, release the accelerator, and steer in the direction you want to go. Do everything gently and turn the steering wheel as little as possible.
- Avoid using cruise control where the roads might be slick. Cruise control can apply power suddenly or at the wrong time causing a skid or making a minor skid uncontrollable. If cruise is on and you think the road might be slick, use the hand-operated controls to turn it off; tapping the brakes can initiate a skid.
Find more information in this Checklist and Tips for Safe Winter Driving from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.