Winter weather is upon us, whether we like it or not. While the Northwest often fares better than many parts of the country when it comes to harsh winter weather, there is no denying that winter driving can be both challenging and dangerous for automobile travel. Drivers should be cautious when driving in adverse weather conditions and be familiar with the rules for safely dealing with winter road emergencies.
Here are some tips to keep you and your loved ones safe during the winter driving season:
- Avoid driving while you’re fatigued.
- Be sure your tires are properly inflated, and never mix radial tires with other tire types.
- Keep your gas tank at least half full to avoid gas line freeze-up or running out of gas if inclement weather causes severe traffic snarls.
- Avoid using your parking brake in cold, rainy and snowy weather.
- Do not use cruise control when driving on any slippery surface (wet, ice, sand).
- Always look and steer where you want to go.
- Wear your seat belt EVERY time you get into your vehicle.
- Check local weather reports prior to a long-distance drive or before driving in isolated areas. Delay trips if bad weather is expected. If you must travel, inform others of your travel route, destination, and estimated time of arrival.
- Pack a basic emergency kit in your vehicle which should include: flashlight and batteries, blankets, gloves, hats, food, water and any needed medication in your vehicle.
- Stay with your vehicle if you become snow-bound. It provides temporary shelter and makes it easier for rescuers to locate you. Don’t try to walk in a severe storm. It’s easy to lose sight of your vehicle in blowing snow and become lost.
- Tie a brightly colored cloth to the antenna or place a cloth at the top of a rolled up window to signal distress.
- Keep the dome light on at night, if possible. It only uses a small amount of electricity and will make it easier for rescuers to find you.
- Make sure the exhaust pipe isn’t clogged with snow, ice or mud. A blocked exhaust could cause deadly carbon monoxide gas to fill the passenger compartment of your car if the engine is running.
- Use whatever is available to insulate your body from the cold. This could include floor mats, newspapers or paper maps.
- DRIVE SLOWLY. Everything takes longer on snow and ice-covered roads; accelerating, stopping, turning, nothing happens as quickly as on dry pavement. Slowly applying the gas is the best method for regaining traction and avoiding skids. Allow extra time and distance to slow down for a stop sign or traffic light. Remember: It takes longer to slow down on snowy or icy roads. Give yourself time to maneuver by driving slowly.
- Allow greater following distance between your vehicle and the vehicle ahead of you. The normal dry pavement following distance of 3-4 seconds. This should be increased to 8-10 seconds to provide an increased margin of safety for emergency stops.
- 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. It is harder to start moving from a full stop on snow or ice that it is if your vehicle is still rolling.
- Don’t power up hills. Accelerating on snow-covered roads often causes your wheels to spin and lose traction. Try to get some inertia going before you reach the hill and let that inertia carry you to the top. When crest a hill, reduce your speed and proceed down the hill 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.