Drivers are often caught off guard with the onset of winter. Many fail to adjust to the changing road and weather conditions until it is too late. A little preparation and developing good defensive driving skills can help to minimize the hazards of traveling in the winter. Common sense and paying attention to the road ahead will make your winter travel a little less stressful and safer.
Eventually, every driver encounters a traffic emergency, even the most careful. He, or she may be at fault, or perhaps another driver. Some accidents just happen and no one is at fault. Winter travel is especially hazardous, with freezing temperatures, snow, wind gusts, rocks, and ice. Changing road conditions, catch even the most experienced off gaurd.
A few simple precautions can make winter driving a little safer.
Try applying the following tips:
1. Never drive faster than you feel safe. Some are intimidated into traveling at speeds beyond their current skill level. When conditions are bad - slow down, it's OK. If there is an impatient driver behind you and if it is safe, pull over and let them pass.
2. Make sure your vehicle is ready. This may include putting on dedicated winter tires. Some drivers will have tires studded, to help with traction on icy roads. Others may opt to have tires siped, which may give better traction on snow and wet pavements. (Siping is when slits are cut across the tire treads.) You should talk over these options with a local tire dealer and he can help you decide what is best for you. Tire chains must be in your vehicle through the winter season. Often state patrols will require chains be carried or installed in order to drive on snow packed roads.
3. Put sand bags in the trunk or bed of a pick up. Added weight will improve traction. If you spin out and are stalled, spread the sand in front of your drive wheels for added traction. Ice melt is another option. Usually, just a little momemtum is all that is needed. Avoid full throttle starts, try feathering the gas pedal, the tires have a better chance of getting traction. If tires are spinning, back off of the gas a little bit, and it should give better traction.
4. When approaching an uphill climb and you think you may spin out. Try adding some speed. The added momemtum will prevent you from spiinning out before reaching the top. Gravity will shorten the stopping distance when going uphill, if needed. Not everyone will apply this technique and you may find yourself stopped behind another driver. Remember tire chains are always an option. Better to have them on and not need them, than to need them and not have them installed.
5. When going down a snow packed mountain road or a city street, choose a speed that will enable you to maintain control and be able to stop in an emergency. This will call for a little advanced calculation, before you start your descent. Being halfway down a steep hill on ice and realizing the road conditions will not allow the speed you are traveling, is not a good feeling. If it is really slick and you need to slow down - you must not - slam on the brakes or downshift dramatically. Pump the brakes until you regain a safe and reasonable travel speed. Then maintain that until you are off the hill. Sometimes it is easier and safer, to put on tire chains, if you are unsure.
6. Even the best drivers can be stranded by a snowstorm. Always travel with adequate winter clothing. Emergency blankets will keep you warm until help arrives. An winter travel kit should also include, a small collapsable shovel, an expandable pole with an orange penant (helps snowplows locate your car if it is buried by a snow drift), a good flashlight and food and water. (Toilet paper?)
7. Keep your gas tank filled at least to the half way mark. This may require more frequent fill ups. If you are stuck the car heater can keep you warm. (Be careful, a vehicle is buried in a snow drift with the engine running may cause carbon monoxide build up.) Make sure the exhaust is clear.
8. Always file a travel plan with someone, (who will miss you) and stick too it. That way, if you are overdue and need help, you can be found.
9. Always expect the unexpected. On some highways the sun may actually melt off some sections. But shady areas can still be slick. Just be mindful that road conditions change. Learn to read the warning signs. Often when freezing rain first hits there may be a transition period. When ice forms on your mirrors or antenna, you need to slow down. Or you will notice truckers traveling at reduced speeds, this is another sign that conditions have changed. As you gain experience you will recognize areas where sections of a highway can still harbor freezing conditions. Be careful when traveling along a waterway or across bridges.
10. Be a good defensive driver. You can't control anything that goes on behind you, so focus on the road ahead , especially in winter. Pay attention too incresed stopping distances on and adjust your speed accordingly.
These tips are not all inclusive. There are winter hazards peculiar to a region, and you have refined the needed driving skills accordingly. If winter driving is a new experience for you, these few tips can help, as you gain the experience, to safely drive on winter roads.