Driving requires all the care and caution possible any time of year. But winter driving has even greater challenges because of wet and icy road surfaces, longer hours of darkness and poor visibility because of snow, rain and fog.
Here are twelve tips to help you drive more safely this winter.
1. Allow enough time to get to your destination. Rushing in difficult driving conditions can lead to an accident. Turn your radio on to listen to the road report and weather forecast. Leave a few minutes earlier in the morning, and allow plenty of time to get to work. Buckle up your seat belt or safety restraint before you start driving.
2. Stay alert. Don’t drive when you are under the influence of alcohol, drugs or certain medications. Read the labels of prescription drugs and over-the-counter medicines to determine if they can cause drowsiness. Driving demands your full attention.
3. Stay calm. Sometimes other drivers will become frustrated with slow-moving traffic. Keep your temper and don’t let other drivers aggravate you. Maintain a safe speed and drive defensively.
4. Keep a safe distance between you and other vehicles. The “three second rule” works well on dry roads and in ideal conditions, but in winter you should double it to six seconds. Watch the vehicle directly ahead of you. As it passes a stationary object start counting – “one thousand and one”, “one thousand and two”, and so on. Your vehicle should not pass the same object until you say the word “six.”
5. Keep your car well-maintained and in good working order. This includes having good tread on your tires, the engine tuned-up for winter, and all lights functioning properly. In colder climates, you may need to add anti-freeze to the radiator. In some areas, gasoline antifreeze may be required.
6. Clean your windows and headlights frequently. Keep your windshield washer fluid topped up. Good visibility is essential to safe driving. Clean your windows and headlights of ice or snow before starting out, and repeat frequently throughout your trip.
7. Drive appropriately for the road conditions. The posted speed limit may be too fast under winter conditions. Driving on a wet road can cause hydroplaning as a thin barrier of water builds up between your tires and the road surface, causing your vehicle to slip. If you begin to lose control of your steering, take your foot off the gas.
8. Stay with your vehicle if it breaks down. Put on your emergency flashers and wait for assistance. Carry a sign for your window, asking other motorists to tell the police you need help.
9. Wait out bad weather. Strong icy winds in combination with snow or dust can make it impossible to see where you are driving – or walking. Under these conditions it is usually safest to stay with your vehicle and wait out the storm.
10. Plan your moves carefully and know your vehicle. One key question to ask: Does the vehicle have anti-lock brakes?
– If you don’t have anti-lock brakes, never jam on your brakes in slippery conditions. You will most likely skid and lose control of the vehicle. Instead, pump your brakes to slow the vehicle down and prevent a lockup of the wheels and brakes.
– If you do have anti-lock brakes – and many vehicles do these days – press firmly on the brake pedal; your anti-lock system will provide the pumping action that prevents brakes and wheels from locking up and causing you to skid excessively – you should not need to pump the brakes yourself.
11. Avoid driving through deep puddles, especially at high speeds. The water can make your brakes less effective and, if deep enough, can cause serious engine damage. If you must drive through water and you are not sure about the depth, slow right down and cautiously inch forward until you are certain it is safe.
12. Quit driving when you begin to feel sleepy. If you have a long distance to drive, take frequent short breaks for fresh air and a walk around the vehicle.