Safe Winter Driving

To say that the winters of the mid-Atlantic region vary from year to year (and even day to day) has recently proven to be a serious understatement. Sometimes Mother Nature brings just a light dusting of snow; and then, every so often, we are forced to contend with a string of blizzards, Nor’easters and persistent snowfalls. Just this month, many of us have also seen the temperatures go from unseasonably warm to a polar vortex in under a day.  These sporadic extremes can wreak havoc on our lives, with no effects more widespread than the resulting foul-weather driving conditions. This often leaves many drivers unprepared and unsafe on the roads.  Read on for driver safety and vehicle maintenance tips to ensure you’re ready and protected in the event of snow and ice.

Driver Safety Tips

  • Get the feel of the road. If you absolutely have to drive in snowy conditions, it’s probably not the best time to explore new areas and unfamiliar roads. While braking or accelerating, be gentle! Be aware of how slippery the road surface is and adjust your speed accordingly. Most drivers aren’t aware that rising temperatures actually increase the slipperiness of ice and snow on the road.
  • Brake before curves. This should be a given when driving, but in wintry conditions, vehicles are even more sensitive to over-powering and over-braking on curves. Turn your steering wheel slowly, maintain a steady speed, and apply your brakes cautiously (and according to your system guidelines) if you need to slow down.
  • Know your braking system. If your car is equipped with an Anti-Lock Braking System (ABS), the system automatically pumps the brakes, even when your foot remains on the brake pedal. If your car does not have ABS, they can lock up on wet and slippery roads, potentially causing you to lose control of steering. Consult your vehicle’s owner’s manual on how to brake properly.
  • Distance yourself. As with any poor weather conditions, you should increase the following distance between your car and any vehicles in front of you. Winter surfaces can increase stopping distance three to 12 times more than in dry road conditions.
  • Light the way. During any inclement weather conditions, always turn your headlights on. Never drive with only your parking lights on, as it can cause an oncoming driver to think you’re farther away than you actually are.

Vehicle Maintenance

  • Select and maintain appropriate tires. Proper tires are essential for driving in winter conditions. If you foresee that you will need to drive in the snow, your tires must have deep treads in order to handle your car. If your car is in need of new tires, now is a good time to replace them.
  • Clear the way. If your vehicle is left outside during a snow storm, it’s imperative that you clear all snow and ice off of your car before driving it. Motorists often do not clean off the top of the car, creating a hazard for anyone driving behind you if it falls off while traveling. Snow or ice left on your windshield, other windows, mirrors, lights, and reflectors can also create blind spots and hazards for you.
  • Replace your windshield wipers. If you use them while your windshield is still icy, it greatly reduces their longevity. Also ensure that you have plenty of windshield wiper fluid, as the salt used to treat the roads can build up on your windshield, making it hard to see the road.
  • Stock up. Keep emergency gear in your car trunk, such as tire chains, blankets, flashlights, and other supplies (as recommended by The Weather Channel) in the event your vehicle is stuck. 

While these are useful tips to apply to your personal vehicles, make sure you also share them with your organization if you have drivers operating company vehicles.

Maryland State Highway Administration

AAA Winter Driving Tips

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