SALT LAKE CITY — Whether you are a new driver or an experienced one, poor weather conditions can test your nerves and skills on the road. We have already had a few days of white-knuckle driving this season as winter storms have pounded areas across the state. And there are sure to be more stormy days to come.
Studies show that nearly one-quarter of weather-related vehicle crashes occur on snowy, slushy or icy pavement. But there are a few steps you can take to ensure you, and your vehicle, are ready for these adverse road conditions. Following these tips can help you get to your destination and back home safely.
Regular Maintenance Safe winter driving begins before you even get into your vehicle. Following the manufacturer's suggested maintenance schedule is important, but it carries more weight during the winter season when being stranded is not only inconvenient, but downright unpleasant and even dangerous.
Remove ice and snow from your vehicle
Clear all snow and ice from the entire vehicle - hood, roof, trunk, windows, lights and signals. It's important to make sure you can see and be seen by other drivers. Inspect your vehicle.
Check your tires, wiper blades, fluids, lights, belts and hoses. Make sure tires are properly inflated and the tread is in good condition. Cold temperatures can lower tire pressure. Check monthly and top off as necessary.
Keep your gas tank at least half full
Following this rule of thumb is good practice every day of the year to avoid the bad experience of running out of gas. But in cold weather months, you may need to change your route or could find yourself caught in a traffic delay, and you do not want to have the needle resting on empty in these scenarios.
With the car prepped for travel, keep these 10 driving tips in mind.
Safety On The Road
- Reduce your speed. Adjust to changing conditions and allow extra time to reach your destination.
- Keep windows clear. Switching on the air conditioner can remove moisture from inside the vehicle and improve defroster performance.
- Give the car ahead of you extra space. Braking on a slippery surface requires more distance, so increase your distance with the car ahead. The recommended following distance on dry roads is three to four seconds. This should be increased to eight to 10 seconds for wet or icy roads.
- Don't power up hills. Applying extra gas on snow-covered roads just starts your wheels spinning. Use lower gears to keep traction, especially on hills.
- Make smooth, careful movements. Avoid skids by anticipating lane changes, turns and curves. Steering in icy conditions requires smooth and careful movements. Abrupt movements break traction and can start a skid. If your vehicle starts to skid, steer into the direction of the slide.
- Accelerate and decelerate slowly. Applying the gas slowly when pulling out of the driveway or from a stop sign is the best way to regain traction and avoid slipping or sliding. It also takes longer to slow down on icy roads. So at intersections, allow for long, slow and steady stops to avoid skids.
- Know your brakes. Locked wheels can make your vehicle slide or skid. If your vehicle has antilock brakes, which newer model cars have, push the brake pedal firmly and hold it down. The pedal will vibrate and pulse against your foot, but this is normal. Do not pump the pedal or remove your foot. The system is working as it was designed to work. If you do not have antilock brakes, still apply firm, steady pressure.
- Do not use cruise control. When driving on a slippery surface, such as rain or ice, never use cruise control. You want to be able to respond immediately, if you start losing traction.
- Use extra caution on bridges, ramps and overpasses. These areas are likely to freeze first and stay frozen during a winter storm.
- Stay focused, alert, and aware. Be aware of what's going on around you. Actions by other vehicles may alert you to problems more quickly or give you time to react safely.
Handling an Emergency
While preventative measures go a long way to keep you safe on the road, unexpected weather or vehicle problems still arise. If an emergency should develop on the road, an emergency roadside kit with winter supplies is a valuable asset. Kit contents can include a cell phone and car charger; blankets; flashlight with extra batteries; a first-aid kit; drinking water; a small shovel; a sack of sand, cat litter or traction mats; windshield scraper and brush; battery booster cables; and emergency flares or reflectors.
Driving on ice and snow can be challenging, but it is possible to be a safe and prepared driver despite winter's less than optimal driving conditions. The key is to be aware and adapt to the conditions. And if it is really bad outside, and you do not have to go out, stay in. Enjoy the snow from indoors.