When winter weather strikes, drivers face out-of-the-ordinary challenges when they get behind the wheel. Snow, slush or icy roads are involved in nearly one in four weather-related vehicle crashes. These conditions can make it harder for drivers to see, slow down and stop – all factors that can increase the chances of an accident.
If you must travel during winter weather, preparing your car in advance, knowing the forecast and driving based on road conditions are three key ways to help you drive more safely. Following are some winter driving safety tips to help you prepare for the elements – before you face them – on the road.
Preparing Your Vehicle
As temperatures start to drop, it’s time to make sure your car is stocked with a winter driving survival kit, including an ice scraper, a snow shovel and sand or road salt. This way, you’ll be prepared if winter weather arrives while you’re away from home. It’s also a good time to check your tires to determine whether it’s time to replace them or whether you need snow tires.
A few habits to adopt regularly during the winter months can also help prepare you for a wintry drive. Keep your windshield wipers in good condition and your windshield fluid reservoir filled so you can clear snow and ice from your windshield. Make it a practice to keep your gas tank full so you can run your engine and stay warm if you get stuck or stranded.
Keeping your gas tank full in extended cold weather can also help minimize the amount of water vapor in your tank, which can freeze when temperatures drop. In addition to keeping the tank full, consider keeping your vehicle in a garage and using fuel additives such as dry gas to help eliminate water vapor that could freeze in your gas lines. You should also either drive or run your car in a well-ventilated area at least every few days to help avoid a dead battery, another cold weather concern.
Watching the Weather
If you plan to travel when inclement weather looms, monitor road and weather conditions by checking local news stations or Internet traffic and weather sites. You can sign up for weather alerts to receive text messages and optional alerts for your area. Do not check your phone while driving and avoid all unnecessary distractions when you’re behind the wheel.
Driving for Winter Conditions
Before you leave the driveway or parking lot, take time to clear snow and ice off your car, including your windows, mirrors, lights, reflectors, hood, roof and trunk. Drive with your headlights on and be sure to keep them clean to improve visibility. Use caution when snow banks limit your view of oncoming traffic.
As you get on the road, remember that speed limits are meant for dry roads, not roads covered in snow and ice. You should reduce your speed and increase your following distance as road conditions and visibility worsen. Avoid using cruise control in snowy or icy conditions – you want to have as much control over your car as possible. Be cautious on bridges and overpasses as they are commonly the first areas to become icy. Avoid passing snow plows and sand trucks because the drivers may have limited visibility and the road in front of them could be worse than the road behind.
Breaking Down or Getting Stuck
If you are unexpectedly caught in a snowstorm and are stranded or get stuck in snow, if your car is safely out of harm’s way, stay in your car and wait for help. You can run the car heater to stay warm for 10 minutes every hour, but first, make sure your exhaust pipe is clear of snow. There is a danger of carbon monoxide poisoning if snow blocks the pipe and enables the deadly gas to build up in your car. Open your window slightly to help prevent any buildup.
Remember, driving in winter weather can be challenging, even for experienced drivers. Slowing down, allowing increased time to come to a stop, wearing your seatbelt, devoting your full attention to the road and being aware of changing conditions can help you drive more safely. If your travel route takes you into remote areas with limited cell phone coverage, consider informing a third party of your travel plans and share with them your route and when you plan to arrive. This way, if you are overdue, first responders will know where to start looking. If you’re unsure whether it is safe to drive, consider waiting until the roads improve.
Review and implement the following steps as needed.
- Turn on headlights while in a parking garage (during daytime too) to reduce the risk of an accident and to better see people and other cars.
- Park in areas that are well lit.
- Refrain from walking in the middle of the lane in a parking garage, do not text while walking, and make use of marked crosswalks.
- If walking by yourself, get off your cell phone.
- Drivers entering a parking lot keep an eye on a vacant spot and often neglect to watch for other drivers and pedestrians who are on the move.
- While backing out of a parking space in a parking garage, blind zones created by vehicles parked alongside the spot obstruct the driver’s vision.
- Traffic laws aren’t enforceable in parking lots, which can create reckless driving and confusion.
- One thinks that being on the phone is safe because the person on the other line can call 911, but that rarely works out.
- Chatting can distract you; it’s better to be aware of your surroundings.
- If walking alone, hold your cell phone and be ready to make an emergency call.
- Many phones now have a button on the screen to dial 911 immediately.
- Go one step further and preset one of the buttons on your phone to call the emergency number.
- Look underneath your car before approaching it in a parking garage or lot at night.
- If you return to your car and see that a van is parked right next to the driver’s side, enter through the passenger side.
- Predators often use vans and will disguise it as a family car, even using “Baby on Board” decals.
- If you return to your car and it has a flat tire, back away, return to wherever you came from (restaurant, store, etc), and call for help.
- Once assistance arrives, approach your car. If someone comes up to you and wants to offer help, politely say, “No thank you.”
- When you are checking in to a hotel room, ask the front desk staff to write your room number down privately so that no one hears what your room is. Your room number should be your business only.
- Before entering your hotel room, make sure no one is lingering in the hallway.
- Always immediately lock your hotel room door after you enter.
- When traveling, do not walk with your map in your hand. It is a dead giveaway that you are a tourist. Therefore, you are an easy target.
- If you call for room service, and you get a knock on your door, do not immediately open. Ask: “Who is it?” Make the person on the other side of the door tell you who they are before you open it.
- When asking for directions and someone offers to show you the way by having you follow them, do not go. Just ask for them to point you in the right direction.
- If someone tries to grab you, twist your arm up and down and yell, “Stop!”
- Do anything you can to draw attention to yourself.
- If someone is chasing after you, run away in a zig-zag pattern which is known to exhaust attackers.
- Before booking a hotel, make sure that guest-room doors have multiple locks, including a deadbolt.
- Consider using a valet, or park your car in a well-lit area as close as possible to the hotel lobby.
- Before getting out of the car, scan the parking lot for any possible assailants. Lock the car and do not leave any valuables inside.
- In high-rise hotels, request a room on the third floor or above.
- If hotel personnel mention your room number during check-in or another time during your stay, ask for another room.
- Don’t enter an elevator if someone inside seems suspicious.
- Don’t open the room door to anyone without verification from the front desk, and do not use your name when answering the phone.
- Place all valuables in the in-room safe.
- Hang the “do not disturb” sign on the door and leave a light and radio or TV on when leaving.
- At night or any time there’s concern about safety, request a hotel staff member to accompany you to your room to inspect it.