As beautiful as the sight of snow falling during the winter can be, it’s a nightmare for motorists. Winter driving requires plenty of extra time, precaution, and skill. Every year, those beautiful snowflakes lead to icy roads which cause the deaths of thousands of people who fail to follow safe winter driving guidelines, and they injure hundreds of thousands more. Please make yourself familiar with the information herein so that your family never becomes one of the statistics.
Winter driving dangers: Recognizing the risk
- The stopping distance on ice is anywhere from 3 to 9 times greater than it is on a clear, dry road.
- The bridge surface can be as much as 6 degrees cooler than the adjoining roadway because the overpass is exposed to cold air on all sides. Thus, a wet road can turn to ice almost instantly as you drive over a bridge.
- Don’t overestimate your vehicles capacity for navigating icy winter roads. Remember that “4 wheel drive” says nothing about stopping. On ice, it simply equates to a 4-wheel slide. Yet every year, many new 4-wheel drivers learn this lesson the hard way after pushing their car too fast on icy roads. Hailing from Colorado, we encounter (and hear stories about) these 4-wheel morons endangering the lives of others all the time, each of whom thought their car was invincible until it went into an uncontrollable skid on the Interstate. Don’t be one of them.
How to prepare your car for winter driving
The winter driving experience can be made a whole lot better through a few simple preparations. In addition to aiding your overall safety, these suggestions will spare you some unnecessary stress and anxiety on the road:
- Get snow tires for your car. They really do make a significant difference. Driving on regular tires that are often worn down or balding is like attaching sledding inner tubes to the bottom of your car. Snow tires do not make you invincible, but they do make a world of difference.
- Equip your car with a first-aid kit/winter driving box that can be used in an emergency. Some suggested items for a winter driving kit are: blankets, flashlights, salt (for melting ice), sticks (to place under the wheels for traction), beef jerky or other easily accessible non-perishable food items (keeping warm requires calories to burn), and a thermos or container for melting snow (or bottled water). You should also keep a small candle and matches in your car. A candle can actually raise the temperature of a small space by a few degrees – just enough to save your life. If you are without a candle, you can improvise by pushing a string (such as a tampon string) into a chap stick using a paper clip.
- Keep chains in your trunk in case you get stuck, and practice putting them on when it’s nice out so that you know how to do it when you need to.
- Print the information in this heading and keep it in the glove box of each car in case of emergency.
What to do if you become stranded in your car during a winter snowstorm
Every winter people die because their car rolls into a ditch or they otherwise end up stranded during a snowstorm. Not knowing what to do, they make the wrong decisions that get them or their loved ones killed. The National Weather Service offers the following guidelines for what to do if you get stuck in your car during winter:
- Stay inside the car. It’s your best shelter from the cold, and disorientation can occur quickly in wind-driven snow. Unless you can see clearly to a nearby occupied house, don’t wander away from your car.
- Tie something red (or another bright color) to your car door or antenna. This will make you more visible to rescuers and signals that you need help.
- Do not keep the car running. Instead, run the vehicle for about 10 minutes every hour for heat and then turn it off. This will preserve gas and limit the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.
- Keep the tailpipe clear of snow to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning.
Safe Winter Driving Tips
Safe winter driving tip #1: No peephole driving!
If you live in an area where it snows, I’m sure you’ve seen them before: Drivers with their face pressed to the windshield trying to navigate the road out of a tiny viewing window cleared from their windshield. And as you might imagine, this can be dangerous.
This practice, referred to as “peephole driving,” dramatically reduces vision – one official estimate is that it reduces the driver’s field of vision to a paltry 2-3% of what it normally is. Although there are no reliable statistics on the number of people hurt or killed because of peephole driving, since it is not specifically tracked in auto accident statistics, there is no shortage of stories about innocent people being seriously injured or killed because of peephole driving. An accident is caused either by a piece of ice or snow from the improperly cleared vehicle becoming dislodged and hitting another car (or pedestrian), or when the disabled peephole driver plows into another car (or pedestrian) they can’t see. Peephole drivers also put their own occupants (children included) at great risk: They often pull out in front of a car they can’t see and are broadsided – one of the most dangerous types of accidents for kids.
“Reasonable people who would never think of leaving their driveway with worn tires or bad brakes will routinely drive their children to school after scraping just a small peephole with which to see out of the vehicle,” says Sgt. Scott Kristiansen of the Buffalo Grove Police Dept. in suburban Chicago. “That puts everybody at risk.” (Copeland, 10-26-2009) So don’t be one of these peeps.
Safe winter driving tip #2: Practice driving on snow and ice
If you’re new to winter driving or just moved to an area where it snows, practice. I’m always amused watching videos of drivers from warm climates sliding their cars into each other at low speeds because it iced over in Texas and nobody has driven on ice before. Winter driving really is something different and unique that takes time to learn. So if possible, practice winter driving in an empty parking lot or other safe area before you have to drive on icy roads in the real world.
Safe winter driving tip #3: How to control a skidding car
If your car should start sliding on ice, it’s important you know ahead of time how to control a skid:
- Do not slam on the brakes or stomp on the brake pedal. This could make your slide worse. Instead, slowly apply pressure to the brakes.
- Without panicking, take your foot off the gas pedal.
- Always steer into the skid. This means that if your rear wheels are veering right, turn the steering wheel to the right as well. Hold on until the car begins to straighten out, then ease the steering wheel back toward the center.
- After you’ve gained control of the car, drive slower now – it’s slippery out there!
Safe winter driving tip #4: Safety tips for navigating winter roads
There are a few simple things you can do that will greatly reduce your risk of a winter car accident. The first is to avoid driving as much as possible when the roads are icy. If you do need to get somewhere, slow down and allow yourself plenty of extra time. Never brake suddenly. Look farther ahead on the road than you usually do and allow yourself plenty of time to stop, so that you can ease into braking. Put more distance between you and the next car than you normally would, and always decelerate into turns to reduce the risk of skids, and do the same when approaching a highway overpass or bridge. If you put forth a conscientious effort to adhere to these simple guidelines, you will avoid putting yourself in the situations that cause most winter crashes.