A cold front is moving across the nation, dumping rain, sleet, hail and snow, icing roads, compromising visibility and generally wreaking havoc on America’s roadways. Working at the fire station, I see the aftermath of weather-related traffic accidents when we roll on scene. It’s not worth the risk. Stay home if you can! National headlines underline the hazards of traveling in severe winter weather conditions:
Unfortunately, driving in hazardous conditions is not always optional. So follow these 10 tips for winter travel safety:
- Stay home. If you don’t have to go out in poor weather, don’t. Even if you can drive well in the snow, others who are on the road may be inept. Don’t tempt fate!
- Don’t warm up your car in an enclosed area, such as a garage. Annually, 400 people die from unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning. It’s better to be cold than dead.
- Before heading out, do safety checks on your vehicle. Make certain your tires are properly inflated and you have plenty of gas in case you get stuck. Also, you should keep your gas tank at least half full to avoid gas line freeze-up. At least gas prices are coming down, so you won’t have to mortgage your house to fill up the tank!
- Don’t mix radial tires with other tire types. TireRack.com explains, “Drivers should avoid mixing tires with different tread patterns, internal constructions or sizes, and use identical tires on all of their vehicle’s wheel positions in order to maintain the best control and stability.”
- Every single time you get into your vehicle, use your seat belt. The CDC reports, “Adult seat belt use is the most effective way to save lives and reduce injuries in crashes. Yet millions of adults do not wear their seat belts on every trip.” Also of note, most accidents occur within a 25-mile radius of drivers’ homes. So don’t make the mistake of assuming you are safest while driving in familiar territory.
- Don’t drive while you’re tired. Rest before getting behind the wheel.
- Avoid using your parking brake in cold, rainy and snowy weather.
- Never use cruise control when driving on slippery surfaces (including surfaces which are wet, icy, and sandy or covered with salt and cinders). This seems like a no-brainer. But, believe it or not, some people don’t think before they drive!
- Look and steer in the direction you want to go, since your reflex will be to point the steering wheel wherever your eyes are focused.
- If you are driving in the snow:
- Drive slowly. Everything takes longer on snow-covered roads—accelerating, stopping, turning—nothing happens as quickly as on dry pavement. Driving slowly will allow plenty of time to maneuver.
- The normal dry pavement following distance of three-to-four seconds should be increased to eight-to-ten seconds. Increasing this margin of safety will provide more time in case you need to unexpectedly stop.
- Applying the gas slowly to accelerate is the best method for regaining traction and avoiding skids.
- If you skid out, don’t try to move in a hurry. Regain your composure and then slowly drive to safety.
- Take plenty of time to slow down for stop signs and stoplights. It takes longer than usual to slow down when driving on icy roads.
- Know your brakes. Keep the heel of your foot on the floor and use the ball of your foot to apply firm, steady pressure on the pedal.
- If you can avoid it, don’t stop. 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 continue moving while still in a roll. 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 could start your wheels spinning. Instead, try to generate a little inertia before you reach the hill so you can let it carry you to the top. As you reach the crest of the hill, reduce speed and proceed downhill as slowly and carefully as possible.
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