Harsh winter weather can lead to unforgiving road conditions, affecting your driving abilities during winter commutes and road trips. The added risk should not be overlooked, but there are ways to improve the safety of you and your family during this potentially dangerous season.
Before the cold sets in, and particularly before a long road trip, have your car inspected by a trusted mechanic. Your car’s vitals—brakes, fluid levels, battery, light bulbs, tire pressure and tread—should be checked and repaired/replaced if necessary. You may even choose to purchase snow tires if you’re planning on driving often in a snowy climate.
Prepare for Road Conditions
Winter drivers should always be prepared for the unexpected. Sudden road closures, increased traffic, slower speeds, accidents and avalanches are all possibilities during this time of year. To prepare for such occurrences, plan your route before you leave on a long trip and include at least one alternate route. Bring a GPS and/or map in case you run into a large dose of unexpected road problems. Keeping a portable weather radio on hand can also come in handy as you travel through areas with changing weather conditions.
If you’re driving further than around the block, there’s always a chance your car can become stuck in a snowdrift. Because of this, and regardless of the length of your drive, you should always bring bottled water and protein-rich snacks for every person in the car. Your body requires more fuel in the cold to keep you alert and focused. Stopping every hour or two to stretch your arms and legs can also improve your mental clarity.
An important part of any winter road trip is packing and emergency safety kit. This should include items such as a cell phone and car charger, ice scraper, jumper cables, tow rope, sand or kitty litter for traction, blankets, flashlights with extra batteries, emergency flares, matches and first aid medical supplies. You may also want to toss in some books, magazines and/or coloring books in case you get stuck and need entertainment.
It’s safer to avoid driving in snowy/icy conditions when possible, or at least postpone driving until after the snow plows and sand trucks have treated the roads. But life must go on, and after all, you have to drive to work each morning. When you’re driving during the winter, whether running errands or road tripping, it’s important to use extra caution every time you get behind the wheel.
If you lack winter driving experience, practice in an empty parking lot to learn how your car handles in the snow and ice. Brush up on techniques for recovering from skids. A general rule of thumb is to remove your foot from both of the pedals and gently steer in the direction you want your front wheels to go.
Slippery patches on roads can cause skidding and an increased amount of accidents. Decreasing your speed by up to 50 percent helps improve your reaction time to keep you in control of your vehicle. Leave plenty of space between you and the car in front of you to ensure that you have time to stop, which can take longer in the snow and ice.
If you happen to get stuck in the snow, do not spin your wheels in frustration. Rather, turn them from side to side to push snow away. If you still can’t find traction, you can shovel the snow away, pour kitty litter, sand or salt around your tires and/or use the rubber side of your car’s floor mat under your tires to gain the traction you need to get going again.
Driving is a necessity, no matter how dangerous road conditions may be during the harsh winters. The best way to stay safe is to be prepared for anything Mother Nature may throw your way. Buckle up and safe travels!