It never fails—with the first snowfall of the year comes the first highway pile-up. There seems to be a collective amnesia when it comes to driving safely on ice and snow. As the winter wears on, accident rates drop and then, as people tire of being cautious, crashes pick up again. Before hitting that second wave of winter danger, read our tips on safe winter driving and stocking your car with safety essentials.
Basics of Safe Winter Driving
As adults, we don’t often get the benefit of snow days. Just because there was an overnight blizzard doesn’t mean we can turn off the alarm and stay in bed for the day. Most of us have to scrape off the car and head out into the elements. The American Automobile Association (AAA) reminds drivers of these tips for driving on snow:
- Accelerate and decelerate slowly. Applying the gas slowly to accelerate is the best method for regaining traction and avoiding skids. Don’t try to get moving in a hurry. And take time to slow down for a stoplight. Remember: It takes longer to slow down on icy roads.
- Drive slowly. Everything takes longer on snow-covered roads. Accelerating, stopping, turning—nothing happens as quickly as on dry pavement. Give yourself time to maneuver by driving slowly.
- Increase following distance. The normal dry pavement following distance of three to four seconds should be increased to eight to ten seconds. This increased margin of safety will provide the longer distance needed if you have to stop.
- Know your brakes. Whether you have antilock brakes or not, the best way to stop is threshold breaking. Keep the heel of your foot on the floor and use the ball of your foot to apply firm, steady pressure on the brake pedal.
- Don’t stop if you can avoid it. There’s a big difference in the amount of inertia it takes to start moving from a full stop versus how much it takes to get moving while still rolling. If you can slow down enough to keep rolling until a traffic light changes, do it.
- Don’t power up hills. Applying extra gas on snow-covered roads just starts your wheels spinning. Try to get a little inertia going before you reach the hill and let that inertia carry you to the top. As you reach the crest of the hill, reduce your speed and proceed downhill as slowly as possible.
- Don’t stop going up a hill. There’s nothing worse than trying to get moving up a hill on an icy road. Get some inertia going on a flat roadway before you take on the hill.
- Stay home. If you really don’t have to go out, don’t. Even if you can drive well in the snow, not everyone else can. Don’t tempt fate: If you don’t have somewhere you have to be, watch the snow from indoors.
Taking some time to practice these techniques when the first snow falls, particularly with teen drivers, could prevent a major headache as the season progresses.
Keep Safety Essentials in Your Car
As the Boy Scouts say—Be Prepared. Load each family member’s car with winter survival supplies well before the first snowfall or ice storm. AAA recommends the following in a winter survival kit:
- Bag of abrasive material (sand, salt, cat litter) or traction mats
- Snow shovel
- Flashlight with extra batteries
- Window washer solvent
- Ice scraper with brush
- Cloth or roll of paper towels
- Jumper cables
- Extra warm clothing (gloves, hats, scarves)
- Warning devices (flares or triangles)
- Drinking water
- Non-perishable snacks
- First-aid kit
- Basic toolkit (screwdrivers, pliers, adjustable wrench)
- Car charger for your cellphone that stays in the car at all times
With these supplies in your car, you can power through almost any winter emergency. Remember, you could end up stranded—even on a quick trip to the store, so these supplies should be in any car you might drive for the whole season.
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