How to handle winter driving

Friday, December 11, 2009

As the treacherous winter weather unfolds around us and moves in to stay sometimes well into spring, it is critical that motorists observe all the safety precautions they can to help them survive hazardous driving conditions.

Before leaving home, find out about the driving conditions and remove any snow on your vehicle's windows, lights, brake lights, roof and signals. Make sure you can see and be seen.

Check your vehicle's tires, wiper blades, fluids, lights, belts and hoses. A breakdown is bad on a good day and dangerous on a bad-weather day.

Leave plenty of time to reach your destination safely.

Always wear your seatbelt and properly restrain children in the back seat of a vehicle. Slow down and proceed with caution.

As of today, a total of 17 states and Washington, D.C., prohibit texting while driving for all drivers; 21 states and D.C. prohibit novice drivers from any type of cell phone use; 16 states and D.C. do not allow school bus drivers to use their cell phones in any way while working. Distracted driving is deadly even in good weather.

The faster you're going, the longer it will take to stop. When accelerating on snow or ice, take it slow to avoid slipping or sliding. Give yourself space. It takes extra time and extra distance to bring your car to a stop on slick and snowy roads. Leave extra room between you and the vehicle in front of you.

Brake early, brake slowly, brake correctly and never slam on the brakes. If you have anti-lock brakes, press the pedal down firmly and hold it. If you don't have anti-lock brakes, gently pump the pedal. Either way, give yourself plenty of room to stop.

When driving on ice and snow, do not use cruise control and avoid abrupt steering maneuvers. When merging into traffic, take it slow. Sudden movements can cause your vehicle to slide.

Be aware of what's going on well ahead of you. Actions by other vehicles will alert you to problems more quickly, and give you that split-second of extra time to react safely. Roads that seem dry may actually be slippery -- and dangerous. Take it slow when approaching intersections, off-ramps, bridges or shady areas -- all are hot spots for black ice.

When driving on snow and ice, go slowly, no matter what type of vehicle you drive. Even if you have an SUV with four-wheel drive you may not be able to stop any faster, or maintain control any better, once you lose traction. If in a skid, turn the steering into the skid, easing off the accelerator but not breaking suddenly.

If stranded or stalled, stay in your vehicle and wait for help. Drivers should carry a cell phone or two-way radio, with a charged battery, in order to call for help and notify authorities of their location. Motorists should also have an emergency kit in their vehicle along with additional warm clothing.

Use headlights during adverse weather -- some state laws mandate this -- and use front and rear fog lights in dense fog.

Be careful when driving on bridges and overpasses. Elevated roadways are the first roadways to freeze in winter conditions such as snow, sleet or ice.

When driving around snowplows give snowplows room to work. The plows are wide and can cross the centerline or shoulder. Don't tailgate and try not to pass. If you must pass, take extreme caution and beware of the snow cloud. A snowplow operator's field of vision is restricted. You may see them, but they don't always see you. Keep your distance and watch for sudden stops or turns.

Equip each vehicle with a winter storm kit that includes blankets, a flashlight, cell phone with charger and extra batteries, a shovel, first-aid kit, non-perishable food, extra warm clothes, water container and more.

Please practice these proper safety precautions before and while you drive in winter weather.