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Winter Driving Safety Tips

by Tammy December 2, 2014


As we begin to close out the 2014 calendar year the leaves are starting to turn colors.  As the leaves drop to the ground we all know that winter weather will soon be upon us as well.  This time of the year sees a rise in road travel for family get-togethers for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year celebrations.

With leaves, rain, snow and ice taking to our streets, it is important to remember some safety tips while driving.  Safely driving ourselves and our families during the autumn and winter seasons requires a few more precautions to make sure we are doing everything we can to protect ourselves out on the road.

The fall presents driving conditions that are specific for this time of year.  For starters, school is back in session.  Our streets will see many more cars and buses on the road as kids are shuttled to and from their schools.  Pedestrian traffic will also see a major increase in the early morning hours and late afternoon as children walk to and from school.  Take note of the bus stops and walking routes around your local schools and watch your speeds in these areas to avoid any unfortunate accidents.

Rain is also likely to be present during the fall season which can make the streets really slippery.  Especially if the oil and other contaminants left behind from summer traffic has not had a chance to wash away.  Mix the rain with excess leaves on the street and it can be a real concoction for disaster.  Besides being slippery when wet, leaves can block traffic lines and fill dangerous potholes.  It’s best to take your time on leaf covered streets and give other drivers the space they need to react.

The fall is also the most likely time of the year to encounter fog.  Cold fall mornings tend to create fog in the low lying areas and a regular mistake made by many drivers is to use their high beams instead of low beams.  High beams actually create more window glare which makes seeing cars, curves and stop signs in front of you much more difficult.  Use fog lights if your car is equipped and keep a good distance between you and the car in front of you in case they need to stop suddenly.  Frost is also starting to form during this time of year so watch out for ice patches on bridges, overpasses and parts of the road that does not get enough sunshine during the day.

Fall is also the season for deer hunting.  Be aware that deer activity is much higher this time of the year as they attempt to migrate and outrun the hunters that are stalking them.  Deer commonly move during the morning and evening hours from sunset until dawn.  If you live in a heavier populated deer area, you may want to invest in a whistling deer deterrent for your car.

When winter hits, we all know it is a whole different ball game so to speak.  Freezing temperature, snow and ice all can make for treacherous driving conditions.  It is this time of the year that we all need to take extra precautions and be better prepared for driving on winter roads.

Before your car ever leaves its parking place there are a few things to be done.  Make sure that your tires are properly inflated and never mix radial tires with other types.  If you can afford to do so get a set of winter tires for your vehicle.  Blizzaktires from Bridgestone are just one of many excellent winter tire choices available.  The right set of winter tires will make all the difference when faces with tough winter driving conditions.  Another preventative tip is to always keep your gas tank at least half full to help gas lines from freezing up.

You should also prepare a winter emergency kit for your car in the event of becoming stuck or stranded.  If you should become stuck or stranded, stay with your vehicle.  Never try to walk through storm conditions.  Staying with your car will provide some shelter and make it much easier for emergency crews to find you.  A proper emergency kit should be able to get you through a prolonged emergency.  Here are some items every car owner should have on hand while traveling during the winter season.

  • A small shovel – Just in case the plow buries your car or you slide into a ditch.  It is always easier to dig yourself out with a shovel rather than your hands.
  • Windshield scraper – This is an absolute necessity unless you use your credit cards or driver’s license to remove ice from your windows.
  • Flashlight, battery powered radio and extra batteries – you are going to want to see at night and listen to weather forecasts if you become stranded.
  • Snack foods and water – Energy bars, candy bars and dried fruit are all good ideas to keep in an emergency snack kit.  The water might freeze so don’t fill the bottles all the way up.  You will be happy to have fresh drinking water instead of trying to melt roadside snow and ice to stay hydrated.
  • Warm clothes and blankets – For extended winter emergencies, be sure to have extra hats, gloves, socks and blankets on hand to keep warm should you be stuck for a while. You may also want to invest in some hand warmers.  They are really inexpensive, but can be priceless when needed in an emergency.
  • Tow rope – You might see a passerby that is willing to try and tow your car from being stuck, but without a tow rope you are going to have to wait until other help can arrive.
  • Salt, sand or kitty litter – Road salt, sand and cat litter are all useful in gaining traction on icy road conditions.  It might only take a little bit to get you the traction you need to get going again.  If you live in mountainous or hilly areas you might want to consider a set of tire chains to help you get up that hill.
  • Jumper cables – Nothing is worse than having a car that would run and drive just fine if only it would start.  Dead batteries are ultra common during the frozen months of the year.
  • Flares, reflectors and fluorescent flags – Be sure you have a way to let other motorists and emergency crews know where you are.  In blizzard conditions these markers may be the difference in being  found or spending the night in a ditch.

Driving in winter requires an extra skill set as well.  You may be only taking a short trip to the grocery store, but may be required to handle your ride like a rally car.  It should go without saying, but be sure you accelerate, decelerate and drive slower than you would during the rest of the year.  Most accidents caused during the winter were started by one of these three culprits.

If you find your car begins to slide when applying the brakes, slowly let off the brakes to regain traction and use a gentle steady pressure until you begin to slow down.  This may have to be repeated to get the car to come to a full stop.  Most cars today are equipped with anti-lock brakes (ABS).  If you have an older vehicle without ABS you may need to pump the brakes to get it to come to a full stop.  This is why it is extra important to leave enough space between your car and the guy in front.  You should always anticipate that stopping could be an issue.  Allow at least 3 times as much room as you normally would on a dry road.

If your car begins to slide and spin, keep your foot off the brake and always turn into the spin.  In other words, always look and turn in the direction you want to go.  If your rear wheels are sliding left then steer left.  If your rear tires begin to slide right then steer to the right. Be careful not to over-correct as you are trying to recover control. If your wheels start sliding the other way then ease the steering wheel back the other way.  You may have to steer left and right a few times to get back under full control.  With spinning being one of the most dangerous situations to be in, make sure that you never use cruise control in the winter.  It is too easy to lose the feel of the road when your foot is off the accelerator.

The best tip we can give you to stay safe during the fall and winter driving months is to stay tuned to the weather reports and when bad weather is approaching, stay where you are.  Even if you are excellent in driving in rain, snow and ice doesn’t mean everyone else is.  Do your family and vehicle a favor and stay home and make alternative travel plans.